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Life Long Ache

Screeching metal, harsh chemical smell of burnt rubber, bits of shrapnel bouncing off of my goggles as I struggle to breathe through the my nose, harsh light shining straight into my eyes.

To be clear, I'm sitting in a chair at my Dentists'.

The first memory I have of visiting the dentist is screaming in a chair as a man rips one of my teeth out without numbing my mouth. My mother sits in the corner on one of those metal spindly chairs that you most commonly see stacked in corners in a school gym. She didn't know he was going to pull a tooth. Neither did I.
He was white, tall, and the hair on top of his head appeared to be migrating to his arms instead. I can remember the event as if I am watching it from someone else's eyes. The screaming child, the nurse with a face mask holding her legs down as she desperately tried to get away. Her mother, eyes wide with horror, pale, disbelief in what was happening plastered across her face.

Dentist, large, crushing my lower jaw in one hand to keep my six year old mouth open, eyes empty like a shark, gloved hands covered in blood as he wrenches a tooth out with pliers.

I bled for days, and the clearly demarcated bruises in the shape of fingertips on my jaw made me hide my face for days. My mom swore over and over, like a mantra to herself, that we'd never go back to him, and my father would clench his hands into fists whenever he looked at my face.
My mom called the Better Business Bureau, and searched for help from any organization willing to pursue a lawsuit, but to no end. Why?

Because my family made less than $20,000 a year. Because we were on Medi-Cal, and that meant that we should count our blessings that we had access to any dental coverage at all.

Being poor meant that I rarely saw a dentist growing up. I didn't know how to properly floss, or how often to brush. If there was pain, I had to deal with it, because we didn't have the money to cover the copay, or we couldn't take time off work. My teeth were yellow, so I hid them in photos. It wasn't only lack of proper dental hygiene that caused issues, inadequate access to good sources of nutrition also had an effect.

One of the most shocking (to me, now that I have had time to experience life on the other side) things I experienced was when I sat with my mother at the social services office to complain about the dental service we had received. We got a dispassionate and rude response from the overweight woman on the other side of the desk who said "Well, you get what you pay for." At the time, this was a normal, hell, even acceptable response. We just nodded our heads in dull acceptance, and moved on to the next issue like getting denied food stamps, or questioned endlessly about why my mother didn't accept a part-time job that would actually have made us poorer had she taken it. This was the 90s, when the Clintons had pushed through a slew of welfare reforms that crushed my family in it's grips.

As I got older, the dread of the dentist only increased. Every time I went, I left with a mouth full of bright metal fillings, often with no warning, or explanation. More people with eyes that basically glazed over when they looked at me. In fact, one time the dentist I had drilled holes into my teeth while looking at his assistant and talked about the baseball game he had just seen. He didn't even ask my name when I sat in his chair.

If only I had known that the worst was yet to come.

Flash back about 6 months ago. I have, for the first time in my life, real dental insurance. I no longer have to rely on Medi-Cal for the first time in my entire life. My place of employment offers good benefits, and I decided to pay a visit to a dentist of my choice to find out the state of my teeth.

After searching Yelp, and scouring other review sites, I settled on a dentist near my home. The first thing I noticed upon walking through the door was the bright happy lighting, and the comfy, homey, waiting room chairs. The receptionist was friendly and gave me a very in-depth sheet of information to fill out. I had never received one like it before. It not only had questions about my medical past, but a bunch of questions about me as a person. My wait time was minutes instead of hours, and the assistant asked me lots of questions about my dental habits, and thoughtfully answered any questions I had, even the ones like "How Do I Brush Properly?". She took a few x-rays and then I met him, my dentist. Tall, with dark frizzy hair and kind eyes, he went over my x-rays patiently with me.

That's when "it" appeared. There, in the back of my mouth, molar number 19. I stared at the x-ray image before me. It did not look like my other teeth. The inside of it was all metal, right down to the roots. Almost comically, I turned, and looking my dentist in the eye, I said "What is that?"

He looked at me in surprise and said, "That is a root canal."

Apparently, some dentist I had had in the past had performed a major dental operation upon my tooth, and I had not even been told. It was uncapped/crowned, which it is not supposed to be because then plague and bacteria can and will get in and infect the roots and bone, possibly causing abscess, and a weakening of the bone structure and nerve damage.
I had no idea how old it was, or who performed it. After many repeat visits, I was sent to an Endospecialist for a retreatment of the tooth, which means removing the old root canal, and redoing it in hopes of preserving the tooth. This is no easy operation, and that's where my blog post began.

As my Endospecialist proceeded retreating my tooth, she discovered that the root canal had not even been finished, and that they had placed in plastic pins instead of the proper material, and were encased in rubber, that she then had to MELT off of my tooth in order to remove the pins. I have to be on antibiotics, and I have two or three more visits with her/my dentist in order to finish the procedure, if it even works. I may end up having to have it pulled, or get major surgery in order to put in an implant.
But I am lucky. My tooth never abscessed, or shattered down the middle, my jaw bone never cracked.

What fills me with rage is that some PIECE OF SHIT out there caused this, the hours of pain, the hundreds of dollars in medical bills, the stress. HE did not ask for my permission to rip out the inside of one of my teeth. HE did not inform me that that was what was occurring, nor did he communicate to his assistants, or me, that there was to be a follow up crowning, or completion. He went into my mouth, destroyed one of my teeth, which I obviously need, and did not even CARE ENOUGH TO INFORM ME or MY MOTHER.
He didn't care about me as a person, I was just a fucking number that maybe paid his fucking wage. I was just another stupid, uneducated, fucking Welfare Leech.

Because when you are poor, dentists don't give a SHIT about you.

Now that I make a decent living, and have had doctors who care, and dentists who send me fucking birthday cards in the mail, let me fucking tell you.

It. Is. Wrong.

It is wrong that the poor are prevented from getting proper dental care. It is wrong that the dentists we see rip out our teeth without explanation. It is wrong that they perform unnecessary procedures that endanger our lives. It is wrong that the very systems designed to help us instead ignore our cries and tell us instead that "we get what we pay for."

The scarring in my mouth will never leave me. I will always have problems with this tooth, and it will serve me well as a reminder to never, EVER, forget where I came from. Like the metal in my mouth, poverty will stick with me as long as I live.  


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