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My Longest Journey

D

deweydecimator

Junior member
Joined
Apr 27, 2018
Messages
8
As someone in CBT for an anxiety disorder, I know that journaling helps me process my thoughts and calm my racing mind.

As a lurker on this forum, I know that reading everyone's stories has helped me motivate myself to overcome my anxiety and take action.

As a librarian, I know the best stories usually focus on an epic hero's journey.

This will be a combination of all three. I hope that unloading my feelings and chronicling my journey here will help someone else find his or her own motivation. If no one reads this, well, then at least I'll get this story out of my head where it's driving me crazy.

The Background

My parents had terrible dental hygiene. My dad was a meth addict for most of my childhood. We were poor -- Appalachian mountaineering family poor. My mom worked 3 jobs to pay for our house, our food, their cigarettes, and my dad's drug habit. Our teeth were at the very bottom of a long list of priorities. They never taught me to brush regularly. I don't think I've ever seen them purchase floss. Our diet was terrible because we ate what was cheap. Around 9 or 10, I had huge cavities and an abscess in my molars. I had 3 extractions in the one dental visit I got before age 18, under sedation. I don't remember any of it.

Brushing and oral hygiene still weren't a priority for me as a young adult. I don't think I owned a toothbrush for a whole year when I was in college. I was also incredibly depressed -- after experiencing sexual assault at a Halloween party my sophomore year, I developed PTSD and GAD. The university doctor plied me with cheap medications, but without therapy, they were really only a band-aid. ALL of my hygiene went downhill. I barely showered. I barely ate. I drank way too much and started using non-prescription drugs. I started smoking, just like both of my parents. I was broke and spent all of my money self-medicating. My teeth suffered tremendously. I'd look in the mirror, and the depression would tell me it was pointless to even start trying to turn things around. I listened.

In graduate school, my mental health started to turn around. I drank far less and quit using recreational drugs. As I worked toward my master's degree, I felt smart. I felt worthwhile! I made better money than I'd ever made before. I could afford treats again -- like fresh fruit. FRESH FRUIT. One night, I was eating a bowl of cherries, feeling smug about how far I'd come. I bit down on a cherry pit and one of my remaining back molars shattered. I was in more pain than I'd been in for years. I knew I'd have to get it looked at. Cue the shame. I couldn't go to the dentist -- they'd know that I was a white trash redneck masquerading as a college-educated woman who appeared to have her shit together. I convinced myself that they'd assume I was a) disgusting and b) a meth addict like my father. My whole identity crumbled away with my tooth. I finally caved when it hurt too much to talk, took the day off work, and found a dentist in my price range. The hygienist was incredibly sweet to me. The dentist was also pretty kind, numbed me up real good, and yanked that tooth out of there. But then, he made an off-hand comment about the health of my gums and the shame spiral started. I can't keep my teeth healthy. I can't keep my gums healthy. I am worthless. I am disgusting. It's pointless to even try -- I'll just end up with dentures like my mom and dad and grandmother anyway. I ignored all of the follow up calls from his office. I didn't even bother to cancel my appointments, I just didn't show up. The offending tooth had been extracted, nothing hurt anymore, so I just stuck my head in the sand and went on with life.

I finished grad school and started job hunting. I worked part-time for years to build up my resume. No health insurance. No dental insurance. I loved the jobs I was doing but couldn't afford to get my mouth looked at. I still had shoddy brushing habits. Then I met my now-husband. When we started spending most nights together, he sat me down and had a very serious (although pretty loving, looking back on it) discussion with me about brushing and flossing. He told me that if we were really talking about getting serious and settling down, I'd have to work on it, that he wanted a partner to back him up in teaching these lessons to children we might have, that he didn't want to set a bad example for them and start them on the same path I was on. I was humiliated. To get away from my own embarrassment and shame, I just disconnected my mouth from the rest of me in my mind. Those aren't my cavities. Those aren't my bleeding gums.

We started a routine of brushing together every single morning and every single night. My breath smelled better. My teeth didn't feel fuzzy. They were still incredibly yellow and my gums still bled whenever I tried to floss, but it was enough to kickstart out relationship, which is all I was aiming for anyway. It was about keeping my boyfriend, not my teeth. I had a broken molar on my upper left side that was sharp and pointy, but it had been that way for years and didn't hurt. I had a cavity forming in the lower molar on my left side...but I was brushing regularly now. Surely that would take care of that. No need to see a dentist, that was only for emergencies.

We got married. I'm smiling with my mouth closed in all of my wedding photos.

I got a full time job with health insurance! But no dental. My anxiety disorder and depression had been flaring up off and on since my grandfather had passed, and I decided to prioritize medication and therapy over my mouth. Again. I learned a lot of things from that job, because of the therapy I could afford while working it, and when I quit I knew how to communicate effectively, how to value myself as an employee with great ideas who worked hard and saw results, and how to prioritize self care when I started to feel stressed or like life was out of my control. We bought a house. I got a new job, cut my commute time down by 2/3rds, and was really excited about the new chapter of my life.

The weekend after my first full week at the new library, my molar with the cavity that'd I'd been ignoring broke. I spit half the tooth out into my hand. It hurt. I was ashamed. The whole spiral started from scratch. I tried to hide it from my husband, didn't want him to know there was anything wrong with me at all. He saw through it -- he always does. Bless that man, he didn't even get upset with me for hiding the decay for so long. I was going to get health and dental insurance through my job, but it took 90 days to kick in. I couldn't wait that long. So I did some half-assed research, found a dentist close to the house, and booked an appointment for an emergency extraction. As ashamed as I was, I started to see that this could be the turning point for me. I could pay for these extractions out of pocket and then when the insurance kicked in, make a real push! I was hopeful.

My husband went with me to the appointment because he knew I was nervous. The building the office was in was next to a donut store, and that made me laugh. We had the first appointment of the day, 8:00 AM, so I figured I wouldn't have to wait very long to be seen. Wrong. We sat in the lobby and watched person after person get called back. The receptionist was rude and unhelpful. The hygienist spoke to my husband instead of me. The dentist refused to speak to me at all, just made annoying tsking sounds at me. They decided to get the shattered upper molar while they were in there. I got one shot for my top tooth, one shot for my bottom tooth. I tried to watch Moana on the tv on the ceiling above the chair. Everything went fine with the shattered upper molar -- it hadn't hurt in years and I'm sure it was way dead. Then she started to pull the newly broken one on the bottom. IT HURT. Oh my god, did it hurt. I tried to tell her to stop but she just kept pulling. I have never, ever been in so much pain in my life. I got tunnel vision. I was sweaty. I hadn't had a panic attack in almost year, since I'd started therapy, but my body went ahead and had one then. Suddenly it hurt but also I must be having a heart attack or she was pulling my whole jaw off or I was going to pass out and then suffocate under my own tooth. I started crying -- big, ugly, loud sobs where the snot was draining down the back of my throat and I knew they could see it while they were fighting to get that tooth out of my head. No one once stopped to offer more anesthesia. It felt like hours passed, but by husband said it was only really about 15 minutes. She finally bothered to talk to me, first to tell me to stop moving and then to tell me I'd have to get braces before she'd do any more work on me, that I'd need implants but should really worry about getting my teeth bleached first so the implant could be as white as possible. I got out of the chair and just kept crying, instead of answering her.

I paid, out of pocket and full price, still ugly crying in the lobby. I'm sure I set off more nervous patients but I just couldn't stop. My whole body was shaking. My mouth was bleeding; saliva, snot, tears, and blood dripping down my face. I couldn't feel it, because my cheek was numb even though my gums apparently were not. It was truthfully one of the most painful and most embarrassing experiences of my life. I was 31 years old and bawling like a toddler in front of God and everybody. My husband, though, he wasn't embarrassed. He was furious! He walked to me our car, put me in the passenger seat and buckled me in, and went back into the office. I have no idea what he said to any of them, and I will never ask him, but he came out red-faced and with that one blood vessel bulging on his neck. We filled my prescription for Tylenol 3 and went home. I passed out on the couch watching Peppa Pig on YouTube and had some wild, scary hallucinations from the codeine in the Tylenol 3. I stopped taking it and decide that the whole experience just goes to show why I didn't need to go to the dentist. They couldn't do anything for me and now they were actively hurting me! All of my plans to finally turn my dental health around -- poof, gone, from that point forward. I would let my teeth rot out of my head and gum applesauce until the day I died.

Now

That was in July 2017. April 2018, I just...changed my mind. I'd developed a new cavity in a bicuspid that didn't hurt a lot, but was certainly uncomfortable. I have no chewing molars left on the other side of my mouth. I was craving nachos more than anything in the entire world, but couldn't chew them. The thought of living without Tex-Mex for the rest of my life may actually be what spurred me on. Which is sad, and a little ridiculous, but dammit, I really love chips and queso. I started googling about the shame and embarrassment of jacked-up teeth and discovered this site. Reading y'all's stories -- especially the success stories! -- really helped me be brave. I found an extremely highly rated dentist for nervous and phobic patients in the town we live in, called, made an appointment, and even WENT to the appointment!

I now have a treatment plan and 9 visits scheduled. I need one root canal and crown, a handful of fillings, one extraction, and root planing and scaling done. I have never, ever been to the dentist for anything other than emergency extractions and have no idea what I'm in for. I've found myself watching some disgusting YouTube videos of the procedures I need so that I'm mentally prepared.

My root canal and the first part of the scaling and planing is in two weeks. I'll report back as those procedures get a little closer, because I am straight up terrified.

If you've read this far, thank you for listening to me. Wish me luck, y'all!
 
Enarete

Enarete

Super Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Sep 18, 2017
Messages
2,530
Wow.. what a story.. I do not even know what to say. So happy to read that there is a beginning of an happy end and you are in good kind caring hands now. You have suffered enough... Thank you so much for sharing this with us

All the best wishes for you and for your lovely husband and keep us posted :)
 
krlovesherkids777

krlovesherkids777

Super Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jul 26, 2017
Messages
2,768
Location
Minneapolis, MN
Thank you for sharing your story!! :) :) What a triumph of overcoming past bad experiences and being willing to try dental work despite such a difficult past. Hope your root canal and scaling and root planing go well and that this new dentist really takes great care of you in all ways.

Look forward to hear of your journey more !
 
D

deweydecimator

Junior member
Joined
Apr 27, 2018
Messages
8
Well, it's D-Day. I'm 2 hours away from my very first root canal, my first visit of 9 to get things back on track. I am legitimately terrified. In my head I can't stop picturing the episode of Star Trek: TNG when Picard gets kidnapped and tortured by the Cardassians. I am terrified of hurting, of being out of control, and of embarrassing myself.

I want to thank you guys for your words of support! I know I wrote a novel to get this started, but I did feel better after getting it all out.

I'll update again after the procedure today.
 
Enarete

Enarete

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Staff member
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Sep 18, 2017
Messages
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The anxiety before an appointment is the wirst one, but you already had managed to get through one visit so you will manage to get through this one too. You will do great. Your dentist will be as kind and caring as the last time you were there and you will walk out with a good experience.

All the best wishes and let us know how it went :)
 
D

deweydecimator

Junior member
Joined
Apr 27, 2018
Messages
8
Well guys, I did it!! I survived my first non-extraction dental procedure.

I had a root canal, three fillings, and a temporary crown placed. The procedure itself really didn't hurt in the slightest. I was suuuuuper numb so all I could really feel was pressure and the dentist moving around in there. When he was cleaning out the canals, it felt like someone was blowing up a balloon inside my tooth, which was incredibly weird. I mostly kept my eyes shut and blasted my audiobook (shout out to the library for carrying Playaways so I could listen to American Gods!).

The appointment lasted nearly 3 hours. They didn't prescribe me any painkillers or anything, which I guess is to be expected. I've only ever gone in for extractions so I'm used to walking out with a prescription. I took some ibuprofen as soon as I got home and another dose just before bed. So far today it's been tender and a little sore, but it doesn't really hurt much at all.

The fillings they did on the teeth around my root canal are freaking me out a little. I guess it's been so long since I had whole teeth back there, I didn't even realize that pieces were missing until they got filled back in. I'm trying really hard to keep my tongue away from the whole area for the next few days because I'm paranoid of knocking the temporary crown loose, but it sure is a trip to find a whole tooth back there. Even though this was just the first of nine visits, I really feel like I've already made some serious progress getting my mouth in order. It feels good.

Tomorrow I go back at 9:00am for my first scaling and root planing treatment. I'm going to request that my hygienist work on the lower front teeth because I've been exceptionally embarrassed by the gross build up around them and how discolored they are. I'm really hoping to be able to SEE some improvement after I leave tomorrow. I feel like it will be the boost I need to continue treatment. I'm terrible at delayed gratification.

I go in on June 4 for my permanent crown. I'm feeling really good, really positive about the whole experience and I am so grateful for a) my new dental team, but b) for all of your words of support and this forum in general. I would never have started this journey without reading all of yours! I'll post again tomorrow after treatment -- it'll be good to read back on this after I'm done with my treatment plan and see just how far I've come.
 
Enarete

Enarete

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What a success story! :jump::jump::jump: Amazing to hear that it went well and you're feeling good. I must be a very different feeling in your mouth now but I am sure you will get used to it very soon. Give yourself a pat on the shoulder, this is quite a bit of work what you managed to get done! :)

All the best for the scaling and root planing tomorrow, may you get nice visible results that will make you even more happy about your teeth :) Oh yes, and keep keeping us posting, reading about successful dental visits is addictive :)
 
D

deweydecimator

Junior member
Joined
Apr 27, 2018
Messages
8
Appointment 2 of 9 complete!

Today, my hygienist spent an hour and a half doing scaling and root planing on the two right quadrants of my mouth. She also snuck a couple of teeth on my lower left quadrant in to get rid of the black plaque I was feeling so self-conscious about. I had really worked myself up about this appointment. I'd read literally every scaling and root planing post on this forum plus watched some YouTube videos. I was terrified and my hygienist knew it -- my blood pressure was elevated at the beginning of the appointment and I had the shakes. She is truly the best dental professional I have ever seen. She made me so comfortable and she's so incredibly nice. She narrated what she was doing the whole time and checked to see if I needed more anesthetic 4 times during the hour and a half. She kept telling me just how great my teeth were looking and how easy the calculus was coming off.

I am super stoked to report how amazing my teeth look, especially on the bottom! No more black plaque, no more brown stains -- I seriously thought I'd need several whitening treatments eventually but they're definitely WAY brighter than I thought they could be.

I took my hygienist's advice and ordered an electric toothbrush and the toothpaste and floss she recommended today on Amazon. I'm excited to get the left half of my mouth done so that all of my teeth can look as good as the right side. The numbness is finally starting to wear off and my mouth is definitely a little sore and tender -- nothing as bad as a toothache but enough that I probably will only drink my meals today.

I must say that I am extremely pleased how well I've been handling these treatments. Nothing is ever as bad as I've imagined in my head and I feel like I've worked myself up over the pain for nothing. This new dental office has been incredible and so so nice and understanding about my bad experiences. I am so grateful I found them, and that I found this forum to help me work up to even calling them to begin with.

I'll report back when I start getting nervous about my next appointment, hahahaha!
 
Enarete

Enarete

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Appointment 2 of 9 complete!
I already can't wait to read how you will feel about dental visits after your 9th appointment :) seeing the lovely progress someone has made is one of the most beautiful things on this forum, so make sure to keep us posted.

Oh and I would almost forget.. Congrats and well done :jump: :)
 
Dg6300

Dg6300

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 27, 2017
Messages
637
Location
US
Wonderful!

Your journey is amazing.

You are are a real inspiration.

And your husband: a great guy.

You are doing great.

Great great great.
 
D

deweydecimator

Junior member
Joined
Apr 27, 2018
Messages
8
Well, y'all, here we are again. Gearing up for my 3rd appointment today to get my permanent crown installed on my premolar. I am pretty anxious about today's appointment and I can't figure out why. The hard part has already happened -- the root canal is done! I keep reminding myself that my tooth is just getting its permanent hat today and that it a) probably won't hurt at all, because nothing really has yet, and b) when it's healed I can EAT CRUNCHY FOODS AGAIN. I've got visions of chips and queso running through my mind...I can't tell y'all how hard it's been to be in Texas in the summertime and not be able to eat my chips and queso. It's a summertime staple!

I've also really been trying to do better at my own oral hygiene. I know it's just a habit I will have to form, to replace the terrible habits of my childhood and young adulthood. I bought an electric toothbrush, a triclosan-mouth wash that was recommended by my hygienist, and more floss than any one person probably needs. I think I've missed flossing only 3 times since I last updated this journal. Since I went 25 years without flossing at all, I think this is pretty good progress. I'm also enjoying how clean and smooth my teeth feel in my mouth. Ha! Imagine that, taking care of my teeth makes them feel cleaner and better. I wish it didn't take this long to figure that out, honestly. I hope the next update I have for you guys on hygiene routines I can say that I missed ZERO days of flossing. That's my next goal.

I've got 2 hours to go until it's appointment time. I'm doing my breathing exercises and trying to keep myself busy so my thoughts and anxieties don't spin out. I'll update you guys after my appointment today and let y'all know how it went. Again, I can't thank you enough for your kind words and your encouragement. I'd never have made it this far without this forum!
 
krlovesherkids777

krlovesherkids777

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Minneapolis, MN
Deweydecimater..

How did your appt go? How is the new crown feeling how are you doing? Hope all went well!
 
D

deweydecimator

Junior member
Joined
Apr 27, 2018
Messages
8
Hi guys, I'm back! Everything went incredibly well yesterday. I had a different hygienist who helped my dentist take X-rays and fit my permanent crown. She'd never met me before but still made it a point to tell me that she was proud of me for taking care of my teeth. We had to switch rooms a few times because the X-ray readers were all on the fritz, and my dentist -- who is a very tall, very buff dude -- carried my purse around for me from room to room until we found one that had a functioning set up. He apologized for the tech error over and over. I feel really really lucky to have found this practice. They make me laugh, they take my concerns seriously, and they like to talk books and the library. It feels like I finally found my "home" dentist, you know what I mean? The best part is that I have been given the go-ahead to EAT CHIPS! They told me to treat the permanent crown like a normal tooth starting today. My coworkers are planning a chip and dip fest for our Saturday shift this week and I could not be more excited!

I go back a week from Thursday to get the second half of my scaling and root planing done as well as 2 more fillings. I'll keep you guys updated!!
 
krlovesherkids777

krlovesherkids777

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Messages
2,768
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Minneapolis, MN
This sounds so encouraging.. so happy for you!! and it seems you really did find a great, and even fun.. dental home.... :) :0!! And hope you can enjoy alot of chips :) !
 
D

deweydecimator

Junior member
Joined
Apr 27, 2018
Messages
8
Just a quick update on my progress!

Last week, I had root scaling and planing done on the left half of my mouth. Although the x-rays showed that the left side wasn't as bad off as the right, it hurt a lot more than the right side did. I don't know if I just have mouth fatigue or what, but I was pretty dang sore for the three days after the procedure. Today is the first day my nose, lips, and gums right in the front of my mouth haven't felt bruised. While my hygienist was doing her thing, she discovered another cavity on a tooth that was hidden under calculus build up, so I'll need to add another filling to my treatment plan. In the past, I would have immediately felt ashamed and freaked out, but my dental office is so considerate and kind. They were very matter-of-fact about it, no judgement or shame, so I didn't even get embarrassment tears. I'm super proud of myself.

I also got 2 fillings in my two front teeth immediately after my scaling and planing. I had cavities along the back side of my front teeth that were beginning to show through to the front, but those are gone! I don't have any darkness at all. My front teeth look...well, not sparkly white by any means, but like healthy teeth for sure! My only complaint is that it feels like I have something wedged in between them. I've flossed away at it repeatedly but it's still stuck in there. I don't know if it's just the resin and a feeling I'll have to get used to or if there's anything they can do about it.

I don't go back now until August 2 -- that's my 6 week check up to track the status of my healing gums. Also that day I'll be getting another crown done, but I don't think this one requires a root canal. No one at the office mentioned a root canal. Judging by the lack of information I have, I need to do better about asking them questions. It's hard to overcome my anxiety to speak up, but I've made it my mission to call the office before the end of the week about the weird feeling in my front teeth and to figure out which tooth needs the crown and what exactly is happening.

Shout out to all of you also on this longest journey. Hope things are going as well for y'all as they have been for me!
 
L

Lex

Member
Joined
Jun 25, 2018
Messages
28
Location
Oregon
I am in tears reading through all of this. I am so proud of you!! You are so brave and strong! I have my first appointment in years on Tuesday and I am finding so much strength in everything you had to share!
 
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