My family is cursed with bad gums. Each of us has receding gums that, sooner or later, cause major periodontal problems. My dad went through a procedure popular in the mid-1900s to restore the gumline by surgically slicing the soft tissues to force scarring. This medieval procedure did what it was supposed to – create a ridge of hardened healed tissue – but Dad said this was the worst pain he had ever experienced and didn’t recommend the procedure for anybody.
In 2003, I left a job as an airport screener due to job dissatisfaction and declining health. Notably, my lower gums were infected and bleeding and the front teeth were loose – despite daily brushing and flossing. Although I can’t prove it, daily exposure to untested low-dose radiation from the x-ray machines is likely to have made my inherited bad gums worse.
Please understand, Dear Readers, that up to that point in my life I had enjoyed exceptionally good health with no broken bones or serious illnesses. I’d had my tonsils out as a teenager and that was about it, other than the occasional cold or flu.
So, when I sat for the first time in my periodontist’s chair for an evaluation of my rotten mouth, I cried from anxiety and fear. My first periodontist was excellent and outlined a treatment plan of several oral surgeries to restore bone loss in my jaws and tighten up my gums by removing infectious bacteria.
At that time, 17 years ago, my goal was to keep all my natural teeth which are as precious to me as wee babies. I achieved that goal – until last week, that is.
In 2012, after I had been diagnosed and treated successfully for Graves Disease (hyperthyroidism) – probably also linked to too much low-dose airport radiation – one of my upper molars became inflamed and very painful.
My periodontist referred me to an endodontist who performed a root canal. This doctor of dentistry was also at the top of his game and did a superior job cleaning out the bacteria that was causing my misery inside the three main tooth roots.
For several reasons, including moving across country and not having a job that paid health benefits, I never had that root-canaled tooth crowned. Over the years, dentists and periodontists warned me that this tooth might need to be extracted.
But I wanted to keep all my natural teeth for as long as possible.
The uncrowned root-canaled tooth became infected periodically so badly that I took doctor-prescribed broad-spread antibiotics to kill all the bad germs in my oral cavity – and everywhere else in my body, to boot. Still, I clung to that bad tooth as if it were a precious child.
When another nasty, throbbing molar infection flared up in late December 2019, it was accompanied by a cancer sore behind the tooth (near where my tonsils used to be). I also noticed a large lump in my cheek over my lower jaw on the same side of my mouth as the infected molar. This made me panic because I had read that mouth infections can spread to other parts of the body, including the throat, breasts, lungs, and heart.
After the holidays, I booked an appointment with my dentist for a limited exam. He was about to outline options to save the tooth. I held up my hand and said, “Let me save us some time. It’s time for this tooth to come out. What are my replacement options?”
My dentist looked relieved that he wouldn’t have to convince me to have the rotten tooth pulled and explained the steps needed to wind up with an implant:
- Pull the bum tooth and get a bone graft to build up the bone that had been eaten away by years of infection.
- Wait 5 months for the extraction site to heal.
- Get the implant – a titanium screw imbedded in the jawbone.
- Wait up to 6 more months (possibly longer, depending on how fast I heal).
- Get a crown to cover the base of the implant and provide a sturdy grinding surface.
All told, my new fake tooth will cost about $6,000. Most dental insurance covers a fraction of that amount. For reasons no one can understand, health insurers think that replacing a rotten tooth with an implant is “cosmetic” surgery and therefore not covered for benefits.
As a self-pay, I saved up for this significant and extraordinary expense. I’m worth it.
My excellent dentist explained that, after the implant surgery, After surgery, my jaw will begin a process called osseointegration (os is the Latin word for “bone”). The bone tissue around the new implant will grow around and incorporate it into the rest of my jaw bone. Osseointegration is the formation of a direct interface between an implant and bone, without intervening soft tissue.
A temporary dental prosthesis called a healing cap will be placed over the implant surgery area. The cap will be slightly smaller than my other teeth because the implant won’t be strong enough to bear the force of chewing. No worries, though – the difference should be barely noticeable, especially on an upper rear tooth.
As my implant process goes forward, I’ll keep you Dear Readers informed about my progress. Will having the diseased root-canaled tooth ease my arthritis and other bodily aches and pains, as some doctors and patients have reported? Only time will tell!
In the meantime, I’m already breathing a sigh of relief for getting that blighted tooth out of my head. Sometimes, the baby needs to get tossed out with the bathwater – so to speak.