A brief denthistory of Stan Batcow, 1964 - ?
Too many sweets and not enough brushing; a sure-fire recipe for dental disaster. In my early years I generated many cavities and subsequent fillings as a result of such irresponsible behavior. I have recollections of childhood nights filled with toothache-induced delirium - my body too small and too far away, the smell of rubber, gigantic angular shapes crowding my head - then the trip to . . . the dentist! Hated, feared, unknown and loathed the world over - but actually not all that bad, really. Magical words like 'abscess'! Having gas and waking up groggy, being able to touch a raw hole in your gum with the tip of your tongue afterwards . . . and once, after dreading the inevitable trip to the dentist all morning at school, having to come back home untouched because I'd drunk my school milk. The dentist wouldn't gas me in case I vomited and choked myself. I'm not sure whether the relief of being allowed to go home countered the worry of the next visit, or not . . .
One Saturday afternoon during the legendary long hot summer of 1976 - when I was 12 - a friend and I were cycling from my home to his. I have no recollection of what actually happened, just a knowledge of the location of the incident and a memory of trying to see my reflection in car wing mirrors. I kept asking my friend what I looked like and mumbling about my teeth - he was shaken, pale, and kept telling me that he thought I looked OK. I obviously didn't, as I'd smashed my upper front four teeth. (Cue song, - "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth") If I recall correctly, they looked something like this:
I cycled home for help, and found my brother in the shower getting ready to go to a Genesis concert that evening. He phoned my dad, who came home from the shop where he worked - and off we went to the hospital, for a long wait and several head x-rays. I had cuts, bruises and black eyes, but there was no other serious damage except for suspected concussion. "Go to your dentist as soon as you can," was the verdict.
My dad telephoned the emergency number and arranged an appointment for me on the Sunday. I think the dentist was cheesed off with having to see me, when it was pretty obvious that there would be nothing he could really do until the surgery was open. All four teeth were irreparable, though the roots were salvageable. The course of action decided upon was crowning, a method of fastening false teeth to your own roots permanently. The broken teeth were cut off level with the gum and drilled into, gold pegs were inserted and then the new teeth were cemented to these pegs.
All these procedures were carried out under local anesthetic, a subcutaneous injection in the gum. My face used to really freeze up for a good few hours afterwards . . . my brother once told me to go and have a fight with my neighbor Darren Bell (my best friend, and I hated him) because it wouldn't hurt if he punched me whilst my face was frozen. (I didn't). I remember the injections really hurting, the dentist used to force the fluid from the syringe, the pressure of which tore the gum tissue apart inside. Injections I've had since don't hurt half as much, because dentists now seem to take more time. The most painful part nowadays is the actual insertion of the needle, and that's only a scratch. My dentist wasn't a very good one, I suspect, and despite all four crowns being re-done twice (at ages 16 and 24) they've never been straight in my head, always a bit crooked . . . though to be fair, maybe I damaged the roots when I smashed my head on the pavement.
As I mentioned, I suffered the usual toothaches and cavities as a child, resulting in quite a proportion of my teeth having mercury amalgam fillings, and I lost two more teeth to decay, both of which were able to be crowned. It's one of these, my upper right premolar, which is the subject of my next sorry tale.
It began innocuously enough at my cousin's 21st birthday party, when I was eating - of all things - a piece of cheese. It struck me that cheese didn't usually have bones, and close inspection of the hard lump in my mouth revealed that I'd lost one of my crowns. Bummer.
When I went to the dentist to have it recemented in place, the process seemed more painful than I'd remembered, but I put it down to bad memory. Stupid really, considering that I've got a very good memory. There was an unpleasant pressure under the tooth for a few days, which I countered with some of my infrequently taken painkillers until it wore off. I assumed the crown had been 'settling in' and I soon forgot all about it.
In 1995, I lost the same tooth again, and once more went to the dentist to have it recemented in place. This time the pain when it was pressed in place was really sharp, a knife-edge cutting into my gum. The dentist assured me that it would be fine, and I went home. I couldn't bear to clench my teeth, not even touch the tooth with the tip of my tongue, and during the evening I could feel pressure building up under the tooth. The agony got so bad that I attempted to extract the tooth myself, once with my fingers and later with a pair of pliers - though it hurt so much I couldn't really make a concerted effort. During the evening and night I tried to telephone for emergency dental treatment twice, only to be shunted through telephone message systems and told to ring during surgery hours.
Several doses of paracetamol later: I was first in the queue when the surgery opened and was attended to quite quickly. The dentist examined a previous x-ray and guessed there was an abscess under the tooth, which had been producing fluid that had been draining away when the tooth was loose. This could have contributed to the tooth becoming loose initially. She told me to take a course of antibiotics and come back in three days if it wasn't clearing up.
I interspersed the antibiotics with more paracetamol, Extra Strength, and grimly hung on in there for the next three days. It got worse. I made another emergency appointment, and this time the dentist took new x-rays which were developed immediately. After inspecting these, she found a vertical hairline crack through the root of the problem crown, which had been in line with the previous x-ray print and therefore undetectable.
I requested extraction, immediately and forthwith - as I'd requested on my first emergency appointment, incidentally. The dentist expressed a slight reluctance to 'give up' on this tooth, but I was resolute and she acceded to my wishes. I refused anesthetic, feeling that I couldn't experience more pain than I already had. The crown came off quickly and easily, and the dentist then made an attempt to extract the root (using what looked suspiciously like a pair of needle-nosed pliers). She did virtually everything she could, barring putting one foot on my chest for leverage, but managed only to extract one small piece of the now fragmented root. None of her surgical implements could produce the necessary grip or leverage. She apologized and explained that I needed a minor operation to effect this extraction, and I would have to make an appointment for a day when she had a complete hour available. This proved to be a week away.
I went home. Although the crown had been removed and the pressure should by now have gone, the pain continued. There were decaying shards of tooth festering inside my gum, and they weren't afraid of letting me know about it. The pain was coming in waves, going through different levels - the initial close area of pain around the root slowly widened, throbbing in time with my pulse, becoming less defined, more of a dull pounding. It spread from my upper gum to the bottom one, then to my entire jaw, then up to my temple, then to the whole right side of my head. It was excruciating to move, speak, listen, eat, or even to blink.
I lived an entire week in agony, living the grim life of a helpless drug addict. I spent the time lying listlessly, watching the clock, waiting for four hours to be gone so I could numb my head by taking the next blast of codeine. This didn't actually kill the pain, but it reduced it to a manageable level for an hour or so - even if the effects were just psychosomatic. Then the process started again, through day and night, the longing for that glass of cloudy liquid, the gritty texture on my tongue, the chalky taste, the blissful sensation of cold liquid swirling around my tortured gums. During all this I didn't sleep properly for about two weeks, and spent the last ten of those days largely in a state of dazed delirium. It was one of those periods of time that the brain negates afterwards, refuses to accept such horror can have existed, sometimes provides amnesia to deal with . . . with hindsight that fortnight to me seems to have been over very quickly, but I know that it wasn't. It was, in fact, virtually endless.
The day of my minor surgical operation arrived, and I was past caring. I'd have volunteered for vivisection or euthanasia by then. I physically couldn't drive myself to the surgery, I was having difficulty even walking unaided. Once in the chair, I had the necessary anesthetic injections and when my face was numb the dentist began. I was awake - of sorts - throughout the process, and everything was explained to me as it happened. Weirdly, I was disassociated with my body and took the role of an observer, experiencing no pain but feeling the vibrations and the pressure of my jaw being pulled as the tooth fragments relinquished their grip, one by one.
The dentist initially sliced a section of the flesh covering my gum, peeling away a flap of skin to uncover the bone around the area of the affected root. She next used what was essentially a small power drill to grind away the upper jawbone, so that she could get deeper into the tooth socket to obtain a better grip and a lower leverage point. The dental assistant was keeping me mopped up and using a vacuum tube to remove the blood, and cheerfully remarked at one point that I looked worse than most things she'd seen in horror films. Yeah, great, thanks. Most encouraging.
After much heaving, straining and grunting, the offending pieces of tooth were removed and no, thank you, I didn't want to keep them as mementoes. My face was stitched back together and I went home again, quite possibly in a mild state of shock but too numb to know it, with a gap in my upper jaw and several stitches my tongue couldn't quite manage to leave completely alone. The toothache had gone, but after so long my head just kept throbbing anyway out of habit. I spent another couple of days taking codeine. A week later the stitches were, fairly painlessly, removed. The gap was tender afterwards, as if the jagged edges of the bone underneath were trying to emerge through the gum. I think it was probably six or eight months before it was properly healed.
I can't help but recall the old saying "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it"; well not only do I remember it but it's chronicled here for all to see. I don't want to repeat that, thank you.
These have been the main events in my dental history to date, excepting the lower left premolar that never made it through the gum because of overcrowding, but 'fell over' and grew sideways under my gum - I've seen it on my x-ray prints!
Also, as I'm writing this I've a tiny ache where one of my wisdom teeth is pushing its weight around; evidently it's attempting to grow against my jawbone, an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. The dentist has advised me to bear the discomfort as long as humanly possible because extracting this tooth could be problematic. The nerve running along the lower jaw is so close to the tooth that if they tried to yank it out, the nerve would almost certainly be damaged and I could end up with no feeling in the right side of my face.
Stan Batcow, September 1998. www.pumf.net