The COVID-19 pandemic has affected people in many ways. For me, the biggest problem wasn’t running out of toilet paper, or losing my job. What I needed, and could not immediately get, was a dental appointment.
In February of 2020, I unexpectedly cracked a permanent cap. I wasn’t eating anything crunchy at the time. It didn’t hurt, because that particular tooth had a root canal done on it several years ago.
Knowing that I had a dentist appointment – for a checkup and cleaning – scheduled in March, I decided to wait. The dental assistant could clean my teeth, and the dentist could take a look at the cracked permanent cap, on the same visit.
About a week before my “check up and cleaning” dental appointment, I started getting what seemed like two of the three symptoms of COVID-19. I called the dentist’s office and explained the situation to the receptionist. We decided that it was best that I NOT go to my March appointment.
The receptionist scheduled me a new appointment – in May.
The symptoms I was experiencing turned out not to be COVID-19. The third one (of the three that were known at the time) never appeared.
Meanwhile, the cracked permanent cap started separating. There was an obvious crack down the center of it that I could see when I looked in the mirror (and moved my head around enough to get some light cast on it).
I was starting to get a bit nervous. Maybe this was more serious than I thought? But, I had a dentist appointment coming up at the beginning of May. I could wait until then.
In the middle of March, my county issued “stay at home” orders, followed by my State doing the same. There was no information on when those orders would be lifted. It all depended on whether or not people followed the order, stayed home, and helped to stop the spread of COVID-19.
On April 30, my dentist’s office sent me an email. They had decided to close “for now”. I wasn’t entirely surprised, because the “stay at home” order included the requirement that only “essential services” stay open. Dentists were not considered to be providing “essential services”, apparently.
Based on the email, it was clear that all scheduled “checkup and cleaning” appointments had been canceled. The dentist’s office would reschedule patients whenever they were allowed to do that again. Those who felt that they were having a “dental emergency” could call the dentist himself (on a separate phone number), and he would determine whether or not it was really an emergency.
The permanent cap I cracked was getting worse. It was now hard to eat on that side of my mouth. Of course, this tooth was a molar, which people need if they want to chew food. To me, it looked like the crack was widening.
Eventually, I called the dentist’s office, and left a message in which I explained the situation. I left it up to the receptionist whether or not what I was experiencing was a dental emergency.
This resulted in a dentist appointment on May 19th My hope was that the dentist would take a quick look at the broken permanent cap, perhaps remove it, and set me up with a temporary cap.
My husband and I took a Lyft to the dentist’s office. Both of us wore masks, and the driver did, too. This was the first time I’d gone outside since March 5th.
The front door of the dentist’s office was closed, which was confusing, because that’s the only entrance we knew about. The receptionist, who was wearing a mask, opened the door and came outside.
She explained that they had closed off the waiting room, and that we could wait in our car until it was time for my appointment. We explained that we don’t have a car. The compromise was to go sit on a nearby bench and wait for the receptionist to appear at the back door and wave me over.
It was very windy outside. I learned that the cloth mask I was wearing functioned quite well at filtering out dust and pollen. To my surprise, my mask was helping me to breathe better than before the pandemic started, when no one here was wearing masks.
I’m going to start wearing masks on days when the pollen is too high for me to safely go outside. So far, this is the one incredibly positive thing I’ve had happen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The receptionist came out the back door of the office and waved at me. She made it clear that my husband could not come inside. I was quickly escorted to one of the three “rooms” in the dentist office.
It took less than a minute for the dentist to take a look at the cracked permanent cap – poke it with a dental tool – and listen to me make an unhappy noise.
He informed me that not only did I crack the permanent cap, but I also had destroyed what was left of the tooth underneath it. I was going to need an extraction, something I was not at all prepared to experience that day. The dentist explained he would not do it today, but would schedule another appointment for it.
“It was such a beautiful cap,” the dentist lamented.
I vaguely remember trying to explain that when I first cracked the cap, I had an appointment scheduled. But, that appointment didn’t happen. It was shocking to realize how much damage I had done to myself.
The dentist said that there was only a tiny percentage of a chance that what happened to me could happen. I was just unlucky.
The dentist prescribed an antibiotic – since I had a gum/tooth infection that I wasn’t even aware of. He also prescribed a painkiller. The receptionist gave me the prescriptions, urged me to start taking the antibiotic right away – tonight. She gave me a new appointment for the extraction, and what I later realized was also for a bone graft.
The receptionist also handed me a paper that itemized the amount of money each part of the upcoming procedures would cost. It was astounding. I’m not good with numbers, but even I could tell that this was going to wipe out all of our savings.
This appointment, however, was free of charge.
As my husband and I waited for another car to pick us up, I explained to him the situation. We needed to go to our regular pharmacy and get the prescriptions.
The driver was wearing a mask, and was very nice. Even with the mask on, it was obvious that I had been through some sort of dental thing. He dropped us off right at the door of the pharmacy.
Everyone in the pharmacy was wearing masks. Everyone seemed to be taking great care to engage in social distancing.
Unfortunately, the pharmacist didn’t have what I needed. He explained that he could give me the antibiotic – they had plenty of it – but they were out of the painkiller I had been prescribed. He suggested we go to a different pharmacy – a different company – who might have the painkiller.
This was disappointing. A second pharmacist joined the conversation, and recommended that we take these prescriptions to the pharmacy downtown (which was the same company as this one). She was certain they had everything I needed.
This time, my husband and I took the bus. The buses were running for free while the “stay at home” order was in place. The purpose was to ensure that people who were working in “essential services” could get to and from work.
The second pharmacy had everything I needed – but couldn’t get it for me immediately. We were told to come back in half an hour or so. This resulted in my husband and I aimlessly wandering around downtown, killing time.
The weather was nice. Most of the people we passed by were wearing masks. Some were in groups of two, with their masks under their chin. They immediately put the masks back in place when they saw other people coming.
We ended up sitting on a bench near a big Catholic church. I was exhausted both physically and mentally. My best guess was that the reason I’d been exceptionally tired lately was due to the infection.
When the pharmacy called, we walked back over to pick it up. The antibiotic cost $2.00. The pain killer cost $1.27. I think we took another bus back home, but am not sure. I was “out of spoons” by then.
As instructed, I took the first antibiotic immediately after I got home (and ate some food). The pain killer would wait until I needed it. The dentist said it was an opioid, and that made me not want to take it. The antibiotic kicked in, and I ended up taking a long nap.
A decision needed be made. My options were to do a bridge – where a fake tooth is connected to two real teeth, or to have a titanium implant placed in my jaw (with a fake tooth on top of it). The dentist suggested the implant was better.
“With a bridge, you have to damage two healthy teeth,” he explained. After my nap, I did some research, and decided I agreed with his assessment. The next day, I called the dentist’s office to let them know I wanted the implant.
The cost for the next appointment was $715. My husband said we had the money for that part of the bill. The rest? Was going to be a struggle.
The first step of the process would begin with an appointment two days from the quick one. I wasn’t especially worried about it because I have a really good dentist and a very high pain tolerance.
The receptionist sent me a text that morning, asking if I could come in fifteen minutes earlier than the time the appointment was scheduled for. My husband and were able to summon an Uber, and I texted back and forth with the receptionist to let her know we were on the way.
At the dentist appointment I was given novocaine. The dentist and I had a conversation about video games as we waited for it to kick in. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that the novocaine had epinephrine in it. It makes me shake.
The dentist said the “cure” for this problem was to have something with sugar in it. The sugar stops the shaking. He left and returned with a sealed bottle of juice. The first two ingredients, I could tolerate. The third one was something I was allergic to, and I handed the bottle back to him.
He did not seem to know what to do next. I suggested he hand me my purse, where I had a tin box of mints that had sugar in them. We talked more about video games as we waited for the mint to melt and take away the shaking.
Without going into too many details, today’s appointment was specifically for the extraction of whatever was left of the tooth I destroyed. The cracked permanent cap was easily removed. I didn’t feel anything at all while the extraction was happening.
I was too out of it to realize at the time, but this appointment was when a bone graft was placed in my jaw. I remember the dentist saying, “Don’t swallow, this is gonna taste real bad.” I assumed it was an antibiotic, but no. The dentist was able to “remove the infection” and reshape another tooth that I didn’t know had become infected.
There were sutures done to put things back together, and that was that.
I remember the dental assistant (not the one who does the checkups and cleanings) wiping off my face with a wet wipe before letting me move from the chair. I have borderline anemia, and it takes a while for me to clot.
The dentist recommended that I take one painkiller after I go home and the novocaine wears off. He said to take one more before going to bed so I could get some good sleep. I was shown a video about what NOT to do, and given a handout with the same instructions.
As before, Shawn could not come into the dentist’s office while I was there. The waiting room was still closed off. I remember texting him to say I was all done, and to ask which credit card to use. The bill for today’s work was $715. (That’s with dental insurance coverage, by the way).
I was given an appointment for June 1st, to take the sutures out.
There is a thing called “fibro fog”. It happens when a person who has fibromyalgia does too much or experiences trauma. Everything from this point on was a blur. My husband summoned a Uber while I explained what happened at this dental appointment and when the next one would be. For some reason, there weren’t any Lyft drivers available at that moment.
While waiting, I tried to use my phone to post on social media that I was finished with the dental work of the day. Looking back upon those posts as I write this blog, I realize that I barely made any sense.
This experience made me realize just how important a molar is. Now that one was missing, it had become difficult to eat food. Soft foods were recommended, and I think the first thing I tried to eat was a banana. The trick was to find ways to eat it without letting the food touch the newly placed sutures.
The novocaine was starting to wear off, so I started doing some research about the opioid I had been prescribed. It turned out that I had been prescribed a generic form of the same pain killer I was prescribed years ago, when that tooth had a root canal. This eased my mind because it meant I was not a person who becomes addicted to this particular opioid.
If I remember correctly, the previous time I was prescribed this particular pain killer for dental work, it was fine. The “worst” thing that happened as a result of taking this type of pain killer was that I spent hours playing World of Warcraft and leveling up my fishing skill.
This time, when the novocaine wore off to the point where I was really uncomfortable – I took a pain killer. It helped.
As directed, I took one more before going to sleep that night. The instructions I was given stated that I should sleep with extra pillows, so I would be propped up. The pain killer made falling asleep incredibly easy, and that’s coming from me, a person who is always exhausted due to chronic illnesses!
Days went by, and I was starting to lose track of time passing. Between the antibiotics that made me super sleepy, and the pain killers that made the world more foggy than “fibro fog” does, things got surreal.
One of the things I posted on social media that day was:
“I am awake right now waiting for when I can take my next antibiotic. Could feel the previous one wearing off a while ago.
This means I will have to eat again, which is difficult, due to dental surgery (part 1).
Antibiotics make me super sleepy, and I will lose much of the day due to being asleep.
Also, talking kinda hurts right now, due to dental surgery.”
Later on, I posted this:
“eight more antibiotics to go, eight hours apart from each other.
social distancing antibiotics”
And not long after that, I posted:
“Antibiotic is kicking in.
Gonna take a nap now.”
Sometime the next day, I posted:
“four more antibiotics to go!”
“3 antibiotics left!”
The next day, I posted:
“2 antibiotics left”
“one more antibiotic to go!”
The day after that I posted:
“Finished the antibiotics”
The only one of these I vaguely remember posting was the one with the phrase “social distancing antibiotics”.
On May 27th, I appeared to have had a moment of clarity. I mean, the thing I posted did include some information regarding the dental work that I’d already posted about on social media (probably more than once). But, I didn’t realize it at the time.
The point of that post was to say that my next appointment was scheduled for June 1st. It would be a quick appointment where the dentist removes the sutures. That appointment was free of charge.
After that appointment, I was told they would check up on me monthly, for four months, to see how I was healing. At some point, the dentist would declare that I had healed enough to get the titanium implant placed.
This gave my husband and I some time to gather up enough money to at least pay for for part 2 of the dental work.
On May 29th, I made what I think of as a “note to self” post on social media. The purpose was to keep track of how many opioids I had taken.
“I have been prescribed a painkiller.
Here’s how many I’ve taken: (as of May 21)
1 when the novocaine wore off (as directed by my dentist)
1 to sleep that night (as directed by my dentist)
1 to sleep the next night
1 a few days after that because it turns out having a bone graft in my jaw around the now extracted tooth can cause pain
1 right now – same reason (and I want to sleep)
Next appointment June 1 – to get stitches removes
On June 1st, I once again attempted to “live blog” on social media about my experience at the dentist. This time, the front door of the office was open, and the waiting room was accessible. Once again, I was wearing a mask, which I did not intend to remove until the dentist needed me to.
I stood in front of the receptionist’s desk, and waited. She wasn’t there, and I figured that maybe she was on a break. I moved away from the desk, and kept typing into my phone.
A man who looked to be about my age, came into the waiting room. He stood and stared at the empty receptionist desk for a while. This man was not wearing a mask, so I backed away from him.
A little while later, the man leaned over the desk, and looked both ways. The receptionist wasn’t there. He then walked into the open door that separates the waiting room and the area where the dentistry happens.
No one back there immediately responded to the man, so he turned around and looked at me. He asked if there was a receptionist today. I shrugged.
The woman who does the cleaning and checkups – which the dentist office was once again able to offer, took a second to talk to the unmasked man. She explained that they were short handed today, and that he could wait in the waiting room.
He pointed at her, and she raised her arms and nodded her head. The dental assistant was covered from head to toe in PPE. She even had a face shield.
The man then went and sat in a chair. I picked a place to sit that looked about six feet away from him. He decided to talk to me.
He asked if I was there for a checkup. He was there for a checkup. I explained that no, I was not here for a checkup. The man didn’t seem to be able to hear me, possibly because of the mask I was wearing. Instead of taking it off, I just used my voice-work skill to project my voice farther.
I told him I was there to get sutures removed. He said he took out his own sutures. This was something he seemed proud of. I responded that I’d rather have the dentist do mine for me, and went back to looking at my phone.
The dentist came to get me, and we went to the first “room” (when I had the extraction done). No novocaine was needed. It only took a couple of minutes for him to remove the sutures. The dentist said I was healing well, and there were no signs of infection. He was pleased.
I’m writing this blog post on June 30th, 2020. In between then and now, I called the dentist’s office to see when they wanted to schedule me for my next appointment. No one has responded yet.
Dental Care During a Pandemic is a post written by Jen Thorpe on Book of Jen and is not allowed to be copied to other sites.
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