So, it turns out there’s a coming-of-age ritual these days that nearly every teenager gets to do.
I’m not thinking here about dreading the first day of high school; suffering through a puppy love breakup, or finding out that your Best Friend Forever has been posting trash behind your back.
Yup, all of the above scenarios are certainly part and parcel of young adulthood. But I’m betting that another adolescent passage happens a lot more.
I’m talking about wisdom teeth, or more specifically, their removal.
My 17-year-old daughter first started noticing that “something is growing in the back of my mouth” a few months ago. While she said that the sensation didn’t feel exactly like a cavity, she did say, “It feels weird, but I don’t need to go to the dentist.”
I immediately took her to our dentist.
And because he has been juggling in the dental world for a while, he knew exactly what was wrong.
Her wisdom teeth were coming in.
Which meant, of course, that they needed to come out.
Our dentist isn’t an oral surgeon, but he was happy to write the required referral I needed to give to whatever specialist I could find.
As it turned out, the stars were in my favor in this particular arena.
That’s because a good friend whose son is a year older than my daughter had already done the research. Our kids have the same health insurance, and she had found the nearest provider. Okay, he was 97 miles away, but no matter. I’m here in The Golden State, so of course I drive. Plus, I was fairly certain my child’s insurer would foot the entire bill if that’s where we went, so I knew that my time on the road would be well worth it.
That, and the fact that this particular dentist is all about wisdom teeth, to the point that his website URL pretty much says that.
Our first appointment was the consultation. After filling out the usual health history paperwork, my daughter and I were ushered into a small, sparse room.
There was a flat screen television mounted on one wall. There were two chairs. That was it—no gaily wrapped toothbrush or sample packet of floss anywhere in sight.
The dentist—whom I’ll also call Dr. Wisdom Tooth--then entered, heading toward my child. A grey-haired gentleman wearing pressed jeans, sneakers and a polo shirt, he introduced himself, then shook her hand, looked into her eyes and called her by name. He did the same with me. I was immediately impressed.
He next took out the x-ray our family dentist had given us, and solemnly pointed to each blurry wisdom tooth.
All four were impacted, he said, and the bottom two had some sort of cysts around them. They were also growing in a way that, much sooner than later, were going to painfully collide with her neighboring molars.
He looked at my daughter, and quietly said, “Your mouth is a ticking time bomb.”
That got my attention.
Dr. Wisdom Tooth then explained that she and I would now be shown a video on what the extraction procedure would entail. After that, I’d have to initial, many times, a form that essentially said we had both watched the presentation and understood it.
A compact tutorial, the DVD was over in less than ten minutes. I scribbled my initials many times. We were given a prescription for pain pills and directions on what to expect the day of the procedure, then started our long drive home.
After the insurance approval came through—amazingly, only a few weeks of waiting—we once again found ourselves in the office of Dr. Wisdom Tooth.
Astonishingly, at least to me, the entire procedure took 37 minutes (not that I was counting).
And while my daughter had hoped to give a hysterically funny post-surgery performance for YouTube audiences around the world, she basically was pretty out of it when a couple of the dental staff put her in my car, and then slept for an hour before asking for her favorite radio station. (However, there are some pretty crazy post-surgery patients. One with many millions of hits is here, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=idjo2fhLKDY.)
Oh, and given that I have a sturdy kid, she went to school the next day (although her cheeks did resemble those
of a chipmunk’s).
Given that the whole adventure involved driving many hundreds of miles, as well as dealing with a bloody mouth, heavy duty pain medication and, right, the actual wrenching out of teeth, it really was a positive experience.
Which got me to thinking about my own adventures (yes, plural) in Wisdom Tooth Land, which weren’t nearly as festive.
The first was at 13 years old.
I had braces and needed to have the bottom two wisdoms removed so the wireworks could finish their job. My mother and I went to the recommended surgeon and, being a placid and dutiful child, strolled right over to a big dental chair. A mask was put over my nose and mouth, and I was asked to start counting backwards.
My next memory was waking up on a narrow cot in a nearly pitch black room.
I was sobbing.
There was a cup of very watery, very hot chocolate (huh?) in a Styrofoam cup beside me. My crying was so loud that a member of the staff rushed in to reassure me, telling me I’d be going home soon.
I realized, much later, that what had terrified me so much was never being told what was going to happen.
No one, not a staff member, not the dentist, not even my mother (who likely had no clue herself) had given me any preparation for the procedure. And since I had never had any sort of extraction before, what did I know? Heck, I assumed that the dentist would remove those troublesome choppers in a few yanks, and I’d be hopping out of the chair in five minutes.
In fact, the experience was so awful that it started a new routine for me, one that I still practice.
Today, if a doctor or dentist or any other health care professional needs to do something I’m unfamiliar with, I always ask him or her to give me the lowdown before starting anything. Sometimes, I’ll even make sure that a staffer talks me through every single step. For me, knowledge is power.
The second visit to Wisdom Tooth Land was a decade later.
I was living in Brooklyn and had an amazing health insurance plan through Columbia University. It was seven dollars per month! Of course, this meant that only students would be taking care of all of my health care needs, but heck, it was seven dollars a month!
At some point, a recommendation was made: the two upper wisdoms needed to come out. I don’t remember a consultation, but I do remember that when I went in for the extractions, I was wearing a cute denim jumper and about 10 dental students crowded around the chair. I was also informed that I wouldn’t be knocked out completely, but given
The gas made time slow down, with the minutes also feeling jumbled and somehow goofy. And one other thing: I felt so ridiculously carefree that when a student showed me the bloody tooth he had just pulled, I thought: wow, how cool is that! Too, I distinctly remember thinking that all of these students could gang rape me right now and none of it
Once the procedure was over and I was just beginning to feel like myself again, the lead dentist asked where I lived. It was a long subway ride home and he knew it.
“Okay, hon,” he said, smiling. “I’ll just give you a little more gas to help you.”
I floated back to Brooklyn.
There were never any complications with the procedures, and I’m pretty sure I needed very little, if any, pain medication. And of course, I survived.
But I’m so happy that my daughter had an entirely different journey with a dental office that completely has
its act together.
Unlike me, her trip to Wisdom Tooth Land has left no emotional scars.
And for that, I am an immensely grateful mom.
What are your wisdom tooth (or other dental) tales? I look forward to hearing from you!