another big day for my problem tooth
Saturday, February 23 2008
As long-time readers will recall, I've had an especially problematic tooth in my mouth (the upper leftmost incisor) since the Fall of 1994, when a friend accidentally danced into it swinging a beer bottle at a punk rock show in Blacksburg, Virginia. A few days after that initial trauma a resourceful dentist filled in the large missing chip with what he termed a "temporary" filling that would go on to last eight and a half years. Meanwhile the underlying tooth gradually darkened until it abscessed in the summer of 1998. But I didn't do anything about the persistent pustule on my gum until the Summer of 2000, when, at the urging of my then-girlfriend Bathtubgirl, I arranged a ghetto root canal for it. At the urging of another girlfriend (who was in the process of becoming my wife), the rest of the tooth was replaced by a proper crown in the Spring of 2003.
But this summer that tooth started acting up again. The gum adjacent to it became irritated and I found that whenever I massaged it I was able to produce a foul-smelling substance. A couple months ago I asked my dentist about it and he said the problem was that the crown had been poorly fitted and I should get a replacement. He agreed that it was making the adjacent gum "funky." Funky is a compliment when applied to one's bass playing, but it's always an issue of concern when it's being used to describe something in one's mouth.
I don't pretend to know the subtle changes in an oral environment that can cause a colony of foul-smelling bacteria to thrive. All I know is that conditions had become so favorable for the little bastards that tooth brushing, saline soaks, and neurotic massaging were incapable of eradicating them. The best I could do was suppress them for a half hour or so, but all it would take was a night's sleep of inattention and they'd be back in all their nasty glory.
Some months ago, though, I discovered a way to throw a stinkbomb into their habitat, rendering it uninhabitable. Remembering how inhospitable a uterus becomes for embryos once a copper IUD is installed1, I decided to thread a thin copper wire through the gap between the crown and my gum. By pounding the wire flat and hooking it into the gaps between the crown and the teeth adjacent to it, I was able to wear the wire comfortably and nearly-invisibly (Gretchen never noticed it). Amazingly, the copper rendered the environment hostile to the funk-producing bacteria, and the gum seemed to be on the road to recovery. I was so pleased with the results, I imagined that I'd fixed it, and so after a week or so I removed the wire. Within a few days the funk returned, and has plagued me ever since.
So today I decided to craft a replacement wire. But as I was looping it under the crown, forces resolved in such a way that the crown just popped off, revealing a small hideous discolored triangular stump, all that remains of the original tooth. The dental profession does a good job of keeping the horror of uncrowned teeth out of the public's imagination, but I'm here to tell you that beneath the scrim, behind the Potemkin village of pearly crowns, many mouths are built on a foundation of disgusting brown pegs. My particular peg was such a freakshow that I jokingly wondered if my marriage could survive Gretchen's seeing it. I also knew, though, that this particular cosmetic issue would be an easy one to fix.
First I cleaned up the ugly stump and then I scrubbed the crown in the sink. Finally I squirted a drop of Superglue into the crown and pushed it back into place in my mouth. After picking away the extra glue that flowed out around it, the tooth seemed perfect comfortable. Indeed, it was actually more comfortable than it had been. Superglue is pretty strong in applications like this, particlarly since, inside a mouth, most forces acting on a crown have the effect of seating it firmly onto its stump.
A couple hours passed and I investigated as to whether the funk had returned, which by then it should have. Amazing, it hadn't. The gum seemed healthy again for the first time in nearly a year. It seemed that the Superglue had filled all the voids between the stump and the crown and there was no longer an environment suitable for funk-producing bacteria. It looked like I'd just saved myself $1000, the price of a new crown. Of course, if it eventually comes loose again, it won't cost much to have my dentist glue it back on with whatever fancy adhesives he has in his arsenal.
1This happens to be Gretchen's birth control method, and no, I didn't make the IUD in my laboratory out of half inch copper fittings.
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