We’ve all been there at one time or another. Root canals. Wisdom teeth. In my case, it was the full-Monty, including bone graphs. Unable to speak from the copious wad of gauze in my mouth, and still wonky from the medication, I shambled to the front desk where the dental assistant handed me a piece of paper. On it, were detailed instructions on how to care for my PTDC (Post Traumatic Dental Condition), along with a laundry list of foods I could not eat, next to a shortlist of foods I could.
The average dental post-op lasts a few days. Before long, you’re back into mainstream dining. However, mine crossed over longterm to that parallel universe of the dentally challenged.
There’s something inherently primal about the act of chewing, losing the ability leaves you vulnerable and wounded. The only way to describe it is a form of amputation. I was truly humbled by it, and will always reserve a level of empathy for those whose lives have been altered because of dentures.
I recall a friend who had worn dentures since her twenties, sharing the social awkwardness she experienced, like accepting a dinner invitation to someone’s home. Was it a sit-down or buffet? A buffet was more casual; she was free to pick and choose specific food items, whereas a sit-down was restrictive. What if she couldn’t eat what was served? She’d run the risk of offending her host. Dining-out, others made menu choices to please their palette, while hers were based on what she could chew. Then there was the self-consciousness of intimacy.
After the Novocain wore off and reality set in, I scanned the list of food choices taped to my fridge. All those wonderfully textured foods I knew and loved: crunchy, crispy, and chewy… were forbidden, begging the question: How would you like your steak prepared? Pureed or juice?
Oh, I’ll just take mine straight up, thanks.
The treatment was in two-phases: total extraction with a six-month healing period, then the implant surgery with another two-month healing period. I recall my doctor saying, “My job is to give you back your smile. Your job is to heal.” Well, I took my job very seriously. I was determined to cut the healing time in half. “Impossible,” he said. “Nature has its own timeline.”
“Yeah, well, watch me,” I said.
The extractions were in August 2010. The implant surgery was scheduled for February 2011, when a temporary prosthesis could be screwed into my upper mandible. Even then, I’d have to stay mindful of the three Cs until the permanent teeth were securely in place, which would not be for another 6-9 months.
I felt sorry for myself and cried that first week. Then I became determined. Determined to heal. Determined to defy the doctor’s six-month prognosis. Determined to beat nature at her own game. Because all I wanted for Christmas were my teeth!
Inflammation was the enemy, and I had to stockpile an arsenal of anti-inflammatory foods, most notably, lemongrass, turmeric, ginger. Forced into a liquid diet, I saturated my cells with ever bioavailable-phytonutrient, I could get my hands on. My kitchen became my laboratory, and I, its lab rat.
I can still recall Doctor Sholsberg’s face after he examined me that last week before Thanksgiving. He grabbed my X-rays and swiveled on his stool, then pushed back from the dental chair with an astonished expression; his mouth gaped. “What have you been doing?”
Fearful that something had gone terribly wrong, I stiffened. “Nothing. Why?”
“The bone graphs are… and your gum tissue is completely healed. Amazing.” He rose and hurriedly left the room.
A moment later, the surgent entered and poked around in my mouth. “Ummm. Interesting… Looks like we can schedule your implant surgery for the first of December instead of February.”