<Note: on the 9th November 2023 I had surgery to remove all my remaining adult teeth and replace them with dentures. This was due to the pain and trauma I had experienced over a period of 18 months at the hands of a dentist who removed a tooth in such a way that I experienced nerve damage, and carried out treatment on others that left me in so much pain they also had to be removed. The dentist then moved away from New Zealand, leaving me with some hefty dental bills, many other dental issues to resolve, and PTSD. I was subsequently let down by four other dentists before I eventually managed to find an amazing one who did his absolute best to fix all my issues. Unfortunately, it was too late, and the decision was made for a full plate clearance. I could write volumes about everything that has happened in 2022/2023, but I think it best not to dwell on that, and to round off the experience with this short, cathartic letter to myself.>
You’re going to worry about this. A lot. Even when you don’t realise that you are, the thoughts will be buzzing around your brain almost constantly in the weeks running up to the surgery. You find out the date around six weeks before it is due to happen, which feels both far too long to wait and hardly any time at all. You’re in a lot of pain, especially in teeth that have had some recent (traumatic… failed…) work done. The only way to fix them is to take them out. The dentist asks you if you want to do it before the others, but you can’t face it then. Somehow it feels easier to just keep taking the painkillers like you have been for months, and know that the end is coming.
You have a lot of email conversations with ACC who tell you they can’t pay for all of the surgery, the sedation and the dentures. You start a Givealittle page. You are completely blown away by the kindness of friends and strangers who raise over $2000 dollars so you can pay for your new teeth.
You cry a lot. But that’s not new. You’ve been crying a lot for a long time now. Just a few more weeks to go.
On the day of the surgery you feel worn out, mostly from lack of sleep and stress. The dentist, his assistant, and the anaesthetist are all truly lovely. They do everything they can to put you at ease. You explain you are more worried about the sedation than the procedure. They tell you that’s normal and to relax as much as possible. The anaesthetist puts the cannula in your arm and a pulse monitor on your finger. She adds the sedation medication and you can feel it flowing in your arm; cold and slightly painful, but it doesn’t last. She says, “you might be feeling some effects now,” and you can’t remember if you reply or not as suddenly the time has jumped and you’re aware of the dentist doing his job, but you don’t care in the slightest. You feel calm and relaxed and in no pain, and almost as soon as you realise you are in no pain it is time to get up as the procedure is over.
The anaesthetist hands you two paracetamol and you dribble water all down yourself trying to take them, as you have no control over your jaw. You can feel the new dentures pressing on your gums. They feel huge and you’re not sure you can close your mouth properly. It doesn’t hurt much, but it does throb. You can feel your pulse in your non-existent teeth. Dave, your husband, drives you home. You lie on the sofa, too wired to rest, still in some sort of dazed state. You see yourself for the first time in the bathroom mirror, and you’re shocked at how swollen your face is. You don’t look like you. The teeth seem too big. You worry that you’ve made a mistake.
Week 1 you take so many painkillers you don’t remember most of what happens. You also take so many selfies, trying to get used to how you now look. You lie in the bath and smile at the camera and wonder who this person is on the screen. Your family say they can hardly see any difference, but to you, your reflection is alien.
You see the dentist the day after the surgery so he can see how things are going. He asks you if you’re happy with how things look, and you tell him, to be honest, no. But everything is healing nicely and the dentures fit really well, so you have to trust that things will settle and improve. That you won’t feel this way forever. You feel cautiously optimistic, and relieved that the worst is over, but you’re also high a lot of the time, and thinking about anything is too hard.
Week 2, the pain is different. It’s not like what you’ve been through in the last 18 months. It’s pain from a wound that is healing. It feels like it has an end. The dentures rub sore spots and ulcers, which drive you to distraction. It is normal, and you knew to expect it, but it’s difficult to endure. The dentist takes some of the plastic away, grinding it with a tool. It helps, but it’s still tiring. You feel sad, mostly. Exhausted. You question your choices and decisions. It’s hard to know what to eat, how to sleep. You can’t bear to look at your healing mouth, but you can feel hard lumps with your tongue. The dentist says it’s bone coming through. You choose to leave it as the gums might grow over it, the other option being to have it removed, and you can’t face that right now.
You have a call with your boss as you’ve decided to leave your job. She makes a comment on how you look and speak differently and you just laugh it off, but the words hit deep and it bothers you. Codeine is your friend still; it helps you sleep, helps you cope, helps you not lose your mind. The crying starts again.
Week 3 the bone is still coming through the gum. The dentist says it will be more comfortable to remove it, you agree, but you’re not quite prepared for the process. He uses bone cutters to remove the spurs. You get through the appointment and then fall apart. You can’t seem to control your moods. As always, the dentist is lovely and completely understands. But you’re tired of crying and feeling so weak. You wish you were stronger, more capable.
A good friend reminds you of how much you’ve been through and the kindness you need to show yourself. Crying is not a weakness, they tell you, it is an honest expression of how you’re feeling. How you’re processing everything that has happened. You remind yourself of how you got through the worst of this last year, by reframing the situation. The events that led up to this decision are the result of someone else’s actions and mistakes. You have to think of it like a car accident, and the injuries are not your fault. You cannot control what has happened, but you can control how you go forwards now.
You cut your hair and put on some makeup. You mess about with the clothes in your wardrobe. You take more selfies, and they seem better this time. The swelling has almost gone down. You look more like how you remember yourself, just with better teeth than you’ve ever had in your life.
Week 4 and things are easing. You take less painkillers, and your gums are almost healed. You have a routine of washing and wearing the dentures, and you use denture paste to relieve the sore spots. You make a big bowl of pasta with grated cheese and you eat it while watching a comedy program. It is only after you’ve finished you realise you have eaten for the first time in the past few weeks without your whole focus being on eating. It still feels wrong sometimes, the dentures make some movements of your mouth unnatural and they often feel cumbersome and strange, but you’re getting more used to how they fit, and how you need to use the muscles of your jaw.
You smile more and laugh easier. You make a joke in the pharmacy when she can’t understand you, and it feels okay, a little daft but not sad. You sneeze one morning and the top ones almost fly across the kitchen. Two weeks ago this would have made you miserable, now you just have to laugh. Bone spurs work their way out the gums and you don’t feel as shocked as you used to. It feels like someone has turned the difficulty down. You’re not playing on ‘hard mode’ anymore.
One month exactly from the surgery date. It’s hard. Really hard. You still have off-days where you’re frustrated and unsure, and the dentures cause pain and you’re tired. But you’re coping. You’re adjusting. You’re winning. You don’t regret the decision you made, even if you wish you hadn’t had to make it.
An online friend posts a quote from The Lord of the Rings, and it hits you right in the heart.
Frodo says, “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”
Gandalf replies, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
You know very deeply how Frodo feels, but also understand Gandalf‘s response. You’ve been given more time than you thought you had. Time that is pain and trauma free. You thought at one point this would have no end, that you would have to endure the aftermath forever. You thought you would hate the dentist who did this to you always… and you will! But you will also learn to let that hatred go and live a good life. He’s not important to your story anymore.
There is still a lot to overcome and get used to. Gum heals quickly, in a matter of weeks, bone takes many months. Your mind may take much longer still. But that’s okay. Just keep going. You’re doing so, so well, and I’m really proud of you.