The Whole Tooth

Finally, I remembered!

I had been trying to remember since late August to contact the Dental Clinic at the Abbotsford Food Bank to make an appointment to have a small cavity taken care of before I have another tooth deteriorate to the point it needs to be extracted.

Poverty is hard on teeth. Bad teeth not only cause severe appearance problems, they also have health consequences; health consequences that can be life threatening and require hospitalization.

Before you dismiss ‘severe appearance problems’ consider the cost to both society and a gentleman I met while he was attending the Triangle Resources program. He had worked hard at getting sober and remaining sober and was going to Triangle in preparation for finding a job. His teeth were in such terrible condition that when he spoke, but especially when he smiled (which he did fairly often then), … his teeth were so ugly it was off putting.
Looking for a place to rent, looking for a job, his teeth gave the people he was meeting a terrible impression and he kept getting No – until his spirit was wounded to the point he slipped back into drug use and homelessness.

I have known those whose teeth worsen to the point they abscess and cause a blood infection. Those to whom this happens end up in hospital on IV antibiotics to fight the infection, some are so bad they need dental surgery.

One of the sick ironies of the income assistance system is that it easier to get help to get all your teeth pulled and dentures than it is to get access to dental care.

Suddenly finding yourself homeless and witnessing the pain and problems, the carnage, bad teeth cause … well you live in dread of having any dental problems – and if you did have dental problems you lived in pain until the problem reached the point of a health problem requiring hospitalization.
At least I lived in dread of having any dental problems.

Dread – until the dental clinic at the food bank opened and poverty stopped being a barrier to dental care.

I remember thinking ‘that is a good idea’ when Dave told me they would soon open a dental clinic at the Food Bank and to let people know. When an old filling caused a tooth to break my thinking about the dental clinic changed to ‘great idea, something desperately needed in this community, cannot open soon enough’. Funny the effect need can have on one’s opinion of something.

Fortunately the dentist was able to clean up and save that tooth.

I was not so fortunate with the next tooth to break around an old filling. There was no way to save the tooth and it had to be extracted. The extraction itself was not nearly as traumatic as the mental trauma of no longer having “all my teeth”. On the positive side was the fact I avoided a lot of pain, infection, illness and a hospital visit.

While they were taking X-rays of my teeth as part of evaluating what to do about the broken tooth they found one of my wisdom teeth was rotten and in need of extraction; they also found a small cavity in another tooth.

I agreed to come in on a Saturday so that dental students out from UBC could get some hands on, real world experience as a way for me to pay forward the care being given my teeth.

LOL – and real world experience they did get. That wisdom tooth had been in my mouth for decades and it did not want to leave. The upside was that they had administered the long lasting anaesthetic (and a goodly amount as well); the downside was watching as heavy steel tool after tool went into my mouth – and came out bloody, listening to the conversation/coaching on the best way to break the tooth into quarters, watching (feeling) the strain as they struggled to wrestle the first piece out.

Blackly humorous was watching/eavesdropping as the local dentist explained to the student about not prescribing pain medication to the clinics clientele (many of who have addiction problems). Hey, after over an hour in that chair … you either found the humour in the situation or wallow in feeling sorry for yourself.

The really fortunate thing is that the freezing lasted long enough to get home and get several doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen before the freezing wore off.

During the summer I had the opportunity to get a second teeth cleaning. It was a long time in the chair and I (shudder) found myself wondering how long it would have been if there had not been a first cleaning (itself a long session).

Humans are strange. The threat of cavities and losing teeth lacked the motivational power that the thought of having to face a dental hygienist with teeth made dirtier because I did not honour their work by looking after my teeth. Thus motivated I brush daily and floss several times a week.

And as I brush/floss I wonder how many others are taking good care of their teeth because a dental hygienist donated their time to clean those teeth?

Since that cleaning in August and being told to book an appointment to have the small cavity taken care of while it is still a small cavity, I have been trying to remember to get in touch with the clinic on Monday. Monday since this is the one day a week the scheduler who books the appointments is in the office.

In a Duh! moment as I was entering the dental appointment into my phone’s calendar I realized that in order to have remembered to make an appointment in a more timely manner I should have put making an appointment into the phone’s calendar – sort of an appointment to make an appointment.

The fortunate thing for me on a personal basis is that I should be able to have this cavity taken care of before it costs me another tooth.

On the unfortunate side of things is that the dental professionals do not get to see the effect their time and skills has on the patients of the dental clinic.

Such as the gentleman speaking about how wonderful it was to eat without pain for the first time in years. Or those who were looking forward to getting dentures now that their dental issues had been addressed and they could get dentures. Or see how happy/proud they are when they get dentures and not only are they able to eat and chew more than soups and other soft foods but see, every time they look in a mirror, the improvement dentures make to their appearance.

The dental professionals don’t have people coming up to them, giving them a big smile, pointing to their teeth and saying ‘check this out’ after having (for many if not all) the first visit of their lives with a dental hygienist to clean their teeth. The dentists and hygienists don’t see the increase in people brushing their teeth or asking for toothpaste and/or a toothbrush so they can brush their teeth. See the effect on demeanour and self esteem that having more presentable teeth brings about.

They donate their time and do all this work but don’t get to hear their patients talking to each other about how great it is to have had a dental problem taken care of or to have had their teeth cleaned. Nor do they see their patients telling others with dental problems that they have to go to the dental clinic where, not only will their dental problems be taken care of but they will be treated like ‘real human beings.’

They donate their time and do all this work – and really don’t get a appreciation of the effect their efforts have on those who, without the donation of time and skills by this group of dental professionals, would be unable to get the dental care so badly needed. Nor do the professionals get a true understanding of how much their work is appreciated by their patients.

In speaking of those whose work at the dental clinic has such and effect on people’s lives I would be most remiss if I did not speak of Lala, Keeper of the Sanatorium, whose skill and knowledge keeps the clinic, with its diverse cast of dental professionals and patients functioning.

On behalf of all the patients I offer thanks for 2010 and wish all a Happy and Prosperous (and Skillful) 2011.

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