Monday, February 16, 2009

A Dental Tale

Open your mouth wide. Take your right hand and insert three fingers vertically into your mouth. If they fit in comfortably, then your mouth opening is right.

Now imagine if the opening is barely wide enough to push your little finger in.That's a case of lockjaw and that's what happened to me three weeks ago following a dental treatment. I had a molar in very bad condition. I went to my dentist who got a visiting dentist to do a root canal treatment. He did give me a local anesthetic but I had a lot of pain throughout. I found him extremely impersonal. I went home and sort of huddled in bed for the rest of the evening , not eating at all. All this contributed to a spasm they say which locked my jaw into a clamped position. The injection may have been shot into a nerve or muscle which caused the spasm. I thought I would recover once the course of antibiotics were done.

A week later, nothing had improved. We were leaving for Delhi.So I went back to my dentist. He said, you closed your mouth in fright and its not opening now. You've got to open it somehow.

We went to Delhi. We stayed at a swanky hotel and I enjoyed the luxury of it all. Free breakfast included more variety than we have at home in a year. I had yoghurt and juice and omlette and tried to eat as much as I could. But one cannot do justice when you can't get a spoon past your lips. It was all very sad.

Im sure you are thinking by now I must be mad to take it as part of life. My friends have been telling me 'the problem with you (one of them)is... is you don't make a fuss.' When I was growing up, one didn't make a fuss. You had a problem; you got some tablets (maybe), you took them and carried on with life. It was considered kind of low-class, as my friend says, to talk about your physical ailments.

So I told my husband briefly that I couldn't eat - he gave me some tabs which I hoped faithfully would do the trick in a few days and I went on. It was when Darshini came to Delhi, saw me forcing food in painfully and dribbling all over like an old woman, that she pulled up her father and forced him to take notice. "oh these tabs are not working; we'll have to change them' he said.

Upshot is, we came back to Coimbatore and saw a neurologist who sent me to an orthodontist. He gave me a local anesthetic, pried my jaws slightly open and prescribed some physiotherapy. Meanwhile, he seems to have found a gold mine in my mouth- said the treatment done all these years at Ooty was all wrong and some fillings were toxic and some were ... and I would have to have prolonged treatment.
I stayed for a few days while he continued the root canal which originally started, yanked the jaw open everyday ( it tends to close up after every treatment). I stayed home and tried keeping my mouth open with a stack of icecream sticks and carrots.

I went home for a break and came back to Coimbatore to continue the treatment. This time the charm had worn off and the dentist was in serious business. No time to indulge me. This time he put in some metal forceps and pried the jaws wider and wider apart. I was screaming - trying to find his hand to make him stop. There were a couple of loud 'crack' sounds. He was very satisfied and excited when it happened.

He did it again. If this sound like something from a Leon Uris novel, it was. I was curled up in a foetal postion on the chair. I don't think I've screamed after the birth of my kids. The dentist said if he didn't do it, the jaw would remained locked for ever. I said give me a break; I can't take this.

Then he said; look at your front tooth- let me look at it. The cap is bad- toxic. And he proceeded to inject my mouth in 8 places. And started work on 4 front teeth.
I was a total wreck when I got home.

Why did I let him do it? Because I trusted him so much to do the best for me.I was in to much pain to think. But he was doing the best for himself and I realised it only much later.

I've been cocooned all my life, healthwise. I live in a network of doctors. Father, husband, couple of sisters, cousins.. When I have to consult someone outside the family, the connections are protection enough. The docs will give me the best advice. So I've been thinking.

But now, its no longer so. The Hippocrates oath to do your best for your patient doesn't count. And the young doctors are paying a lot of money to study; so pay back has to be fast.

Well, next I consulted my only dentist cousin who happens to live in the US. Go see an oral surgeon she said and not one who has just passed out. Next day, trying to locate one when a friend called. So i told her my sorry history. She said her daughter had gone through this after an accident and she had been treated by a plastic surgeon; one I'd known from childhood. This was like coming home. Managed to see the plastic surgeon and in his team, there was an oral surgeon.

Upshot is: no yanking the jaw should be done gradually over a period of weeks. There is a type of metal instrument available which you put into your mouth and screw open little by little as much as you can take. Meanwhile don't do any other dental treatment.

Im back home, relieved and wiser. I've put down this long story because none of the doctors I met/knew (except the last) had any idea about this case - it was a textbook case to them. It might be useful to someone somewhere.

Henceforth I am going to really listen to all those stories about dreadful thing happening to somebody's chittappa's brother in law. In the era of specialization, finding the right doctor is a long circuitous route. And when you meet me,beware, I might be talking about my health all the time.



What an ordeal, Kalyani. How could some dentist be so ignorant and play about with you like that? All these clueless people not even bothering to consult a more experienced person. And this to happen to you, who is surrounded by as you put it, " a network of doctors."

My own adventures with dentists (normal problems only like toothaches, and accidents with dentures) pale into comparison seen alongside yours.

I do hope you recover from this trauma quickly.

ayyo.... said...

Gold Mine in your mouth??

My dentist is surely gonna find one when I finally quit procrastinating.. It was scary, Kalyani..! I felt my jaws lock while I was reading this..
I have a very very bad molar as well.. it's so bad that it seems that it doesn't exist at all.
I had a worse experience with doctors in 2003. Worse because, the patient was my father and it was a bypass surgery ..

kallu said...

Thanks Raji. All this sympathy s so much balm that Im sure I will heal faster.
We'd like to hear about your adventures too in your inimitable style.

kallu said...

Ayappan, start a course of antibiotics if you know enough. But get yourself to a dentist (an experienced one) soon. A bad tooth can hang over your everyday life and take the joy out of it.

Sorry to hear about your father.I hope he recovered eventually inspite of everything.

ayyo.... said...

My father's alright but I was appalled at the sheer apathy of the doctors. We could afford to pay the exorbitant fees but I cannot help but wonder what about those who can't afford to pay doctor's "Fees" in addition to the treatment charges..

flowergirl said...

I promise not to whine and behave like a crybaby everytime I need to go to the dentist, from now on!

Your experience sounds like a Thomas Harris - Hannibal Lecter-type thing one reads in books.

I do hope you are recovered now, and dont need to visit your dentist for a loooong time!

Gardenia said...

Dear God. This is awful. I do hope you are all right now. You should have taken the dentist to court.

K S Selvakumar said...

Dear Ms Kalyani,

I landed on your blog searching for "lockjaw treatment".

Reading about your harrowing experience with dentists has put me in a funk regarding what I should do for my father.

My father (aged 77) underwent a couple of dental procedures (flap surgery and root canal treatment) on April 24th and 28th, 2010. Since then he has been having problems regarding opening of his mouth (lockjaw) compounded by a painful swelling below the jaw.

According to the dentist, he has developed antibioma (the swelling), caused by taking antbiotics, which would resolve only over a course of a few weeks.

Regarding the lockjaw, she (the dentist) said that lockjaw happens sometimes, following a long dental procedure. Besides prescribing physiotherapy, the treatment she suggested was to try to keep the mouth open by inserting ice-cream sticks, and slowly increasing the number of sticks inserted. This treatment was to be done at regular intervals everyday.

It has been more than week since my father started this treatment, but the progress seems negligible. He is now very much worried whether he would have to live with this for the rest of his life. We are considering consulting another dentist, but are totally confused.

I would be happy if you could indicate as to how long you had to continue physiotherapy before the lockjaw completely resolved. My father also wanted to talk to you to clarify his doubts. If it would not be an inconvenience to you, I would be grateful to you if you could speak to him. His mobile number is 09842725876. If you send a missed call to him, he can get back to you. He is based in Chennai, but is currently staying with me in Bangalore.

Thanks once again for sharing your experience, as it has at least given us some confidence that it can be cured.


K S Selvakumar said...

My father has recovered fully; thank you for your reassuring post regarding the recovery process - it saved us needless visits to other dentists in anxiety.