I’m no stranger to tooth woes. I had braces from first to sixth grade, a freakishly early stretch of life that resulted in me losing baby teeth with braces ON them (weird), and having a shockingly flawless set of pearly whites by the time 7th grade kicked off (blessed). I also managed to rack up more cavities than I can count, despite having grown up in a home where the only available sugary snack was a lone box of Honey Nut Cheerios, purchased once a year. On Christmas. As a gift. For my brother.
As a result, I’ve had a lot of dentists over the years. The middle-aged mustachioed dentist who worked out of his living room, the octogenarian orthodontist whose hand quivered while he was holding that hook thing, the Beverly Hills dentist who had a waterfall in her waiting room and encouraged a $900 tooth whitening treatment with every check up, and the endodontist who had to round up three of his colleagues to help him administer enough Novocaine to stop my crying. (That one was about six weeks ago). I’ve cried in front of all of them and they all seem to ask the same two questions: Did you grow up in a rural area in an undeveloped country with no fluoride in the water? and When’s the soonest you can come back?
My husband, the Not Dentist, chalks my spilled grill up to the fact that I did not receive the “Magic Seal” as a kid. This sealant apparently allowed him and his sister to drink Cokes and eat candy with reckless abandon while I got my braces tightened by an icy cold arthritic hand.
Much to my dismay, I found out that pregnancy hormones can ravage one’s teeth. A fellow 5-week pregnant friend told me this just before I chugged a liter of Ginger Ale at a gas station market. This was soul-crushing news as I hadn’t been to the dentist in over two years, a doomed eternity for someone with my gnarly dental track record. I finished the Ginger Ale anyway because if there’s anything I learned from growing up without refined sugar in my diet it’s this: DRINK IT ALL UP WHILE YOU CAN IT MIGHT GO AWAY AND DON’T TELL MOM.
My first action in role of Responsible Mother was to just go and deal with my current dental issues. I found a dentist in Nashville, stormed through the doors and proclaimed: MAMA NEED NEW MOUTH! It was my first trimester, so while there were no x-rays, the dentist said we had some work cut out for us just based on a superficial exam. Over the course of my entire second trimester, I had nine cavities filled, three crowns placed, and one root canal endured. I figured it was easier for me to knock out this checklist as an unemployed (though insured) pregnant woman rather than a zombie with a newborn.
Here are some things I learned about being pregnant and living in the dentist chair:
- Pregnant women have 40% more blood in their bodies and, from my rough estimate, about 75% more drool. This makes a standard tooth cleaning particularly hazardous for all parties involved.
- I was advised NOT to brush my teeth after throwing up during the first trimester. Brushing spreads the acid and can be harmful to the enamel. I was barfing at least twice a day at the time and could barely stomach the mere mention of toothpaste, so this was welcome advice. I think I brushed about 10 times in 12 weeks. It was a special time in my marriage.
- There’s pregnancy-safe Novocain. Even regular Novocain is fine since it’s all localized. I think the risk is having an elevated heart rate. (Just in case anyone thought I did all this unmedicated, which no one thought.)
- You haven’t experienced True Comfort and Security until you’ve had five lead aprons draped across your chest and belly. I asked the technicians to leave them on for the duration of the procedure, long after the x-rays were complete.
- You can get more than one cavity in one tooth. As a teenager, I thought I was “done” with the dentist because every cavity in each of my teeth had been filled. It was me at my most smug. During my pregnancy, I learned that I had three total cavities in one tooth.
- I asked my dentist what the hell would have become of me if I had been born in Medieval times. She says I would definitely be toothless, and probably dead.
- The best way to handle a weak, shaking scaredy cat like me is not through sweetness (it just makes me softer) nor tough love (makes me angrier), but through bone dry sarcasm. For my first root canal, I told my endodontist with teary eyes that I was pregnant and scared and hated drilling. He assured me everything was fine, and then proceeded to make terrifying remarks in his super smooth southern accent throughout the whole procedure: “Now Julia, this is the XYZ drill. It won’t hurt, it’ll just burn your brain a little. I’m just kidding. It won’t burn your brain… it’ll burn your baby’s brain.” It was perfect, and exactly what I would have said if I had been giving a root canal to a sapling like myself. I had no fear or pain during that root canal and kept trying to interject zingers when my mouth wasn’t full of gauze. Man, I loved that guy!
- I rewarded myself after every appointment with a McDonald’s milkshake because you never know when that opportunity for sweets is going to come up again!