A Day of Clinics
Friday morning, the issue with my mouth became worse than the issue with my neck. While things are still sore when I move, my neck has slowly improved with each passing day. Not the same for my mouth – the numb area still exists, and there’s now this constant sensation of tightness and discomfort. Kind of like having braces on for the first time.
I decided to stop in at an Immediate Care facility downtown. This is a place that you can stop in without an appointment to see a physician (for non-emergencies). My normal doctor didn’t have an opening, and this seemed the next best thing.
After a quick exam, the doctor I met with had no idea what was going on with my mouth. He referred to it as “very unusual” and suggested I go check things out with a dentist. He prescribed Naproxen for the discomfort and said that if that didn’t help things within 24 hours… that I should go to an ER.
Once I got done, I called Dr. Heath in Frankfort, to see if they might be able to fit me in. I first started seeing Dr. Heath back in 2008, and though he was 45+ minutes away in Frankfort… my preference was to have him check things out, versus someone new in the city.
Luckily for me, they were able to squeeze me in. So I headed back home, hopped in the car, and drove down. After checking out the roof of my mouth, they did an x-ray and saw that there was a large, dark mass behind my left front tooth.
I learned that there is a small bundle of nerves, right behind the front two teeth, that is responsible for a lot of stuff. And that small changes can cause this area to become uncomfortable. Hearing this news was the first step in someone actually identifying what in the heck was causing the numbness.
I also learned that sometimes, if a tooth goes dead, the inner pulp decays and leaves a space that can be prone to infection. So as a test, Dr. Heath first wanted to see if both teeth were still alive. He did a test involving cold, and another involving electricity (this sounds worse than it was, honestly).
The cold test involved a small piece of gauze, sprayed with an incredibly cold coolant. He placed this on my right front tooth, and the feeling was immediate: like biting in to a big hunk of ice cream. This reaction proved that the tooth wasn’t dead, and we did this on the right front tooth as a control. I had the same reaction with my left front tooth. Good signs there.
The electricity test was a bit more daunting-looking. It involved a small hand-hed device like an electric toothbrush, but with a small, metallic, hooked end. There was a circular dial on the device, that slowly upped the charge.
When testing on my teeth, Dr. Heath started at zero and then stepped up the charge by 0.5 each time. My right front tooth reacted at 1.0, and my left front tooth reacted at 1.5.
With the tests done, they seemed to indicate that there was nothing wrong with the teeth themselves – and it may be something for an oral surgeon to look into. Dr. Heath was debating sending me to an endodontist to confirm the diagnosis… but ultimated suggested I swing by the Frankfort oral surgeon, who was literally down the street at the Oral Surgery Center (10241 Lincoln Highway, Frankfort, IL 60423).
Though Dr. Heath had some suspicious as to what this might be, he told me that none of the potential causes was “frightening.” Which is good, because in my head I was concocting up a whole slew of possible things (and all of them were frightening).
My understanding (and some notes I got from my friend Casey) is that the danger signs involve: numbness, strange tastes or loss of smell, and fever. Those all usually indicate something bigger than just a mouth problem, and are signs that dentists keep a watch over.
Since this morning, the continued numbness made me reflect a lot on an incident back in 2002, when I was getting a cavity filled and my dentist got some really unfortunate news right at that same time.
For most of the morning, I kept fluctuating between wondering whether I have a brain tumor… or dismissing that thought, as I remembered I had an MRI a few years ago.
After doing what he could, Dr. Heath was kind enough to make a call over there to see if they could fit me in, and I was able to drive over within about 5 minutes. On walking in the door, the woman behind the counter said “Hi, Felix” before I could even utter a word.
Here’s the room, from where I’m sitting. Waiting for Dr. Christopher Powell.
On arriving, I brought with me the x-rays that Dr. Heath had taken. When they were handed to Dr. Powell, I couldn’t seem him around the corner but heard him explain “Oh. Oh!”
Do you know how disconcerting it is, to hear something like that from a medical professional and not know whether it’s a good or bad sign? It was both funny and unnerving.
As it turns out, what I have is not all that uncommon. Dr. Powell explained that when the skull first forms at birth, it forms from both sides and meets in the middle. As a result, there is sometimes a small bit of (tissue? flesh?) that remains when the sides meet… and this small bit of tissue continues to grow over the course of one’s life.
What I had, he explained, was a developmental cyst. Usually it keeps growing for most people, and never causes much of a problem. For some, they develop a small marble-like bump that protrudes but doesn’t do anything beyond that. For others, the grown can cause the teeth to shift position, and can in some cases (like mine) cause discomfort.
In my case, he said, there was nothing to be done. “No surgery is the best surgery,” was his line, and that was good to hear. But I mentioned I was feeling pain/discomfort, he said that that likely meant it was infected – so he ended up prescribing Amoxicillin.
I’m taking it for 2 weeks, which is a long time. But he wanted to ensure it was totally removed from my system and was being careful. Supposedly, the pain will go away after 24-48 hours, and the numbness should go away around 72 hours.
Dr. Powell said that surgery wasn’t needed for now, and that he hoped the antibiotics would take care of things. If the pain persisted despite all this – at that point, he said “we’d be obligated to do something about it.” Which would mean surgery.
I’ll spare you the details of what that involves – but suffice it to say it sounds like an involved procedure. And potentially leaves part of the mouth numb as a result. So it’s something to be avoided if at all possible.
Dr. Powell was incredibly friendly, incredibly patient, and super excited to both explain the situation and to also field my questions. He seemed delighted by the fact that there really wasn’t anything to be done, and also delighted to relay to me the nature of the condition. I know I’m using a lot of vague terms – I didn’t have the wherewithal to jot down specifics.
With two prescriptions to fill, I hopped back in the car and headed back to the city.
I should note: all last night, and today – the discomfort/pain had definitely increased. It was beyond an annoying thing in the background, and was very up front and almost impossible to ignore. At times, it became incredibly difficult to concentrate on anything. Even the idea of zoning out and watching a movie provided little comfort, as the pain/discomfort was just ever present.
I think, had it been a little worse, I would have been unable to drive the car for much of a distance.
About 5 minutes after I left for the city, prior to hitting the highway, I got a call from Liz. I pulled the car over by a nearby gas station, and gave her an update.
Funny enough, when I looked at where I parked – it was right in front of two offices: a dentist and a chiropractor.
Well played, universe. Well played.