Remember the 34-year-old with the gums of an 85-year-old? She doesn’t have them anymore. But it took two gum graft surgeries to rectify her excessive gum recession (which, as her dentist informed her, could be caused by genetics or orthodontistry). And the process wasn’t fun. Read on for the rest of what happened between her and her periodontist…
We did not use cadaver tissue. Instead, I received a gum graft from the roof of my mouth. It cost just as much, but lacked intrigue. My periodontist also had the annoying habit of referring to the roof of my mouth as “the harvest site.” The roof of your mouth is like a creepy wonderland of treasures.
The first graft would also be “no big deal.” But the second, which required covering more teeth, would be “a rough surgery.” (As a general rule, multiply any pain level described by any dental professional by ten to get actual degree of agony: “No big deal” x 10 = Pain. “Rough surgery” x 10 = Medieval torture chamber. With clowns.)
The Profession’s official word on gum surgery that requires “harvesting” from the top of your mouth is: “it feels like bad pizza burn.” Apparently others have heard this line too. Every other blog I read on the internet started with the phrase, “They said it would feel like pizza burn, BUT…” then followed up with some crap ripped from a Rob Zombie movie where only the half-eaten survive.
But in the end, I could have spent less time worrying about the pain—no party, but tolerable on a steady diet of Percoset—and much more time preparing myself for the fact that I would not be able to properly brush my teeth for two weeks.
They don’t tell you this when you first enter the reception area. You’re too excited by the free pumps of hand sanitizer.
Lots of things go through your mind when you are not brushing your teeth. You spend a lot of time thinking about the Middle Ages. As in: If I was a fair maiden in the Middle Ages, this would just be another day with my cool rotting teeth. It would be Friday. I would wave hello to swashbuckling knights, who would be too fascinated by my abundantly heaving ivory bosom to notice the decaying mutton chop between my two front teeth. It would be okay, because they would be still be feasting on the venison tucked behind their left molar from three nights ago. We would take a hygienic dump on the side of the street and then go make love on embroidered velvet sheets.
You also spend a lot of time thinking about others who can brush their teeth. If my gums hadn’t failed me at age 32, I was going to spend the money on a trip to Spain. Instead of tousling the chest hair of Rocco, my black market chorizo purveyor, I was sitting at home and watching crappy films like 27 Dresses with douchewad Katherine Heigl. She never bothered me on Grey’s Anatomy with her enormous breasts and blonde hair and curiously tight surgical scrubs, until I had to watch her in that movie where in one scene she spends a full two minutes brushing her teeth. It was all I could do not to reach into my TV and take that bitch out.
She brushed ‘em so good too. Back, forth, up down. There were about two elongated minutes of tooth brushing in there. After a week of not brushing your teeth, it becomes very zen. What is the sound of canines being polished? Slowly drag the brush across, feel the bristles across the top of your teeth, the satisfying dislodging of food. Attempt to dislodge food particles with sharp edge of your nail. Lying on couch. Spend hours dreaming of dislodging one food particle for the next four hours.
And of course, certain foods must be avoided. Doritos and hard cereal are obvious things that would ruin your gumline, but for sheer maintenance, it’s the really soft things that are your Waterloo. Cottage cheese is not the people’s friend. Periodontists will advise you to take off work “for an extended weekend,” but really it needs to be as long as your sutures are in. Three words: cottage cheese remains.
On the last day, as my sister sat across from me while we ate lunch at a Thai restaurant, she leaned in and remarked with a mixture of repulsion and creepy scientific curiosity: “Your teeth..are brown.”
I ran from the periodontist’s office back to her apartment for the most satisfying brushing session I have ever had in my entire life. Floss, brushing, gums: Don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
That was a year ago, and I just had my second surgery on the bottom gums. In a year or two, I will go in for my third and final gum graft, a more cosmetic procedure to bring up my lower gum line. And this time, I will meet Jack.