Although the antibiotics I got in San Diego and again near Zion had eased the infection in my recently crowned tooth, things were clearly not right in my mouth. Any time my top-left teeth touched my bottom-left, it hurt. For two months now, I’d been chewing on my right side, at times resorting to tongue-chewing soft food.
Jenna’s dentist was closed on Fridays, but I was able to get in to see Dr. Belt at Durango Dental. This new crown has never ceased feeling like a pebble stuck on my tooth, and when I saw the initial x-ray, I knew why. “Oh, my god,” the tech murmured and I leapt out of the dentist’s chair to see. “When I can see something in an x-ray, it’s pretty extreme,” she said. The crowned tooth sat way higher than all my other teeth. No wonder it hurt every time I bit down. I’d been hammering my jaw each time I ate.
Dr. Belt took a lot of time with me, going over all the x-rays and assessing options. There was no way to file this crown down to what it should be without compromising it. I really needed a whole new crown. It should be all gold, he said, not a composite of gold and porcelain like it was, because with gold you can get by with a thinner crown. He could prep the tooth and put in a temporary crown, and the new one would be ready in two weeks. All for $1,200.
My dentist back in Eugene doesn’t work on Fridays, so I couldn’t consult with him. My mind was racing with logistics. Should I try to fly back to Eugene and get this taken care of? Should I have Dr. Belt do the crown and stick around here for two weeks, or go to Santa Fe and circle back, postponing plans to meet my sister and brother-in-law near their cabin near Austin? Should I hold off until we follow my sister home to Houston and can hang out for two weeks? And $1,200… Christ! Bad time to not have dental insurance.
I was near tears when I called Kate, who was back in Bessie. “Just do it,” she said. “You can’t keep living with this.”
So I went ahead with the new crown. Once Dr. Belt had gotten the old one off, he realized what my Eugene dentist had been up against… a miniscule tooth base that he was trying to save. If you take the tooth down too far, the crown doesn’t have enough to grip. But in this case, he said, there was no other choice. So he filed it down just enough to accommodate the thinnest crown possible and carved in some ridges that will help keep the crown in place.
In defense of the dentist I’ve seen in Eugene for 24 years, he was racing against the clock on that first crown. He installed it the day before we left town, and he spent an hour adjusting and readjusting it. Had I not been leaving town the next day, I imagine he would have ultimately rebuilt the crown. When I called him afterwards and explained the situation, he agreed to pay part of the bill for the new crown.
It’s been a week now with the temporary crown, and although it’s fallen out three times (I just push it back in), the pain in my mouth has all but disappeared. My sister’s dentist in Sugar Land (near Houston) has agreed to install the permanent crown for $45, and Dr. Belt has agreed to mail it to him as soon as it comes in. Assuming all goes well, my dental saga will soon be coming to a close.