Even an abscessed tooth extraction prompts genuine gratitude

Holiday closures prompt an urgent search for a dental appointment

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by Helen Baldwin |

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At a routine dental cleaning over a year ago, the dentist informed me that a molar with an old root canal would need to be removed at some point. To prolong the tooth’s stay in my mouth, she applied a special gel then and at subsequent cleanings.

All was fine until three days before Christmas. As I indulged in cake at our granddaughter’s eighth birthday party, I became aware of a raised spot on the inside of my lower gum. I thought it might be the suspicious tooth but wasn’t sure, so I monitored it almost constantly. It wasn’t painful, and in fact, at times it seemed to improve over the next few days.

Because of the holidays, the dental clinic was closed until Thursday, three days after Christmas — and the day I realized that my tooth was wiggling. There was also a tiny bit of discomfort when I pressed on my lower jaw. (I know, “Then don’t press on it!”)

Uh oh.

Knowing the clinic should be open that day, I called immediately. No one answered. I left a message. No one returned my call. I called again and left another message, but as afternoon eased into evening, it was apparent the clinic was closed until Jan. 2. I prayed I could be worked in relatively easily at that time.

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How an interruption in SMA treatment affected my quality of life

Meanwhile, the havoc wreaked by that little tooth sank in. Jan. 3, an eagerly anticipated date, was when my arthritic left hip was to be replaced. I knew the procedure would be postponed until the tooth, likely abscessed, was extracted. The surgeon’s nurse practitioner confirmed it in her reply to my discouraging report.

If I could get the tooth removed no later than Jan. 3, she wrote, the surgery could be rescheduled for Jan. 11. If not, it would take place in March.

I pondered how hard it would be to yank it myself.

A big gift with a tiny, mind-boggling hiccup

In the early fall of 1996, my husband, Randy, discovered that the football players he was coaching were running game plays backward because the one delivering the plays had dyslexia. Meanwhile, I learned that we somehow had a baby on the way. Because football, the family’s lodge, and our two children’s school and extracurricular activities kept us on the go, I presumed that God was handing us a special gift.

Indeed he was.

When sweet Jeffrey was 8 weeks old, we learned from a pediatric neurologist just how special our gift was. “Spinal muscular atrophy,” he said. “Severe case of the most severe type,” he continued. “Most are gone by their fourth birthday.”

Despite surreal disbelief, Randy and I pulled ourselves together. After signing up for the internet, I began wending my way through online mazes like an undercover agent. With only a hazy memory of how genetics worked, I learned that SMA, the leading genetic killer of children under 2 years old in the U.S. at the time, was caused by a deletion or a mutation of a single gene.

Such a seemingly tiny hiccup — with mind-boggling ramifications.

Encouraging words for SMA families from the medical experts were generally nonexistent in 1997. Left to our own devices, Randy and I sought unconventional, experimental treatments, as long as Jeffrey didn’t suffer. I connected with other families through the group Families of SMA (now called Cure SMA). It’s impossible to adequately describe how vital those connections continue to be for all who are dealt this hand.

Randy and I fueled our tiny mustard seed of faith without hesitation, and it served us well. It didn’t save Jeffrey in the way we’d hoped — Jeffrey snagged his wings at 5 1/2 months old — but there is joy and relief in knowing that he’s in the perfect place now. We’ve been gifted with some phenomenal reminders of that.

Thankful for an abscessed tooth?

The dental clinic called early on Jan. 2 and asked me to arrive at 9 a.m. A hygienist whisked me to a room and began the exam. The dentist who appeared was the same woman who had been so kind to my late mother, even coming to the house to take X-rays so that Mom wouldn’t have to leave the house. I considered her presence a good sign.

Unsurprisingly, they extracted the tooth right then and there. Also unsurprisingly, the extraction wasn’t easy. As I held my mouth w-i-d-e open for over an hour before getting a break, I wondered how children and adults with SMA and similar conditions fared during dental exams. How could an exam be performed on anyone with a taut mouth? I was thankful I was the one under the knife (and perhaps a jackhammer) and not Jeffrey. I was equally thankful for the dental team’s patience, compassion, and expertise.

I survived the surgical extraction and the recovery hours following it. With genuine gratitude, I am relieved that the tooth acted up sufficiently in time to be eliminated and healed before a potentially wicked infection attacked my new hip. That’s not a pleasant scenario.

Speaking of hips, as this is published, it’s almost time for me to head to surgery.

Hip, hip, hooray!

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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