Dentally Incorrect: High Altitude, Low Pain Tolerance by Jack Ammerman

Dentally Incorrect: High Altitude, Low Pain Tolerance 

This patient, who went hiking after a root canal, says he won’t make that mistake twice


by Jack Ammerman


With what felt like a full-size road grader parked inside my mouth, I sat as still as I could while the dentist poked, prodded, drilled, fi led and scraped at a tooth in my lower jaw. “Does that hurt?” he asked as he performed some medieval maneuver meant to induce a reaction.

“Noff,” I sputtered. “I donn fllutt.” In my mind, I knew exactly what I’d said, but the dentist had to think about it a bit. With all the hardware in my mouth— clamps, retractors, extractors, enactors and probably a protractor—along with the dentist’s hand and the Shop-Vac-sized suction device, dentists must take at least two years of speaking a foreign language to interpret the noise that just emanated from my mouth.

“Well, we’re getting pretty close to the nerve. We may want to consider a root canal.” The one-two punch of nitrous oxide and septocaine gave me all the calm courage in the world: “Goyahead,” I replied, but wondered if he was really asking me for permission or simply thinking aloud. My tongue had been tied off to one side and it made conversation even more difficult, so I just gave up and decided to lie still and see what happened.

Apparently, I have excellent dental insurance and a root canal was totally covered, so he performed a root canal procedure on me. Afterward, the dentist told me not to chew too heavily on that side for a few days.

I can tell you: It’s been four days and I’ve been eating Tylenols like they were Tic-Tacs. The dentist said I might be a little sensitive on that side of my mouth for a few days and he couldn’t have been more wrong: I am a lot sensitive!

Beware of grizzlies—and overexertion
Nothing reminds me more of my recent dental adventure than a recent hike through Glacier National Park. Although the elevation is almost 3,000 feet more than I’m used to, the trails aren’t too demanding and they looked inviting. Just a short jaunt into the forest, though, got my heart pumping and my lower jaw throbbed with every ventricular contraction. As the time drew near for more Tylenol, I silently considered a cardiac episode as a good thing—just to end the throb.

My wife, being much more fit than me, led the way through the thick forest trail system. Using her made-up skills of a combat patrol point person, she utilized a series of hand signals that silently relayed whether I should freeze in place, speed up, get down or slow down. (To be honest with you, I never did see her give the hand signal to slow down. I must have been doing a pretty good job of doing that without her encouragement or instruction.)

It was the “freeze” hand signals that got me. Being on high alert for hungry grizzly bears, neither one of us wanted to become a statistic or a snack, so when she looked ahead on the trail and motioned for a freeze, I froze!

Well, everything froze except my lower right jaw. It kept on pulsating and would as certain as not attract the attention of any hungry bear. I likened this to jigging a lure in a farm pond, taunting a largemouth bass into taking a bite and striking whether it was hungry or not.

At times, the pain was bad enough that I looked forward to a grizzly bear encounter. Like the cardiac episode, I was just looking for some relief.

Luckily for me, though, all my wife’s stop-motion freeze signals were for naught, because there were no actual bear sightings. The false alarms were mostly big rocks, old stumps and one bush she swears had moved.

I’m hoping that soon my tooth heals, that my jaw forgives me, and the pain and discomfort get out of the DEFCON 4 range. Perhaps the next time the dentist talks about considering a prophylactic root canal before a vacation, I will say, “Adsholudly noff!” and hope he interprets that as a solid “no” instead of, “Will my insurance cover it?”

Author’s note: “This article is meant to be humorous. My dentists and their team are true professionals beyond reproach. I’ve been a patient at Dental Care Team in Grand Blanc, Michigan, headed by Dr. Ibrahim Jarjoura, for almost two decades and look forward to two more.”

Author Bio
Author Jack Ammerman has been writing articles, short stories and instructional columns professionally for more than two decades. He enjoys writing about personal experiences, especially when he can add a bit of humor into his work. Ammerman, a member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association, has a regular column in two hard-copy magazines.




Dentally Incorrect


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