How do you spell fear? Me personally? I spell it “D.E.N.T.I.S.T!!”
Throughout all my travels to date, the scariest experience I have had was trying to color my hair in India. I can now update that to reflect “having a toothache in Mexico!” There is nothing that will turn me into a crying, wimpering little five year old girl than the mention of the word “dentist’s drill.”
I was finishing off a beautifully satisfying plate of flan, when someone planted a hot poker in my next to last spoonful. Nothing like a white-hot pain up the front of the face to kill a good sweet tooth orgy. I thought I would give it a day or two….hope maybe it was a fluke.. Sinus pressure. Maybe altitude. Or a bad dream. The second day, it was two teeth in pain. By the third day, it was the entire upper right side of my mouth, and I was now relegated to turning my head sideways to try to take a drink of water. This was not going to work. After all, I was in the land of frozen margaritas and coconut ice cream!
After having lived in Texas for a year now, my single greatest procrastination has been finding a good dentist. So I began doing research to find out how much it would cost me to fly back to Atlanta to visit my old dentist. Seven hundred dollar airfares brought me to my senses really fast.
My brother Don encouraged me, “You realize thousands of gringos cross the border to Mexico for dental care every day, right?” “Yes, but they are retired or without dental insurance…I AM NEITHER!” Besides, this was my front tooth!
I called around to some friends to get a recommendation. I figured it couldn’t hurt to go for a consultation. Establish a relationship in case things took a turn for the worst. I made an appointment with Dr. Laura for 6:30pm (one benefit of Mexico dentists…Midday siesta has them open late!) I would not take any action, but rather see what she thought, if I could make it through the remainder of my month in Mexico without treatment.
Meanwhile, I went to have some soup for lunch, about the only thing that sounded tolerable with a throbbing tooth. For dessert, they offered me a piece of “Rosca de Reyes,” or Kings Cake on the heels of Three King’s Day, the Mexican celebration of the culmination of the Twelve Days of Christmas, when gifts are exchanged. Having been somewhat familiar with the tradition of this cake after living in New Orleans, I knew each piece had the potential to contain a special “prize” that had been baked into the cake, so best ease into it with a fork so as not to damage my teeth even more.
Halfway through emerged the prized Virgin Mary! As I licked the crumbs from her porcelain cloak, the evening dentist appointment weighing heavily on my mind, the song from the Beatles ran through my head….”When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me.”
I decided to slip Mary into my pocket for the dentist visit. Not that I am superstitious, mind you, but when it comes to dentists, I will take all the help I can get.
I wasn’t sure what to expect on my first trip to a Mexican dentist. Some things seemed so familar, like the reclining white vinyl chair with the overhead arm lighting, while some seemed like a throwback to the past. The sight of the “spit bowl” offered some retro-comfort. Long replaced by the suction tube by my US dentist, I realized how much I had missed the efficiency of the “rinse and spit,” as the suction tube just does not quite do the job. Instead of the crisp paper towel around the neck, they placed clean but worn washcloth as a “bib.” There was a roll of saran wrap on the counter for covering the instruments. And the dentist performed her inspections while straddling a cowhide covered saddle for a stool. (Sorry I have no pictures to go with this….my anxiety level was just too high.)
Just about the time I started looking for an exit for fear I would leave with a gold, star-embossed crown on my front tooth, she whipped out the “state of the art” equipment…a little camera probe projecting on a TV monitor that showed every crack and crevace within my mouth since birth. I asked her what she charged for a porcelean crown…6,500 pesos, or about $500. For a root canal? 3,500 pesos, or $275. (I paid $1,200 USD last year in Atlanta. So the prices were not a bad deal for the uninsured. But it was my front tooth!)
In the end, the results of the xrays were inconclusive. I had three cracks in a row, any of which could be the culprit, but none of which showed need of urgent care. She pacified me by saying that the problem would probably settle back down in a few days. Or it wouldn’t. Either way, she agreed it was something that could at least wait until I got back to Texas.
I left with a prescription for antibiotics, Mother Mary in my pocket…..and a sigh of relief at the prognosis…..”For now, I think we should just…..’Let it be.”