FOR weeks I thought the pain I was experiencing in my mouth was coming from a tooth on my upper, right-hand side. That tooth had a root canal done in it already, so I wondered why it was acting up.
Unfortunately, the health plan that I joined when I moved to Brazil late last year highly compartmentalizes its dental services, meaning the clinica geral dentist that I first saw was not allowed to provide me with root canal treatment, and instead had to refer me to a specialist. When I called that specialist in early February, her receptionist told me that she was fully booked until March 18.
“March 18?!” I said to the receptionist. “But that’s more than a month away! I’m in pain, I can’t wait that long.”
Looking in my dental care handbook I saw that there was emergency treatment available at a place called the Instituto Brasiliense de Odontologia, or IBO for short. No appointments are necessary there, you just show up, show them your dental card, and voila!, treatment is given.
Or so I thought. “What are you doing in Brazil, when you could be in the US?” the elderly dentist who attended to me asked in apparent disgust when quizzing me where I was from.
After explaining to him about my parents having lived here in Brasilia for more than 30 years, he proceeded to tap my concerned tooth and x-rayed it.
“I can’t do anything now. Take these antibiotics for a week and some paracetamol for the pain,” he said, while handing me a prescription. “And see a specialist soon.”
The antibiotics worked and the pain went away. A few weeks later, though, it returned.
“What should I do?” I asked my clinica geral.
“Keep calling your specialist, I’m sure they’ll find a way to squeeze you in (encaixar in Portuguese) before March 18,” she told me.
So that’s what I did. I kept calling Daniela, my specialist’s receptionist, telling her I was in pain and needed to be squeezed in earlier. She assured me she would do her best, and she did, calling me just before Carnival to tell me that the specialist would now see me on Feb. 27. Unfortunately for me, I was already on my way back to IBO when I got the call as my tooth was acting up again.
The grumpy but friendly dentist, who had earlier prescribed me antibiotics, did the same thing again.
“Take another round of antibiotics,” he said.
A week after taking an antibiotic pill three times a day, I finally arrived at the office of the root canal specialist.
Peering at my dental x-rays, the specialist asked me if it really was the upper tooth that was paining me.
“Yes, I think so,” I said.
“Let’s do a temperature test and see which teeth respond to cold,” she told me.
She had a suspicion that it was a different tooth that was actually infected and causing me all of that pain.
And she was right. When she put the cold instrument on the tooth that I thought was hurting, I didn’t feel a thing. But when she placed it on a tooth on the lower right hand side of my mouth, it hurt like hell.
“Oww! That tooth hurts!” I said.
“Yes it hurts, because that tooth is showing decay in it. I’m going to have to do a root canal treatment on it,” she said. “The pain you were feeling in your upper tooth was actually radiating from the tooth below.”
She then proceeded to give me the longest injection of anesthetic I’ve ever had into my jaw. It seemed to last a full 3 minutes! And then she gave me another one!
Soon my tongue and mouth were so anesthetized that I could hardly speak. She drilled away and pulled out some of the three roots in that tooth, which took around 45 minutes. She then closed the tooth up temporarily and said that the tooth was still a bit inflamed and that I would need two more visits to complete the treatment.
“You won’t be able to eat lunch, so I suggest you just drink some juice,” she told me as she saw me to the door.
My mouth and tongue were so swollen and numb for hours afterwards that I was not able to eat a sandwich until the evening. The anesthetic had made me feel like I was going to faint, so I took a nap in the afternoon.
Arriving at the mall later that afternoon to buy my mother a charger for her new iPod, my lower tooth began to ache so much that I rushed to the pharmacy to buy some pain killers, and hoped that my speech would now be less slurred as I paid for my purchases at the cash register.