So it’s the day before Thanksgiving. I’m sitting in the dentist’s chair pointing out the tooth that has been causing me pain the last few days. “it’s that one right there, third from the end, the one with the silver fillings.” Add your own sound effects what I sound like with a mouthful of fingers and dental instruments.
Dr. Jerry looks confused. He taps the tooth, taps it again. Nothing. He peers at the x-rays. “It looks fine.”
“Well, it’s not hurting right now but yesterday I couldn’t even eat.”
“I don’t know how to fix this for you because I can’t see anything to fix. Hmm…. What about this tooth back here?” He taps on the wisdom tooth that has been chipped off at a slant since last New Year’s eve. “This chip could be causing you some trouble. You know some day you probably need to have that tooth pulled.”
Exactly what I don’t want to think about right now. “It couldn’t be that wisdom tooth. It’s been like that for nearly a year. Anyway, it’s this other one that’s hurting. At least it was hurting. It’s not right now.”
That’s when I got a lesson in a thing called ‘transference of pain.’ Dr. Jerry patiently explained to me, even using illustrations from a book – the sort you would never pick up to read - lots of open mouths, tongues and slobbery teeth. Apparently there is a nerve that runs from close to the ear down through the cheek and jaw and into our gums. It branches off into two parts, one extending to the upper teeth and one to the lower teeth, then following the gum line all the way around to the middle.
“Because there’s only one main nerve here, sometimes we feel pain in a different area from where it’s really occurring. A problem back in your wisdom tooth could actually cause you to feel pain in a different tooth.” I’m sure I looked a bit skeptical. “In fact, this tooth down here could even cause it to feel like the pain is in the upper teeth, make your ear hurt or even your throat.”
OK. Now he had my attention. Yes. I had felt pain in my upper teeth, ear and throat, not to mention the third tooth from the end with the silver filling. Maybe there was something to this transference of pain thing.
“Tell you what. Since you’re not feeling it now, maybe the issue has resolved itself, something caught in there that washed out. We’re coming up on this long holiday weekend. If the pain comes back you call me and I’ll give you something for it and start some antibiotics. Otherwise let’s think about having that tooth pulled sometime soon to prevent any more trouble.”
Fine. As long as I can go home now. But it wasn’t fine. The tooth started hurting again within an hour after I left the dentist’s office. I took a lot of Tylenol. I made it through Thanksgiving. By Friday the pain had worsened until it was excruciating. At one point it was throbbing so hard I thought I might pass out. Time to call the dentist. Wow. I felt horrible – calling him on a holiday and all. But he was very nice about it.
My sweet husband went to town, not for Black Friday shopping but to pick up prescriptions for me. I could only hope they would help. They did, eventually. By Sunday I felt quite a bit better but I still didn’t dare get too far away from that bottle of pain meds.
Monday morning I called the dentist. He didn’t need to see me again. The instructions were “Get it out of there.” They made an appointment for me with the dental surgeon on Tuesday for consultation. The surgeon looked at me a total of about 10 seconds and seconded that motion. “We need to get that wisdom tooth out of there.”
They asked me when I wanted to do it. Next week? Two weeks?
“Are you kidding me?” I scheduled that extraction for 8:00 a.m. the next morning.
I was there early and ready – oh so ready. The tooth was pulled with 4 shots of numbing medicine and very little effort. It came out in 4 pieces. “Yeah, that thing was cracked through the middle. No wonder it was causing you so much pain.”
I spent the day at home feeling sore but happy. That tooth would never provide me with any more wisdom but it was a small price to pay. And yes, all along Dr. Jerry was right. It was not the 3rd tooth from the end with the silver filling. It wasn’t even an upper tooth, my ear or my throat. It was the cracked, chipped, broken wisdom tooth I thought was so innocent.
And so my lesson in transference of pain. And the moral of this story? I know another great method for transference of pain. It’s called prayer. 1 Peter 5:7