One Evil Tortilla Chip: a dental adventure

(Warning: this may gross out some of you)

The Most Evil Chips Ever

It all started on Monday when I was eating these new Santa Maria “American Barbecue” tortilla strips. Unlike the traditional triangle-shaped variety, these are shaped like long rectangles with surprisingly sharp edges. One of them became lodged quite painfully into the lower right corner of my jaw. I tried to maneuver it out with my tongue, but it was really stuck in there and seemed be digging deeper into my cheek. After a few seconds I managed to remove it but the area felt weird, almost like I could still feel the offending object there. Oh well, I thought, mouth injuries usually heal pretty quickly. It should be okay in day or two.

However, in a day or two I had developed a rather painful hard lump on my lower right jaw, which kept increasing in painfulness and size and I was starting to resemble a large chipmunk storing up food for the winter. There was definitely some kind of infection in there or something that wasn’t going to heal on its own, so I left work early and went to my local medical center. Because the injury had nothing to do with my teeth, I thought they might be able to help me. Instead, they told me I needed to see a dentist and sent me on my way without looking at it. As it happens I have a dentist appointment next week for a checkup, but this needed immediate attention. I went home and called the emergency dentist, kicking myself (at least metaphorically) for getting myself into this situation. Unlike regular health care, dental care in Sweden is not covered under the national health plan, and this had the potential to cost me a fortune. I was told that I could come in that evening but that appointments after normal working hours cost twice as much. Since I wasn’t in excrutiating pain I decided I could wait and got an appointment first thing in the morning.

By morning the lump had doubled in size. When I got to the dentist’s office, I filled in the requisite health declaration form and was taken in within minutes. So far so good. The hygienist looked at the affected area and tapped my teeth firmly with a dental instrument just to make sure there was nothing wrong with them, and indeed, there was not. She then took an x-ray just to be sure. Then the dentist came in and my condition presented him with a bit of a challenge. I told him that this had never happened to me before and he told me that he had never seen this before in a patient. He even brought in a colleague to take a look. They both kept remarking at how nice my teeth looked and I said that yes, I have very good teeth and hardly ever need to see a dentist.

What neither of them had ever seen before was this, a gingival abscess, an infected area in the gums which apparently can be caused by aggressive tooth brushing, toothpicks, or in my case, food that is forced into the gumline. I am very lucky in that the infection never got into my teeth since that’s a much more complex problem to fix. He lanced and drained the infection, which involved a lot of squeezing of the very sore infected area. (I think that many dentists are secret sadists.) However, it needed to be done. He then prescribed me some penicillin and an anti-inflammatory painkiller.

Then came the most painful part of all (or so I thought): the bill. I was fully expecting it to cost a fortune but, surprisingly, the entire visit and treatment came to only 475 Swedish kronor (about $70 US). The antibiotics and pain medicine came to a further 175 (about $25). For someone used to the exorbitant costs of American health care, just under one hundred dollars for an emergency visit to the dentist including the medications is really not that bad at all.

Still, it’s lot to have to pay because of one evil tortilla chip. I’ll certainly be avoiding those in the future, and I recommend that everyone else do the same.