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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The Full Suburban: No problem with the drill of dental procedures

UPDATED: Sun., Jan. 23, 2022

Logan Ditto pretends to do a dental procedure on Julia shortly before his graduation from dental school.  (Courtesy of Julia Ditto)
Logan Ditto pretends to do a dental procedure on Julia shortly before his graduation from dental school. (Courtesy of Julia Ditto)
By Julia Ditto For The Spokesman-Review

As a kid, I always loved going to the dentist. I could never understand why everyone was so down on them. I mean, you sit in a comfy chair, a nice lady cleans your teeth while you listen to Whitney Houston on some headphones, the dentist feels around in your mouth for about three seconds, and then you get a toy on your way out the door. What’s not to like?

In my later years, I even married a dentist – although he was a geology student at the time with no plans beyond camping on active volcanoes for the rest of his life. As you can imagine, I breathed a sigh of relief when he eventually decided to go to dental school. But anyway, all this to say: I’ve always really loved the whole dental experience.

And then over the past few years, I’ve started having tooth trouble, especially on one of my back molars. Logan (volcano-camper-turned-competent-dentist) assures me that it’s the result of my lifelong habit of chewing ice, which I now heartily regret.

First, I cracked the tooth, then had to get a crown, then needed a root canal and, finally last week, went in to a specialist for my first dental surgery: an apicoectomy. For the uninitiated, an apicoectomy basically entails peeling back the gums, cutting into the jaw, sawing off the bottom tips of the troublesome tooth, cleaning everything out and sewing the gums back up.

As you can imagine, I was not excited. I’m not really a fearful dental patient – you won’t hear me crying and screaming from across the office. But I’m not exactly a fan of any part of my body being approached by a drill, saw, scalpel or similar device of torture. But that’s where the magic of modern medicine comes in. Numbing drugs! What a miracle!

The doctor took great care to get me totally numb before he began the surgery, as one always wants their doctor to do. The result was, instead of feeling like two people had their hands shoved into my mouth while a circular saw sliced through my jawbone, I felt instead like there was a little hamster running around on my cheek, his tiny paws frolicking this way and that.

I wasn’t sedated for the surgery, but I did have a healthy dose of nitrous. And wow, now there’s some good stuff. I’ve never been drunk before – never even had a sip of alcohol, in fact – but I can imagine that being on nitrous is a lot what it feels like to be a little buzzed from drinking.

One minute, I was feeling completely lucid, like I could take on the world. “I feel totally fine,” I remember thinking at the start of the procedure. “I could probably ace a college entrance exam right now if I had to. Ain’t nothing getting past this lady!” And then before I knew it, I was coming out of a dreamlike fog to the sound of the doctor asking for a scalpel.

Normally I would care very much if a person leaning six inches from my face asked to be handed a scalpel, but with the nitrous flowing gently through my system, I just decided I couldn’t care less. I probably went back to sleep and dreamed of little pink unicorns acing college entrance exams. Does that happen a lot when you’re drunk?

Once the doctor stitched me up and I came out of my stupor, I stumbled into the office bathroom to check out my face that I was sure was completely mangled. I was surprised to see that, despite feeling like I had been hit across the mouth with a brick, I looked more or less totally normal. A little swollen perhaps, but nothing that a carefully placed mask couldn’t cover up.

I went home, took some Extra-Strength Tylenol and laid down for some rest, interspersed only by occasional trips to the kitchen to fetch surgery-approved foods like yogurt, chocolate-peanut butter smoothies and ice cream. Maybe this brave new world of dental procedures isn’t so bad after all.

Julia Ditto shares her life with her husband, six children and a random menagerie of farm animals in Spokane Valley. She can be reached at

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