Last Updated on May 7, 2023 by Ellen
One day I woke up with an odd bump on my lower gum. It was hard and a little red. It grew a little bit and became more red over the next week, so I went to a dentist in Rishikesh. Her opinion: nothing to worry about. She gave me some oral ointment. After another week, the damn lump grew a little more, and the ointment only made it redder.
I was concerned. Somewhat fearful it was oral cancer. So I sought a second opinion.
Any former cancer patient will tell you strange bumps and lumps keep them up at night. I’m no exception. As a breast cancer warrior, I know that at any time, cancerous cells can explode into rapid, uncontrolled growth to form deadly tumors. We patients are told to pay attention to bodily changes. We are not told to use Google image searches of potential malignancy signs, but that’s what many (most?) of us do.
My self-diagnosis was a 50/50 chance of gingival squamous cell carcinoma.
The lump was growing, it was painless, and it looked somewhat like some of the examples in the medical journals I’d seen on searches.
I decided to see an oral surgeon with the best reputation in a relatively small place like Rishikesh, India (small compared to the mega cities we had previously visited).
Research revealed several well-respected doctors at a dental hospital and school in the city, so I reached out on WhatsApp to make an appointment (a common method to make medical appointments in several countries). The Seema Dental School & Hospital said they could accommodate me that same day.
Off I went.
Seema Dental College & Hospital
A few graduate students and their supervising doctor listened to my cancer history, examined me, and told me not to worry – that they would figure out why I had this fibrous growth. They took X-rays and questioned me about any possible mouth trauma, of which I had none.
And then the head of the department came to examine my mouth. She knocked on the teeth by the strange growth. This brilliant doctor asked me more questions, and I told her the history of a tooth changing color, slowly.
A lower front tooth took on a slightly grayish hue back in 2019. At that time, a dentist in Malaysia told me about the discoloration, which I hadn’t even noticed. She asked if it hurt. It didn’t. So she told me may as well leave it alone. I did. Years passed. Covid locked down the world; the world opened up again. I went back to Malaysia – and the same dentist. She didn’t mention it again, and I neither did I.
But it turned out that tooth had been dying a slow death.
Emergency root canal in Rishikesh
Dr. S. Karpagavalli (Dr. Valli for short) is the department head for oral medicine and radiology at the Seema Dental School and Hospital. Her examination and the X-rays revealed a deep infection at the root of that tooth. It was a bit sensitive when she tapped on it with a dental instrument, but not excessively so.
Dr. Valli said the infection had likely been there for many years and my immune system had been fighting it this entire time. She explained some type of trauma is the cause for deep root infections like this one. Since I cannot remember any mouth trauma in recent years, she said this infection could go all they way back to my young adulthood or teen years – or even to childhood. I think that’s crazy!
As the infection slowly festered, it started to slowly kill the tooth. And recently, just a couple of weeks ago, the infection had gotten to the point where the pus formed a lump on my lower gum at the point of the root.
Not cancer, but sickness. Root canal was to be my cure. And fast. I had been really, really lucky so far – because though this lump wasn’t cancer, it also had potential for rapid growth.
Procedure, cost (so far) & next steps
Another doctor at the school’s dental clinic drilled a hole in the back of my tooth, drained the infection, put solution into the tooth, took another X-ray, and put a temporary filling in the small hole.
This is different from the type of root canal needed for tooth decay – my tooth still ‘looks’ normal and it’s not filed down to nub.
I have another appointment for the doctor to check on the infection a week after this emergency root canal, as I take antibiotics and paracetamol. Eventually, a cap will simply cover the weakened tooth. But the cap likely won’t be gotten in Rishikesh. We Earth Vagabonds will be moving on to Nepal in a couple weeks.
The total cost so far for this dying tooth/emergency root canal: only 1,000 rupees!
Unbelievable (!): 950 rupees for the root canal, 50 rupees for X-rays, consultation free. Just $12 so far, and I can’t imagine it will be much more money — until it’s time for me to get a cap somewhere.
I hope my case will help students in this school – I’m so grateful for everyone’s help, and that it’s not cancer! That lump has already shrunk down considerably.
So many dark thoughts gave me grief during the two weeks the lump was of unknown origin. All of my thoughts ultimately mean the same thing: Life is Now, and so I’d better make the most of it.