I've spent more money on my teeth over the years than most people spend on their mortgages.
And as a result, my mouth looks like a training manual for future dentists. It contains crowns/caps, permanent bridges, partial dentures, root canals, fillings, posts, temporary caps, chicken wire and Elmer's glue. Oh, yes…and maybe even a few actual teeth.
But I figure the endless suffering I've endured and money I've spent over the years were well worth it if the results meant saving my teeth, right?
I'm not so sure.
A couple weeks ago, my permanent bridge, which filled the gaps of what used to be five top teeth from the eye-tooth back, fell off. The end result was a smile that looked like a piano keyboard.
Ironically, just a few days before, I'd received an item from England I'd won on Ebay – a tube of permanent dental cement that supposedly could be used to reattach just about anything in the mouth…including your tongue to your teeth, if you weren't careful.
I grabbed the tube of cement and slathered it onto the bridge. Then I shoved the bridge back into my mouth…or at least I tried to. I couldn't find all of the holes where the little metal posts on the bridge were supposed to line up and fit into. As I frantically tried to find the holes, stabbing repeatedly at my gums with the posts, the glue on the bridge dried and turned into concrete.
I spent the next 20 minutes muttering and scraping the cement off the bridge. Then I applied some fresh cement and tried again. This time, the holes and pins lined up and met their marks. I held the bridge in place and waited for the cement to dry – five minutes, according to the directions.
The minute I took my hand away, the bridge fell out and landed on the bathroom counter. That did it. I rushed off to see my dentist, Attila the Driller.
I could tell he wasn’t pleased with my handiwork the second he eyed the cement-caked bridge. "I'm going to have to scrape off all of this cement before I can reinsert the bridge," he said. He grabbed one of the nearby dental tools and started attacking it.
"I hope you can get the bridge to stay in," I said. "I couldn't."
He abruptly stopped scraping. "I'd better have a look in your mouth first, then."
When he checked my mouth, the sound that came out of him was similar to that of someone who'd just been kicked in the stomach by a horse.
"I'm really sorry," he said. "There's not enough tooth structure left to hold the bridge. If I tried to put it back in, you'd probably end up swallowing it."
Swallowing something with metal posts sticking out of it didn't sound too appealing, not unless I wanted to turn my intestines into Swiss cheese. "But you can't let me go around looking like this! I'm hideous!"
"I can make you a temporary denture," he said. "It will serve the purpose until you have those top teeth extracted and get a permanent denture."
Extractions? Dentures? What on earth was the man talking about? All I'd done was lose a bridge. "Excuse me?" I managed to ask.
"The time has come," he said. "There's nothing else that can be done to save your teeth. Look at this one," he touched the tooth next to my eye tooth. "It's so loose, I can wiggle it back and forth. When that falls out, you're doomed. It's time for a denture…or implants."
I momentarily wondered how having bigger breasts would help my teeth…unless maybe people would be staring at them so much, they wouldn't even notice my jack-o-lantern smile.
"But even with dental implants," the dentist was saying, "you'll still need dentures for a few months during their preparation. So you may as well get the dentures now."
I then dared to ask him about the cost of dentures and implants. Expensive? Let's just say that for what they cost, I could hire someone to chew all of my food for me…in a room at Caesar's Palace.
The dentist made an appointment for me to permanently part with my remaining top teeth on March 11. He then fitted me with a temporary partial denture so I'd look slightly less Halloween-ish till then.
Ironically, when I got home that night, the tooth he had been warning me about – the one whose demise meant then end of my teeth as I knew them – fell out. I could swear I heard a demonic little cackle coming from it. I examined it and noticed that it was only the crown, with a post in it. No pieces of the tooth were attached to it.
So once again I took out the dental cement and slathered it onto the crown. In an instant, the crown was neatly reattached and as solid as a rock…albeit a bit crooked.
And the temporary denture, which looked and felt great, cost only 20 percent of what the real one was going to cost me.
"You know, my mouth feels really good, nothing hurts and my smile looks fine now," I said to husband that night. "So why can't I just stay like this and not bother having anything extracted? I'm really not too fond of baby food, you know."
"Because it's inevitable," he said. "You should know by now that any dental work you have lasts only a few months before is screams for mercy and commits suicide."
"Well, it's around $12, 000 for implants and $2,500 for the denture," I said, "And the extractions are between $200 and $300 per tooth."
He let out a low whistle. "You know, now that I think about it, maybe you're right. Your current smile looks just fine. Why tamper with it? It probably has a good 10 or 20 years left if you lay off the caramels."
So I called the dentist and canceled my appointment.
I feel as if I've been granted a stay of execution.
In the meantime, I'm going to stock up on another gallon of that dental cement…and toss out my bag of caramels.