Thursday, January 12, 2012

Still Smiling

When my two front teeth grew in, they were big. I have no memories of other kids teasing me or calling me rabbit-inspired nicknames. However, with my new front teeth and a "pixie" haircut that my mother swears was in style in the early 70's, my second grade school picture leaves something to be desired. Although my chompers were big, they came in straight and worked well for their intended function and I loved to smile.

On the Friday morning before Valentine's Day when I was a junior in high school, I took a shower upstairs. I dressed in school colors. In stocking feet, I picked up my boom box (the kind that had detachable speakers) in one hand and my pajamas in my other and headed back to my room. On the third step, I slipped and fell. I landed on my butt and thuded down a couple more stairs. My pj's and radio were still in my hands, but one of the speakers was detached. I felt no pain, but my tongue felt a big hole where my front right tooth should be. Needless to say, I screamed. My mom came running to discover what had happened. Then my little brother came. His job was to look for my missing tooth. Below were I sat holwing, there were about five more stairs, a landing, and then four more stairs going both to the right and to the left. After about two long minutes of frantic searching, I heard my brother say, "Oh my God, is this it?!" as he held up an impossibly long white object. Indeed it was. A tooth with its root intact is surprising long, especially one of my big front teeth. My mom wrapped the tooth in a wet cloth and I held another one to my bloody gums. Dad came home to help. He called a family friend who was an excellent dentist at his home as it was before office hours. He agreed to meet us at his office, where he successfully placed the tooth back in its socket. He performed a root canal and sent me on my way, with the warning that I had probably a twenty percent chance of keeping it.

Over the years, the tooth turned a little gray. I finished high school, college, graduate school, moved out west, got married; and still the tooth remained. My current dentist has kept a careful watch and has improved the look of the tooth using composite material. Still, it's big and I have an overbite with extra space between my top teeth. I secretly wished that my teeth had come in crooked so I would have had braces to fix them long ago. As an adult, I never wanted to spend the money and I was used to the way I looked. I still loved to smile.

On last Thanksgiving morning, the gums around my tooth were sore and swollen. I waited until my dental cleaning the following Friday, but the gums were still irritated. I asked the dentist to take another look at my tooth. Comparing x-rays taken over the past many years, he repeated his assertion made four years earlier that the bone was resorbing and the tooth was not being held in very tightly. He pointed to the lack of supporting structure on the x-ray and showed how it has diminished over time. He recommeded that I take control of the situation and, rather than waiting for my tooth to break loose one day, I should begin a course of treatments to fix my teeth properly. First, orthodontics to pull my teeth in and closer together; then oral surgery to extract my tooth; healing time with a temporary tooth; and finally a permanent implant. In the end, my teeth will look the way I always wanted. I was ready.

That's what I thought before I had the braces put on last week. Now my mouth hurts, I can only eat soft foods which subsequently get all stuck in my teeth, the inside of my cheeks are scraped where the hooks and wire ends make contact, it feels weird to kiss my daughter or husband, and I can't whistle. With all the ground-breaking technology out there, braces seem very archaic. I'm sure there are simple ways to make them at least a little more comfortable. All these complaints and I don't even have to have spacers or rubber bands like some poor brace-sufferers. I have a new-found respect for teens with braces. At least it was my own choice to get braces; and I know I will be happy with the results at the end of this two-year torture.

I still love to smile.


  1. Heather,
    So glad to know you are doing this for yourself! Yes, it is painful. I've been there, done that, with the braces and surgery and then ended up having a bike accident and knocked out one of my teeth! Luckily, dentists these days can do amazing things! Hang in there! You will eventually love the final results!

  2. You're a tough cookie! I have an implant in that same place ( I knocked mine out in high school). You always seem in great spirits even when things get rough, I really admire that about you!