Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight | Part Nine | Part Ten | Part Eleven | Part Twelve | Part Thirteen
By: Jean Johnson for Dental1
This is the day my teeth go in – if the last adjustments the lab made are sufficient. Walking into the office is different than it has been before. Poignant. Quiet. I attend to the accoutrements in the reception room with renewed interest.
The wood cut screen across the end of the room – four panels in bone and black, the graceful lines of cranes feeding in grasses setting a peaceful tone. The two framed prints; titled Vessel Series number 3 and number 4 with long oval constructions in browns going to reds and dark turquoise blues all earthy and warm and close. I breathe in the soft containment and then cross the room to view a small photograph of Chez Olivier in France.
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France. That’s what my mother said. “You could have traveled the world three or four times over for what you spent on your teeth. Would you do it again?”
I told her yes, of course. This is not the sort of venture one starts looking back on and second guessing. Besides when I told my prosthodontist what mom said, his comment was that “You could take a trip, but after you come back you are still toothless. This way, when you get up every day, you use it.”
He’s got on a show-stopping shirt today. It's a hush of very light lilac tint that his mauve tie lifts right off the fabric. When he puts on his lab coat I can’t help but comment. “Your shirt is gorgeous today. You look great – you know I always like your shirts.”
He smiles and seems genuinely pleased. “Thank you. Yes, you always write about them in your stories.”
“I know because they always look so fresh. Like they wouldn’t wrinkle no matter what,” I say. “I don’t know what fabric your tailor has you in, but it sure works. It’s so nice and thick – the weave. Substantial.”
“It’s the high thread count. Those materials stay crisp. Also I only wear them two days before I send them to the cleaners.”
I love it when he tells me stuff like this. He’s so unpretentious for all his success and what must be a rarified lifestyle complete with his collection of fine art.
But the banter is only momentary and gives way to the business of the day. He numbs the areas of my mouth where I haven’t had implants or root canals and off we go with him removing the temporaries. His left hand holds my upper lip back while he gently gets half the temporaries loose with his hemostat and the other half unscrewed with his torque wrench. The implants are no problem. Once he has the holes cleaned out with the shrieker (as I call it) they simply unscrew like widgets. The temporaries over actual tooth preps, though, are more time consuming and he has to keep working at them, rocking back and forth ever so gently until the cement loosens.
After a few minutes, though, and everything is off and the bizarre under-girding of my mouth is bared. “I can’t believe this is almost over,” I said.
“It’s not over until the fat lady sings,” he said. We chuckled, and he rifted off onto how divas aren’t so fat any more – except for a large woman he saw cast as Carmen recently. “They cast it wrong. She was about 300 pounds, and probably the whole town could have been in love with her,” he said. “She’s enough woman!” He laughs, but good naturedly without a shred of meanness in his tone.
Cindy and I chuckle too, and while he focuses on preparing the margins of the builds for installing the teeth, some very easy, very soft treble piano notes from the jazz station fill the suite like a river of time.
Cindy’s necklace today is a dainty string of white shell and silver beads. A choker encircling her neck and setting off her highlighted hair. I watch her work, and see that her eyes are more gold than brown in the afternoon light. These two people – him in his uptown shirts and her in her highlights – these two people that have troubled and fussed, and fussed and troubled over my mouth. These two people who have nurtured me.
I’ll miss them. There is some grieving going on here I see. It surprises me. I didn’t expect it. I close my eyes against a sting of tears.
My prosthodontist slips the lower teeth in first to double check the facets and make sure the fit is passive and that none of the teeth are creating lateral pressure on the others. Through it all, I require so much Lidocaine that we start joking about whether I’ll break the record of 15 ampoules. Apparently that’s the max. “If you go over that it’s OK. You just get a headache,” he said.
“But it’s a bad one,” Cindy said.
“Well I don’t want that,” I said.
“Yes,” he said, “But we have to get the job done.”
Hmmm. He does know how to push a patient when he’s on a mission. I try to tolerate what I can, although tooth pain is something I’ve never been too good at enduring. I made it, though. By the end of the appointment that lasted from 1 to 7 p.m., I rang it at 13 ampoules – home by the skin of my teeth.
What do we get up to in those six hours? Installing a brand new set of reconstructed teeth? Close, but no basket.
He does get the lowers in. Adjusts the contacts for what seems like an interminably long time. Etches the tooth margins and then installs the teeth. Cindy, the mother hawk from her chair with one arm draped over the back rest eying the operation, tone talking. Did you torque that one? You want floss?
For his part, he’s about ready to start cementing. “We do every other one so the teeth are not being driven by the adjacent tooth,” he explained to me. “A lot of dentists put three or four crowns in and push down. But what happens is that they don’t seal perfectly sometimes. Ours take longer, but then we know there is a perfect seal.”
He works through the lower jaw in this way, his fingers clamping my jawbone hard while the cement under each porcelain crown sets. Then he moves to my uppers and gets all the molar implants and crowns in.
The upper front teeth, however, don’t meet his specifications and have to travel back to the lab once again.
“I like this side,” he said pointing to the right, “so what I want to do is have them modify the left side more in line with the right.”
I could see what he was talking about and agreed. “Sounds good,” I said. “So I guess we won’t be saying goodbye just yet.”
Cindy laughs. “Don’t worry,” she said. “You’re stuck with us a little longer. We wouldn’t let you get away too easily.”
Chuckle. She really does look beautiful in the long rays of the evening light. Her golden eyes and hair are spiff and match my prosthodontist’s uptown shirts and ties. More, she is as nice as he is. Like my mother said, “You like your dentist.”
“Yes,” I said. “Him and Cindy and Stacy. They’ve been great. The whole thing has been way beyond anything I ever expected. I’m blown away, and I don’t even have my teeth yet.”