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  • Michael F. Nyiri

The Tale of The Teeth

"All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth"

from a popular song during the 40s by Hohf & Mago

"I do not mourn those parts of me that are gone"

Michael F. Nyiri, poet, philosopher, fool

I was a happy child, with a happy smile, and then my teeth began to grow in, over under sideways down. Sometimes I think the teeth were larger than my feeble frame could handle, and they took over my face. My eyes sparkled. My dimples creased. But it was those two "Bucky Beaver" teeth which stood out, and this was a problem. A problem which would take years, possibly decades, possibly all my life, to solve.

I tried to cover up the massive front teeth in photos, but they stuck out so much I couldn't really stretch my small lips over them. The overbite grew inceasingly worse as my few short years on the planet started to add up, and this totaled great embarassment for me, and great consternation for my parents.

My eyesight failed me as well, and by the time I graduated from the sixth grade, I was a new man. I wore spectacles which probably weighed more than I did, and thanks to the "new car" my parents forever told friends and acquaintances they put "in my mouth" (there was almost as much "hardware" as there would have been in a new car) my teeth were finally being stopped in their tracks. I was fitted with a shiny bright new set of braces. In 1966, these were attached to each tooth, on the top and bottom, tied together with wire, which was forever tightened by the orthodontist each time I visited her, and fitted with little holes into which the "face bow" a rather unattractive piece of "hardware" which resembled some kind of UHF antenna (or perhaps the bumper of a 1958 Buick) was placed each and every night, fastened at each end around my small neck with a large piece of elastic. This was also tightened ad infinitum.

My smile returned at around the end of my first year of high school. The doctors removed the metal from my mouth, inserted plastic "retainers" so that my front teeth wouldn't spring back into their former position, and gave me a clean bill of health, and of course that shiny new smile.

They gave my parents a rather large bill. The peeps couldn't afford the "real" new car till the next year, and then they couldn't buy it after all, because of a little accident I had involving another car and my brother's sixth grade teacher.

Mr. Weatherby parked his car at the curb on the day my mother was hosting a graduating party for his class, in order that all the goodies to be consumed at said party could be loaded in the car. I've always loved automobiles, and my father let me "drive" our large behemoth of a station wagon up and down the driveway on a regular basis. I shuffled behind the wheel of Mr. Weatherby's car, and pretended to drive. I was quite surprised when the good teacher bounded down the driveway, put a cake and a pan of cookies in the back seat, sidled up to me in the shotgun bucket, and told me to drive to the school.

Heck, he was a teacher. I knew Mother wouldn't want me to do such a stupid thing. But I did. I slipped the car into drive, with Weatherby's blessing and encouragement, and slowly made my way up the street. A left turn (something I'd never done before with my father's large standard steering Chevy, let alone a small Ford Falcon with automatic steering) loomed large ahead, and one twist of the wheel caused the car to careen out of control.

Weatherby bailed out the door. The car wasn't going too fast at all. But it was going just fast enough so that when it plowed into the steps at the corner house, my small jaw hit the steering wheel, snapping the bones, and letting loose teeth scatter everywhere on the lawn.

Weatherby wasn't a family friend forever more after this. I was in shock at the time, but I do remember the trip up into Los Angeles in the back of an ambulance. I remember being wheeled into a hallway where hours passed as my mother (who had collected the half dozen teeth which fell out my head) argued with the doctors who wanted to knock the rest of them out and wire my jaw shut.

By nightfall, my parents had procured the services of an oral surgeon in Pasadena. I was put under the gas, and the doctor pulled my jaw back into place as well as could be expected. Over the next several years, I had the dead teeth reinserted, a plastic "cast" encased over the bottom jaw, and another full set of braces, complete with tightening and face bows. I graduated from high school with hardware in my


Mother had a stroke very early in her life (possibly related to the problems I caused her, but this can't be ascertained for certain). It paralyzed both sides of her body. Father had a history of heart problems, and his 13th finally felled him. At the age of 21, still in college, I had to become my mother's estate guardian, and sold off all the family goods in order to pay for her care at the nursing home. She passed away soon after.

I'd had to drop out of college. Although both my brother and sister were old enough that I didn't need to be their guardian, I did have to move into an apartment when we sold the family house, and with everything that was going on at the time, I kept my full time job as a Garden Shop manager at a local hardware chain, instead of trying to get my degree. I was making good money, possibly more than the money my friends in the education field were getting anyway, so I kept working, and found solace in the party hearty world of the South Bay, where I moved.

I didn't go to a dentist again for a couple of decades. I brushed my teeth. I had a great smile, what with all the work that had been done, but I didn't keep up anything less than appearances, and I discovered this great drug called cocaine at about the same time I was making more money than I ever had at any time in my life, and that drug, which tricks one into thinking everything is just so wonderful and peachy keeno no matter what may really be happening in life, also probably helped to destroy a lot of work which had gone into my mouth. I had to get up early as both a truck driver and a warehouse manager, and I spent many an evening partying, so those little white "uppers" I scored from my fellow truck drivers helped me to stay active and aware, but also began a slow process of eating away at my gums.

The party lasted till around 1991. I was evicted from apartment buildings. I was fired from jobs. On the other hand, I stuck around while one business establishment went out of business, garnering me six months worth of severance pay. I used a lot of it to buy drugs and party down. After leaving my retail career behind, and establishing myself in the industrial electrical field as a design engineer, I met a gal with whom I felt I might stay with till the end of my days, and I decided to straighten up my life. This entailed a lot more than I'm telling you in this blogpost, but the main things involved getting and staying healthy. I took my first trips to both the doctor and the dentist in decades.

The teeth started to get loose and painful, and to fall out. Well, not of their own accord. I needed multiple extractions. However, other health concerns always took precedence over my mouth.

My dental concerns, which didn't really concern me much after having so much done so early in my life, took a back seat to other more pressing concerns. I fell over a lot, and needed hip replacement surgery in my early 40s. My eyesight, which was always a very out of focus subject, went completely awry when I needed cataract surgery in my early 50s. I finally consulted with my dentist, who stated that I needed to have my pulled teeth replaced, and also needed to see a periodontist, to see about possible gum surgery. The dentist wasn't that great. The office didn't have a payment plan. And one crown replacement had cost me over $750.00 with root canal. (That tooth was the latest which had to be pulled when it got so loose I was in screaming pain throughout most of the last three months of last year. But I digress and get ahead of myself.)

I kept putting off my dental visits all though the 90s. The relationship I'd nurtured during that time didn't even last five years. I moved in with my good friend Joel in 1995, and began to spend a lot of money I didn't have. I took vacations. I bought computers. (During the early days, I had to buy a new one every six months or so to keep on top of the technology) I upgraded my home theater. I got multiple credit cards. I maxed them all out. I made a mess of my finances, but I had fun.

My smile was still beautiful, and I didn't worry about my mouth or my teeth. I said "pshaw" to the dentist who referred me to a periodontist. That was in 2010. By then, my longtime friend and roommate had died from cancer, I had to buy a house, and the second hip replacement and second cataract surgery cost quite a bit of money I really didn't have. The economy took a nosedive around that time too, so I wasn't getting any raises at work.

I kept thinking that at some time in the not too distant future I'd get to work on my mouth. I watched some documentaries about people who ruined their teeth and gums because they smoked so much methamphetamine. Heck, I'd smoked a lot of methamphetamine. I began to wonder if at some time all my teeth would come out. On one dental visit (to have a tooth pulled, natch) I asked if I could just have all my teeth knocked out and get a set of choppers. No way, Jose. The cost to have a tooth pulled was three bucks. Replacing said tooth was monumentally expensive. I'll think about that tomorrow, I proclaimed.

The dentist told me my teeth would "shift". As he pulled each tooth, he'd go over this mantra like a bad recording, stuck on repeat. After the third tooth, he gave up, and so did I. I didn't think anything could really go too wrong. I couldn't have been moreso.

My smile really started to disappear about five years ago. Gaps would appear then get larger because of the spaces where both my eye teeth, or incisors on the top had been removed. The three teeth in front got gaps so large that I almost felt I could stick my tongue completely through them. I had received a "temporary partial" for the two bottom front teeth which came out just cause I wouldn't walk around with that gap showing. My teeth were not only shifting. My gums were disappearing. Still, I brushed my teeth at least once a day, when getting up in the morning, and I brushed them vigorously.

In October of 2014, the bottom left molar, the one I'd had not only one crown installed, but a crown replacement and root canal performed for the price of a small car, began to get loose. I suffered. I rubbed lots of anbesol over the gums. I prayed the pain would go away. But deep down (in the infected gums and in my mind) I knew that tooth would have to go. And before my sanity went with it, I really needed to "fix" the problem I'd let go untended for the past 30 years. I needed to fill the gaps in my mouth, and get the work done which would restore not only my smile, but perhaps my dental health as well.

I make my five year plans. And I stick to them. I make yearly resolutions, and I stick to them. When I want to, I can be my own worst (or is that best) taskmaster. I made the decision to fix my mouth, my teeth and my smile. I knew I didn't want to stick with my present dentist. He didn't accept time paymnents, and I knew I was going to have to pay a premium for my neglect.

A pretty stiff one.

Early in January I called 1-800-Dentist. I thought this was just another advertisement for some dental plan, but a gal at work told me it's more of a clearing house/matchmaking service for dental offices, and they'd match me with the dental office which would benefit me the most. I called the number from work one afternoon, and they recommended the Torrance office of Western Dental, which is like a big healthcare organization for one's mouth.

It only took a week to land an appointment. I was in unbearable pain because of the molar I needed pulled, but I was living with it. I was taken first to the xray machine, where they photographed my sad state of a mouth, both tooth and hole. It wasn't a pretty picture. Then I met my dentist, who was friendly and forgiving. He didn't want to concentrate on the past. He merely wanted what I wanted. To get rid of the pain, and the pained tooth, and to set in motion a dental "plan" which would eventually return my smile.

Frankly, I'm amazed, writing this, merely two months after first walking into the office. I not only have a new smile. I've had the molar removed (it couldn't be done right away, because it was so infected) a "deep cleaning" (involving shooting lasers into my gums) a polishing (including those of teeth which are now gone) a month of taking antibiotics to quell the gum decay and infection, and two consults with a dental hygienist. The hygienist told me in a less severe case I may have been able to wait a while for my gum tissue to regrow. This was not the case. The consult with a periodontist had to be scheduled and referred to my insurance company. It occured on Thursday and concluded with a six hour operation involving a lot of pain. I've got my smile back. I'm happy. Actually I'm ecstatic. (Hurting a bit, but smiling {widely at that} through the tears.)

It isn't cheap. My insurance only paid for gum surgery, and it didn't pay a lot of that. I usually make my doctor's appointments near when work is ending for me, and I've been making my dental appointments for Saturdays. The doctor who would be seeing me for my consult comes to the office only a few days per month, so my appointment was at 10:00am on a Thursday. The good doctor was operating when my appointment's time became overdue, so I waited longer than I deemed necessary, and I complained at the front desk. I was called, then sat in first one, then another dentist's chair, shuffled from one room to another. I figured I may have picked a bad dental practice, after having such good luck with them in the preceding months, when the good doctor finally (finally) came up to the chair, and introduced himself.

"What objective are you looking to accomplish?" is what he asked me.

I'd repeated this to so many dental technicians, friends, and workmates, that it was quite easy reciting my mantra. "I want to get my smile back. That's my objective. I figure I'll need some kind of gum rebuilding, implants or bridges to replace the missing teeth. Possibly orthodontics to straighten the crooked teeth. I can't even tell where my "bite" is right now. In the end, I'd like to be able to smile, chew and gain the confidence that my mouth and teeth are near perfect, instead of nearly falling out. I know this is going to cost me quite a lot, and I'm willing to hear the price, and pay it."

The consult didn't last an hour. This is what was advised. I would have three teeth in front removed. They were almost gone anyway due to decay and lack of gum support. Where the measurements between gums and teeth are supposed to be 3-4 millimeters, mine were 7-8. These gaps are of great concern. As I mentioned, my gums were almost gone. I'd need gum surgery. Not a tissue replant, but buildup with bone grafts. I'd need four implants. This entails drilling holes in my skull and driving sockets where a screw is inserted which will accept a full crown (a replacement tooth) and two bridges. One across the three front teeth. And one on the bottom where I currently had the temporary partial. The gums were so bad there (and that's where the impact was in that long ago car wreck) that I would have a permanent bridge installed. I didn't have to have the back molar, which had just been removed a month earlier, replaced just now, however.

I was asked what I wanted to do. I looked over the recommendations. I asked about orthodontics, mainly because one of the gals who run the place for which I work had asked about it (she's purchased braces for each of her three sons) and was told the front teeth which needed to be removed would never have been touched by an orthodontist. As soon as the wires were tightened, the teeth would have pulled out of what sockets were left. This is chilling news, by the way. I knew my condition was bad, but not THIS bad. As luck would have it, neither did the periodontist giving me said news!

I stated: "Let's do this."

The business manager appeared with a calculator and a chart. The bottom line (I have all this itemized. And I made an informed decision) is that this is going to cost me $19,500.00. Believe it or not, I didn't have a heart attack when I heard this number. I'd already researched costs (on the internet, natch) and I actually thought it would cost me upwards of thirty grand. The acutal cost is greater than 20 grand by the way. I have a Care Credit plan with the dental group, and because I made the decision to have the work done (I'm possibly the 2nd worst case they'd ever seen. I don't like that distinction)) and was willing to have it all done by them, I got a lot of discounts. For instance, the partials I'm wearing right now (stay plates, they call them) allowing me to smile for the first time with an open mouth without embarassment in years, are free for me. I'm not being charged for them. Implants of the type I'm getting (my bone marrow was really dense and it took a long time and effort to get the posts installed) are $4000.00 each. I'm getting them for $3500.00 each. My insurance only covers part of the gum surgery. Implants and bridges are not covered.

I was asked if I wanted to have the surgery that afternoon. The doctor was free. I gasped. I had no idea this could all be done at once. Of course I didn't know exactly what was going to be entailed, but I answered in the affirmative. I called work, told them my plans to take Monday off to take photographs of wildflowers were cancelled. I'd be in the operating chair for the next few hours, would take the next day off work so I could pick up the partials, and wish me luck.

From 1:30pm to 7:00pm. Only two five minute breaks. First I had three teeth pulled. Only have had one tooth pulled at a time before. Then had implants drilled and "tapped" into my skull. They do this with a hammer, tap tap tapping, millimeter by millimeter, taking xrays as they go to make sure they don't drill into my sinus cavity. Then they insert the post, first screwing it in with a power drill, then a hand socket as in my case, where the bone density was so scarce. Reminded me a lot of making control panels at work, except instead of 12 gauge steel, they were drilling into my head!

After inserting a bone graft into the space where they removed the three teeth and built up around the two teeth which had been pulled long ago, but needed implants, my gums were sewn up and I was told I could pick up the replacement "stay plates' the next day. I've always bragged about my ability to withstand pain. I've written a series of poems titled "The House of Pain". I grew up in this house, and I suffer from all kinds of pain to this day. The pain was so great during my surgery that the doctor shot me full of novacaine at least 20 times. He told me the shots usually last about 3-4 hours, but I was feeling pain a mere 20-30 minutes after each dose.

I was prescribed Hydrocodone/Acetaminophen for pain. I filled out the rest of the financial paperwork. (60 months at 14.9% interest, or $342.00 a month for the next 60) but I knew this was not only for what surgery was performed, but for the work that yet has to be done on my jaw, plus of course the full crowns which will eventually mean I will have every tooth that I should have (minus the few they got rid of during that car wreck surgery so long ago) and no removable partials or plates. I have my smile back, and it will be, in the words of the periodontist specialist, a "movie star's smile." Of course most movie stars only have veneers placed over their imperfect teeth. I'm having mine replaced!

I was in terrible pain while driving first to the pharmacists, then home after fulfilling the perscription. I haven't driven anywhere this past weekend, except to the dental office yesterday to pick up my paritals or stay plates, which were a day late in arriving. (And I made sure I wasn't on the effects of the opiate drug while driving.) It's now late in the day on Sunday. I go into work tomorrow and will be flashing my brand new smile. The partials will be replaced by porcelain crowns in about three months. I don't even find the plastic on my palate uncomfortable (if still quite painful) because it reminds me of those long ago retainers I had to wear after getting braces (twice.)

Smile Away.

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