Dear Ally,

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Paying for it now…literally

Dear Ally,

A lot has happened since I wrote last. First I had part of a tooth break off. My dentist said it was because a filling had become loose and I would need a crown. She made a mold for the permanent crown and put on a temporary one. She calls it a “little hat for your tooth.” If you’ve never had a crown, they grind your tooth down to a little nub (wasn’t much left of mine anyway) and glue a fake tooth over top of it. The good news was I didn’t need a root canal – a least not then. The permanent crown wouldn’t be as strong as possible in case I do need a root canal in the future and, in that case, they’d need to drill through it. My dentist used extra strong glue for the temporary crown because it was going on my trip to New Zealand with me.

The night before I left for New Zealand, the tooth next to the temporary crown had a piece of its filling come out. The friend I was with introduced me to the emergency tooth repair stuff they sell at the drug store. So, if the rest of the filling came out or if my crown came off, I had a plan.

The morning I left for New Zealand my dentist called me and said my permanent crown had come in and they had a 12:30 appointment. Our flight wasn’t until later in the afternoon, but it would be cutting it close, so I didn’t go.

I went to New Zealand for 17 days – chewing carefully all the while with only the occasional feeling like a cold needle was being jabbed in my jaw and a sore tongue from constantly exploring what felt like a gigantic hole. I had no issues with the temporary crown at all, just had to avoid sticky foods.

I got my permanent crown and had the neighboring tooth refilled on my 41st birthday last Tuesday. Fun stuff! It’s a funny thing when you get used to pain and then it’s suddenly gone. I hadn’t realized I’d been chewing differently until I could chew normally again.

Then on Friday I went to the orthodontist and had braces put on my top teeth. I will get the bottom set put on in a little while and the whole process is supposed to take 15-18 months. I paid for the entire treatment up front, emptying the Health Savings Account I’d been contributing to for the past few years. Along with the braces, I received a wooden nickel (for being on time and good behavior) that I can save towards various gift cards, as well as a balloon and a See’s Candy gift card since that week was my birthday.

Why am I telling you all of this and what does it have to do with college?

I am acutely regretting several things these days: 1) I didn’t get my retainers replaced when they broke while I was in college, 2) I didn’t floss much when I had braces, and 3) I didn’t have a good dentist to go to while I was in college.

These fillings that are beginning to fail are all 20 years old. I had nine fillings when I was in college – done over three separate, but closely spaced appointments. They were all for cavities between my teeth and were done by a dentist in the town where I attended college. I had never had a filling before in my life. A friend of mine went to the same dentist who told him he needed 13 fillings. He got a second opinion and the other dentist told him he only needed two fillings. My dentist later went to jail for selling prescription drugs. Hmm.

Fast forward to ten years ago, I went to one of those chain dentist offices and they were trying to convince me to get a bridge where I was missing a molar. They were suggesting that a 30-year-old woman file down the only two teeth in her mouth that didn’t have filings so that a three-tooth bridge could be glued over top of the nubs. I mentioned this plan to my co-worker who is a D.D.S. and she told me never to go back there and recommended my current dentist. I think this was the best thing she ever did for me!

Back to the present, one of the reasons for the braces is to make room for an implant where the missing tooth is. That’s not going to be fun at all, but it will be nice to actually use both sides of my mouth to chew. By the way, I am genetically missing that tooth and they pulled the baby tooth because that’s what they did back then. The other reason for braces, though, is because my bite is messed up and my front teeth are wearing each other down.

The take home message for you, of course, is to take care of your teeth and wear your retainer! I know, there is nothing sexy about retainers, but trust me, braces aren’t any better the second time around. You are lucky that you are still at home and can probably easily go to your same dentist and orthodontist. Just think, 20 years from now, you might want to go on a huge trip and you sure don’t want to have to worry about your teeth or be in pain.

See you over Christmas!

Aunt Sarah

P.S. You can have my gift card to the candy store!

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