Family Affair

The Shadow of My Smile

It never occurred to me that I'd ever lose my adult teeth until the periodontist told me to open wide

Brought to you by Fixodent. Available at Walmart.

For me, scheduling a checkup with my dentist or perio guy ranks right up there with brain surgery without anesthesia. It goes back to my childhood. My Uncle Ben was a dentist of the Marathon Man variety. He loved inflicting pain in small children. This was back in the day when dental drills sounded (and felt) like jackhammers. At the mention of his name, I would beg my mother, "Please, please—anything but going to see Uncle Ben!"

Besides my morbid fear of dentistry, there was the genetic factor. I had inherited teeth with enamel the consistency of marshmallow fluff. By the time I was 12, every tooth in my mouth had a silver filling. That was back in the day when they didn't yet realize that mercury fillings were dangerous. No problem for me. I could listen to the police blotter just by clenching my teeth.

It never occurred to me that I would ever lose my adult teeth. I had a bridge, but no one could see it. It was way in the back. So when my inordinately handsome, young periodontist (I'm paying for it so why not enjoy the view?) tapped an instrument against a molar and said, "This might have to go," I was upset but resigned.

He said I would only need novocaine, but I insisted on nitrous oxide. So while my perio guy and his team worked diligently in my mouth, I was miles away, dreamily frolicking on a beach with George Clooney. When I regained lucidity, my doctor delivered the bad news, "Sorry, but we had to remove three teeth and your bridge."

Normally, I would've burst into tears and threatened to sue, but since I was so, uh, relaxed, I just mumbled "Gfurthzychg," due to the cotton stuffed in my mouth.

The next step was implants. However, I was in denial. The thing is, you really couldn't see the gap when I smiled unless you came in for an extreme close-up. Furthermore, I learned how to chew on the other side of my mouth. And then there was the cost. When I first asked, my doctor wrote a number on a piece of paper and handed it to me.

"What is this? The national debt of Venezuela?" I cried.

"Well, that's just for the first stage, the insertion of the metal screws," he said, jotting down some more numbers. "This is the price for the actual implants."

I passed out into my doctor's arms. When I came to, there was an armed security guard, a risk management guy and a lawyer, all assuring me that everything would be OK. How could it be OK? They were going to drill metal screws into my skull! Suddenly, I was nostalgic for my grandparents' false teeth which, surely, had not cost them six months' salary.

I reviewed my options. Take a week-long champagne-fueled Mediterranean cruise, rent a villa in Tuscany for an entire month (with maid service), or get my smile back.

Begrudgingly, I'm going for the smile. I figure that restoring my teeth is an investment. One that may pay off in the future when I am leaning against the railing of a cruise ship on a starry night and an attractive stranger (who bares an uncanny resemblance to George Clooney) sidles up to me and whispers, "Great implants! Who's your periodontist?"

Tags: health