Tuesday, November 05, 2002

When I was about 2 and a half years old, bruises started appearing all over my body. My parents didn't know what was wrong, but noticed that if they put any pressure on my skin at all, a bruise would appear later, where the pressure had been. I ended up spending a few days in the hospital. The doctors there figured out that my body was destroying all of the platelets in my blood. They never did figure out why that was happening (they guessed it was an allergic reaction to something, maybe aspirin), but they did figure out how to make it stop. They made it stop by giving me shots of steroids. I got a shot every hour, on the hour, for three days or so. (My first memory is of a time when I saw the nurse coming with another shot and took off down the hall on one of those bright yellow ducks with wheels. They caught me, of course.)

It turns out that when you are between two and three years old, your body is putting together the materials to make your adult teeth. It also turns out that steroids have a bad effect on the body's efforts to make enamel. What can happen, if you were between two and three years old at the time that somebody shot you full of steroids, is that many years later, when your adult teeth start to come in, those adult teeth will have what is apparently referred to in the dental world as "mottled enamel." If this happens, the surface of your teeth will be pretty ugly.

When I was in the 4th grade, our whole class was doing pull-ups on the side of the swimming pool in gym class, and one time on the way down, back into the water, I misjudged the distance between the side of the pool and my own head. I hit my front two top teeth on the side of the pool. The inner corners of the two teeth crumbled into the water at the pool's edge. Immediately, an image of myself, a grownup, with teeth that looked like they belonged on Hee Haw, flashed through my head. When the dentist took a look, he decided that the reason my teeth had crumbled so easily was because of the mottled enamel, and so he decided to cover up more than just the front two teeth. He decided to cover up the front six top teeth.

Ever since then, my front top six teeth have been, off and on, covered up with either veneers or bonding. Veneers and bonding are good, because they allow you to keep your own teeth, which is a good thing (at least that's what they tell me). They are also relatively inexpensive, compared to permanent crowns or caps. The problem with them, though, is that over time, the bonding material discolors (it starts to turn yellow), and eventually, the bonding just falls off. My teeth have been looking pretty crappy for awhile now. Here's what they looked like last Friday, in various stages of disrepair (the front two have kept their bonding but are going yellow, and the others have lost their bonding - I don't exaggerate when I say they are ugly):

Until the Friday before last, the last time I'd gone to the dentist was about a year and a half ago. I got a check up and a new filling, and according to that dentist, under the insurance plan I had at the law firm, it would cost me between $500 and $800 to have those front top six teeth re-bonded. I've been putting it off ever since.

Then a few months ago, my friend Allen told me that I should just get my teeth fixed, before the wedding. He would loan me the money, and I could pay him back when I had it. (Allen is pretty cool, and pretty generous, too. Shhh.) For whatever reasons (I've been busy, and I procrastinate about the dentist), I didn't call to make an appointment until it was suddenly a month before the wedding. I got an appointment for the Friday 3 weeks and one day before the wedding. I have an HMO dental insurance plan, and I'd chosen a dental office that was close to home. Sears Dental.

It did not occur to me that Sears Dental was the Sears. In a Sears. Right next to the portrait studio. I kid you not. (The smiling portraits from the portrait studio were up on the same wall next to the smiling portraits from the dental office.) I was momentarily frightened.

It turned out to be the best dental experience I have ever had, at least in my adult life. The dentist was a woman in her 30's, friendly, calm, eager to help me out. I told her I had three weeks until my wedding, and so I was throwing myself on her mercy. If she had time to fix my teeth, I would be grateful, and if she didn't, I would understand. "You have three weeks until your wedding?" she said. "Well, we will just make sure it happens. If you have the time to come in, I will make the time to do the work." She was great. After that, she voluntarily went over and checked my insurance plan to see how much it would cost me to fix my teeth. "I think we should cover the top eight front teeth," she said.

The cost to me? Zero dollars for the front four teeth. $30 per tooth for the four teeth behind those. $120 to have my smile repaired. It would take about a half an hour. Oh, and I had no cavities.

So last Friday I went to the dentist to have my teeth fixed, and a few hours later I left with my teeth looking something like this:

Did you forget how bad they looked before? Here, compare!

Look at them! They're like normal teeth! (No, not those, the ones above!) And you can't see it there, but she actually fixed the top TEN teeth and only charged me for the top eight.

Thank you, Dr. Olson. You're a real live Tooth Fairy.


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