I have not ever had good teeth. Well, maybe at a really, really young age I did, but I don’t remember not ever having issues. I started getting fillings in elementary school, and continued to get them here and there, when we could afford them. I didn’t really have bad teeth until I went to college, but they weren’t ever good.
I clearly remember my first broken tooth — I was somewhere around nineteen or twenty, sitting in my dorm parking lot with the mister and having dinner. I don’t remember what I was eating, but boy do I remember the god-awful crunch of one of my back fillings coming out and biting down on it. It actually wasn’t painful after the initial bite. The only reason I even knew it was broken was because of the texture of the tooth itself and the little bits of it I pulled out of my mouth afterwards. But it didn’t hurt, and I didn’t have any kind of insurance at all, much less dental, and lord knows I didn’t have the cash to drop on it, so I let it go. I did eventually get it pulled, not because it ever caused me any pain, but because my mother-in-law (bless her) insisted on paying for the work after she heard about it. I think I might have had my wisdom teeth removed in that same appointment as well, though to be honest I’m not sure. I know I don’t have them anymore, at any rate.
So my back teeth continued to decay throughout college, though not at an alarming rate. Again, I never felt any real pain (I just learned to chew on the side of my mouth that didn’t hurt when I got food in it), and I was stereotypically broke, so I never bothered with getting any of it fixed. By the time my teeth really became an issue, I was out of college and working at Long John Silver’s, and I still couldn’t afford to do anything about it. At the time of the mister’s enlistment three years later, I had yet to actually have any teeth fall out of my head (my gums have remained stubbornly healthy, thank goodness), but my front top teeth were over half gone, and the bottoms weren’t much better. I’d always had a gap in the very front, and now I had pretty substantial gaps almost everywhere else, too. And that was painful. I learned to live with what was basically a constant headache, and took quite a bit of naproxen and ibuprofen to try to deal with it. Just thinking about eating made me ache.
I’ve been reading a lot of blogs and forums recently, and one steady theme that seems the pervade them is the issue of shame from having bad teeth. People talk about never smiling or laughing, and not talking without putting their hand up over their mouths, for years before getting their teeth fixed. I don’t think I ever had that issue. I did avoid pictures when I could, and if I couldn’t I didn’t give an open-mouth smile, but I think I figured that there was no way to hide my teeth in day-to-day interaction so I just didn’t, and I don’t ever remember really thinking about it too much. Much the same as with my gap in front, it was just the way things were and I couldn’t do anything about it, so there wasn’t any point in getting worked up over it. But then, I’ve always been pretty good at not getting worked up over what other people thought of things I can’t change about myself. If the state of my teeth really bothered someone to the point that they didn’t want to associate with me, then they were the kind of person I didn’t want to associate with, anyway.
So anyway, with the mister’s enlistment came health insurance, which was a huge, amazing, wonderful thing, and also a little bit of dental insurance. The dental I now have covers plenty if all you need is preventative care and the occasional filling or two, but the yearly maximum is just a drop in the bucket of the costs associated with what I needed done. So I started chipping away at it, a little every year, but there was no way it could keep up with the rate of decay. Last year, I spent the entire maximum on one crown. By then the teeth I’d had fixed the year before had started to noticeably decay again already.
In the past year I’ve just stopped looking at my teeth in the mirror, because it seemed like every time I looked at them I found a new cavity, or noticed a current one was substantially larger. I can’t describe how disheartening that is. Not to mention that all the pain that went away after the initial year’s work was starting to come back. I finally got so frustrated and so upset about the whole thing that I decided to say, “Screw it.” (Well, my language was a little more blue than that, but you get the point.) It is time to get this done and over with. The insurance rolls over in May, so I’ll get everything that needs to be done, done this month and next and be done with it. Done, done, done. Our method of financing is not ideal, and we’ll have to live poor for a little while, but I honestly feel like dental work, to the extent that I need it, is justifiable debt.
So I went in for a cleaning and exam last week, and as it turns out every single one of my remaining top teeth (there are ten of them) would need to be crowned, in addition to six crowns and lots of fillings on the bottom. And the top crowns, at least, would be bandaids that would probably work fine for a few years before what was left of the teeth underneath them began to decay again. Also, for all of that, we would be talking around $24,000 in dental work, which we couldn’t even get a credit line for at this point. That’s the cost of a new car. We could literally buy a place to live back home (not a good one, but still) for that amount. And all that for work that will most likely fail in a few years, that we would have to sink even more thousands of dollars into, until we end up just having to extract anyway.
So we decided to skip all of that mess and meet in the middle, kind of. On the 17th I’m going in to have each and every one of my top teeth, and four on the bottom, surgically extracted, and then two crowns and several fillings in my remaining bottom teeth. (Under sedation. Obviously.) I’ll let my gums heal for 5-6 weeks before going in and, at the age of 29, being fitted for a full top denture and partial bottom.
And, y’know, I can’t even say I’m upset about it. I’m a little upset about not having any teeth on top for over a month, but that was my choice and I feel like I’ll heal better (and with less pain) if I don’t try to shove a big hunk of plastic in on top of the mess that will be my gums immediately afterwards. The mister has promised that he’ll still love me in the meantime, even if I will sound like I’m drunk and will refuse to leave the house except for dental appointments. But as far as the dentures themselves? I’m actually kind of excited to not be in pain anymore, and to not have this constant anxiety over my teeth. We might be dead before we get all of our debt paid off, but I am seriously at a point where I much prefer the debt to the dental problems.
When Daddy got his first full set of dentures, he immediately chased me around the house trying to bite me on the ass with them. Later that night, I came to the dinner table and found them on my plate.
I promise not to do that to anyone. Probably.