Monday, May 16, 2011

Adventures in Sewing and Dentistry: In Which My Smile is Restored and I Vow to Abstain from Needle Biting and Grinding Henceforth

If you've been having trouble reaching me lately, it's because I've been at the dentist.

A few years ago, while working on a hand quilting project, I determined that a good way to get a slightly dull betweens needle through a particularly bulky seam allowance of batik fabrics would be to bite the needle with my front teeth and pull it through the fabric. As soon as the corner of my front tooth chipped, I had a déjà vu moment as the memory of having chipped a tooth in exactly the same way many years ago came flooding back to me. I think I was sewing Barbie clothes out of Lycra costume fabric scraps the first time I chipped a tooth. In both cases, my dentist filed down the front teeth slightly to "erase" the chip, and I forgot all about it and went on with my life.

At some point during the decades that separated these two sewing mishaps, a former football player for the Minnesota Vikings also chipped one of my front teeth when he was removing my braces (I'm sure he was the best orthodontist in New Jersey and that his former life as a ViQueen player in no way influenced my dad's decision to entrust him with our teeth). The orthodontist also filed my front teeth down to smooth out the chip, and I was so happy to be rid of my braces that I didn't pay much attention to the way the repeated filing of my front teeth was changing my smile. To make matters worse, apparently I habitually grind my teeth in my sleep (probably in those dreams where I can't find a bathroom, or I'm late for a final exam and I don't even know where the classroom is). So I had filed-down, stress-fractured, drifted-apart-post-braces teeth that made me feel older than my years.
I started thinking about correcting these issues about a year and a half ago. I spoke with my regular dentist about it, and he did these cute computer-assisted pictures of what my teeth could look like with porcelain veneers to restore the natural length of the teeth and fill the gaps that had opened up between them. (No, that's not my natural haircolor, either, and I know it looked terrible that day!) However, I didn't feel comfortable having that particular dentist place veneers on my teeth for a couple of reasons. First, he proudly showed me the temporary veneers he had put on one of his assistants' teeth, and she told me how she had been wearing the temporaries for months because the dentist was such a perfectionist that he kept redoing her veneers over and over again, wanting to get it right. Excuse me? I think I want it right the first time, thank you very much! Secondly, when the practice manager sat down with me to go over the cost of the veneers, she informed me that my dentist had learned how to do veneers from Dr. Ross Nash himself, but charged significantly less. Hmmm… She wants to sell me discount teeth from a dentist who can't even get his assistant's teeth right on the first try? This did not inspire me with confidence!
So I sought out this Dr. Nash who had taught the other dentist and made an appointment to see him at Cosmetic Dentistry of the Carolinas, located about 45 minutes away from me in Huntersville, North Carolina. Dr. Nash was wonderful from the very first consultation. As opposed to the high-pressure sales pitch I was getting from my previous dentist, I felt like Dr. Nash was just sharing information and giving his professional opinion. No one in his office was the least bit pushy, just friendly and helpful. My husband had concerns about how much healthy tooth needed to be removed in preparation for the veneers, and even he felt comfortable with the whole thing after discussing it with Dr. Nash. Of course, Dr. Nash's impeccable credentials and decades of experience with general and cosmetic dentistry were reassuring as well. They do have to remove some of the outer enamel of your teeth to put veneers on them, kind of like prep work for a crown, so there's no going back if you don't like how it turns out. If I was going to do this at all, it needed to be done really, really well!
Some months went by, and I got caught up with other things and didn't think much about my teeth unless I saw a photograph of myself smiling. Then I'd think, "I need to do something about my teeth! I'll call the dentist after I pick up the groceries and finish my client's design rendering and take the kids to piano lessons…" I just didn't get around to it until I decided to go to my 20th High School Reunion in Manalapan, New Jersey last month. I was looking at my friends' Facebook pictures and seeing how great everyone looked. By the time I decided to attend the reunion it was too late for diets or exercise to do me any good, but I found myself wishing I had gone ahead and gotten my teeth fixed last summer. Then I thought, if I wish I had already done it, I should just do it now! I had been unhappy with my smile for a long time; the reunion was just the catalyst that finally got me to do something about it.
I called Dr. Nash's office the Monday afternoon before my reunion, and they were able to get me in the following afternoon. Considering I was at the dentist for six hours without sedation (Bernie was traveling so I didn't have a ride home), I had a blast. I have no idea why they put this goofy contraption on my head, but I had to get a picture of it for posterity – and for my blog. It wasn't six solid hours of drilling, though. Lots of pictures were taken of my teeth before, during, and after each step of the process in case Dr. Nash wants to use my case as an example for his teaching lectures and seminars. I think this should be my new Facebook profile picture, don't you? Yeah, not so much.
So, when you get porcelain veneers, you don't get them instantly all in one day. They have to take impressions of your teeth after the prep work is completed and send those off to a lab where the permanent porcelain veneers are created just for you, and you get plastic composite temporary veneers put on in the meantime that are attached with the absolute minimum amount of temporary cement that will adhere them to your teeth. Because I had an upcoming event that weekend, Dr. Nash went out of his way to make me extra-special temps out of translucent bonding composite. Here's me at my reunion with two of my favorite girlfriends, Jilly and Jennifleur. I have temporary veneers on my teeth. Even the temps look 100% better than my smile did before!
However, it turns out that when they said temporary, they really meant temporary! I lost one temporary veneer while eating a fortune cookie the night before my drive to New Jersey, and Dr. Nash had me come in first thing in the morning on Friday so he could fix it before I got on the road. I lost the same veneer again the Tuesday I got back, from eating a Starbucks chocolate-covered graham cracker. After they fixed that one, two days later another temp veneer popped off on the other side of my mouth while eating Starbucks chocolate-covered graham crackers again (it's a wicked addiction). Dr. Nash and his assistant Chip assured me that my permanent veneers would not come popping off left and right every time I ate something because they are adhered much more securely to the teeth with a much stronger cement, but I was still a little nervous about ending up with beautiful decorative teeth that were not appropriate for actually eating! My son Lars went so far as to suggest that I get injections of shark DNA so I could just grow new teeth every time one fell off. Hah hah haha -- National Geographic strikes again! Still, it was very reassuring to know that Dr. Nash has successfully done veneers for hundreds and hundreds of patients over the years. If I was part of some other dentist's learning curve, I would have been much more unnerved about the temps falling off. It was also nice to see that, when those temporary side veneers did come off, the teeth didn't look as bad as I had expected – it wasn't like I had to cover my mouth to hide ugly little stump teeth when talking to people; no one would have noticed those teeth were slightly smaller and slightly yellower than the adjacent ones. The prep work for the veneers really did not remove much tooth at all. Now, if I lost one of the veneers on a front tooth, that would be a different story – not because Dr. Nash removed more of my front teeth, but because so much more of my front teeth was missing before he even started.
Without further ado, here are my teeth "before" as well as the "after" picture once the permanent veneers went on:

The "after" picture was taken right after they finished working on my teeth for three hours, so my gum tissue is still sore and inflamed. What do you think? The funny thing is that, when I was debating whether I should do this and asking opinions of family and friends (they are used to me asking their opinions and then completely disregarding them), the general consensus was that my teeth "weren't bad enough" to justify cosmetic dentistry; that I wouldn't see enough of a difference. And I really didn't see that much of a difference in the mock-up photo that the first dentist did, either – it seemed like a lot of money to spend on something very subtle that no one would notice except me. In fact, originally I was going to have the veneers matched to my natural tooth color instead of going a shade lighter like most patients do, but I ultimately decide to go a shade lighter just as insurance to make sure I would be able to see a definite improvement at the other end of this rainbow.

Now that it's done? I am amazed what a difference this makes. I feel like my whole face has brightened up, like I've shed at least 5 years from my appearance, and for the first time in over a decade, I am flossing my front teeth because they are close enough together again for bits of food to get stuck between them. I even look more like my beautiful mommy now (that's her college graduation picture below).
I have a night guard to wear while I'm sleeping so I can't grind my teeth anymore, and I vow to use only thimbles or pliers to push needles through fabric from here on out.


2 comments:

Rebecca Grace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kenya Hampton said...

I love that picture with the mouth guard.. too funny! But I am looking for a dentist in Charlotte, does anyone know of a good dentist there? Thanks!

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