Saturday, October 23, 2010

SMILES


I let go of a lot of things when I (temporarily) left L.A. earlier this year. One of them was my left eye tooth. Mere weeks before I was scheduled to take off, Dr. Wong informed me that one of my major teeth was "resorbing." This is supposedly some extremely rare occurrence whereby your tooth, for no good reason, starts absorbing itself from within. Creepy, right? What's really creepy is that this had already happened to another of my teeth two years before. 

Which had morphed into my first, and I must say, deeply nightmarish implant experience. Over a series of several visits, the guy, who was the size of a linebacker, would cup my chin in one meaty paw, brace himself against the wall, and put his entire weight behind trying to wedge, weasel and fulcrum the screw(s) in. I got used to opening my mouth and hearing "Wow" (no exclamation point). I got used to hearing a combination strangled sigh/hysterical guffaw and "Hey Gina, come take a look at this." I heard, "Oh shit." I heard, "In twenty years, this is the most difficult implant I've ever done." Another dentist once examined the finished job in silence--and asked, "Did you get that done...in this country?"

PLEASE, MOM! NO, MOM, NO!!!!....
As a child, I had my teeth drilled without Novacaine. Even back then, I associated the experience with death.  So I wasn't thrilled to hear that another tooth was resorbing, especially because as you may or may not know, an implant runs around four thousand bucks. That's writer's bucks which, adjusted for inflation, is about two and a half million regular bucks.

(VELVET EDGE DESIGN:SPRAYGRAPHIC.COM)
Left to my own devices, I might have let the tooth proceed on its strange little course simply for the curiosity factor. "What would happen if I just let it sit there?" I eagerly asked Dr. Wong, picturing the whole fascinating three-act play that would eventually take place in my upper jaw. Maybe I could hire myself out for a side show. Maybe people would feel sorry for me and start slipping me five- or ten- or twenty-dollar bills! Dr. Wong did a double-take. "It wouldn't be good," he replied somberly. "It would be like a...tree falling in on itself." Little did he know that for me that was actually an enticement.

Still, just before I left, I had the tooth pulled. Dr. Wong sent me to some hotshot oral surgeon up in Beverly Hills. I cried, because I'd had that tooth for a long time, and it is sad, all the things we have to say goodbye to in this world, and I was setting off on a journey, and felt scared and uncertain.  Dr. Wong made me a little fake tooth, of which I've become somewhat fond.

Now I've embarked at a new journey with the good folks at the UCLA Dental School. I'd thought getting an implant there would be cheaper than on the outside but it turns out that between the CT scan ($283), the "stent" (?) ($120-130) they make so you can even have a CT scan, the possible bone graft ($700 to $1000), the implant ($950) and the "restoration" (i.e. crown) (they're vague, but around $1500), I'll be lucky to get out of this one for four grand.

Still, I like the whole setup there. No cheesy Monet prints, no depressing pile of Peoples and Sports Illustrateds, no foul '70's "rock." Spare white walls, young folk in scrubs and cool sneakers, older professor-looking types "attending," and an all-around sense of being in the thorough, capable hands of cutting-edge dentistry. Dr. Trujillo has now examined, poked, X-rayed, and scraped my remaining teeth to within an inch of their lives. I went in there yesterday and he has a plan. I am all for a plan. He patiently explained each step, assured me that we could space out the process so I could absorb the cost, and gave me a plastic shield behind which I closed my eyes as he scaled and tried, not very successfully, to feel grateful and calm, or lacking that, nothing.

To avoid paying ten bucks for parking, I'd left my car a twenty-minute walk away, only to find when I returned that in my prospective dental trauma-induced reverie that I'd pulled into a red zone and had an $85 ticket. Ordinarily, this would have plunged me into an abyss of existential despair. Instead, I thought: Oh I will think of this as giving $85 to the L.A. Public Library! I thought, How beautiful that the universe has ALWAYS sent me enough money! I thought, How lovely my mouth will look when the implant is completed!

Because Dr. Trujillo has a plan. Please.

6 comments:

  1. Ah, Heather this made me laugh and not at you,
    but how we get through life without a drink.

    The Dental School is a good idea and try to
    work out a payment plan. Best of luck.

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  2. For what it's worth, all I can say is: Yikes!

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  3. I think that's all any of us can say, Robert! All will be well...

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  4. Love the teeth photos, but isn't it about time for a shave?

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  5. I'm hoping for a new look!...maybe the four grand will include a free moustache...

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  6. Man. Good luck. I had a small part of my jaw removed a couple of birthdays ago because my no-good dentist failed to diagnose a very obvious abscessed tooth. He sent me to the ER instead, and they diagnosed it as "shingles in your jaw". So I spent several months happily on Percocet, but finally could take no more and went to an oral surgeon who did a three-day root canal and then removed some rotted bone. Your story is equally as creepy. Again, I offer you much good luck:)

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