Monday, August 08, 2005

Saga of Six Crowns

On Friday I was in unwillingly in the big smoke, off to the dentist. For the sixth time in as many weeks.

Y'see, I'm a real stress head. For the past year, my workload - and the way I was reacting to it - resulted in quite a few health problems, one of which was that my the two teeth on the bottom at the back on each side and my two upper front teeth (still with me? If not, I'm talking about six teeth in total) had been worn away to the dentine (the painful, soft bit underneath the enamel) thanks to my unconscious new habit of jaw clenching and grinding during my sleep. It meant that I could barely drink a tepid glass of water or suck air in through my teeth without clutching my head in pain like a permanent brainfreeze but without the fun of eating the icecream beforehand.

My dentist, Doctor T, advised me that he'd need to install six new crowns to make up for the damage caused. At the time I wasn't too sure what crowns were - false teeth, or merely caps? They're sort of somewhere in between: like a false tooth that's permanently affixed to your original tooth which has been drilled away to a tiny peg by the dentist. After the usual check up and x-rays, my first visit involved him grinding away my two back teeth on the left side. Three injections were needed to numb my face enough for Dr T to get his maxi-drill into my cake-cave and start planing the teeth away to tiny stubs. Whilst I could not feel any pain, I could hear the drill, feel the wet spray flying out of my mouth and smell the unforgettable odour of my own slightly burnt teeth shards. It's not a smell I'll forget in a hurry and not one that even those 'clean laundry', 'dirt' and 'coffee bean' perfumers will be rushing to put in their stores.

All this gave me ample time to count the numbers of holes in each ceiling tile - 29 x 29. A weird number it seemed to me, but then again it was preferable to counting Dr T's nostril hairs or getting glimpses of the broken tombstones in my mouth via the reflection in his safety glasses.

His sulky assistant prepared some sort of silly putty to put in my mouth in order to make a mould for the temporary teeth I'd need until my real crowns were ready in about a fortnight's time. He had to press the glue and the interim crowns in as though he was packing down his sleeping bag into one of those sausage sized covers: I was convinced that his hand was going to burst through the back of my head and beyond the back of the headrest.

I was finally allowed to see the teeth, but all they looked like was two half-melted minties. Good enough for a part of my body that'll only get seen if I'm screaming in terror or giggling myself stupid. This very same process happened again for my other two back teeth.

I was expecting the same process for my two front teeth. However, having two temporary crowns stuck on top of the two tiny pegs that were all that remained of my original front teeth made it look as though I'd stuck two chunks of teacher's chalk under my top lip for a dare. I was going to have to talk, smile and be seen in public with teeth that couldn't have been more fake than if they'd been chewed out of wet tissue and spat into my mouth with a pea shooter.

It was a long fortnight, and one that involved very little smiling or uncontrollable laughter (or terror, for that matter). It was with relief - and that's an unusual sentence to write in an article about multiple visits to a dentist - that I fronted up to get my 'real' crowns for my two front teeth; the 'king' teeth that are the main stars of the mouth and smile show. The fake ones were taken off with a few disconcerting "Oh dear, this is difficult" and "Goodness me, the glue's good, isn't it?" by Dr T as he resorted to kneeling on my shoulders and pulling my head so far out of the chair it smacked into the light.

Somehow they were off, and my two new choppers were ceremoniously brought in on a surgical tray. Under the light of the dental chair they looked pretty OK to me. On went the cement and in the mouth. Done. I thanked him, and toddled off back home.

It was only then that I realised that I hadn't even seen what they actually looked like in my mouth. I wandered into the 1980s pink and brass nightmare that is our bathroom and gawped at the mirror in ever-increasing horror. They were grey. My other teeth were white or at least off white. Perhaps it was just me being over-sensitive so I waited until I saw my daughter and husband that afternoon. "Mum your teeth are funny," and, from my beloved, who is always so very tactful and kind, shaking his head: "They're shockers. You've got to go straight back and get them done right."

We've all had to take things back to get them replaced, fixed or a refund, haven't we? But teeth? That are permanently affixed in our mouths? That are made of stuff stronger than our own natural enamels and will last longer than our own lifetime? Hmmm, we ain't talking about an overcooked steak, wonky DVD rental or pair of shoes. Was the dentist no better than a tradesman who'll slap in the tiles in your laundry upside-down when you're at work and then bugger off and hope you won't notice? Especially if you've already paid his account?

There was nothing to it but to walk back in as soon as the surgery opened the following morning. Blushing profusely I asked Sulky Socks to see Dr T. "You don't have an appointment, can I tell him what it's about?" Whilst I was tempted to fire back with "It's about fixing my spare unicycle tyre.....what the hell else could it be about?" I didn't. Instead I gave a weak and embarrassed smile and whispered, "Er, I'm not happy about the colour of my front teeth."

Out came Dr T and with him, the dental technician, Bill. I again repeated my complaint and weak smile. They looked at my smile under the dental chair's light, then the office light, the technician office's light and then suggested I stand outside in the sunlight. I did, feeling like an right berk as I smiled at no-one in particular in the alleyway behind their surgery. There was a green BMW parked there that had 'BITE ME' on the licence plate. Just as my face was beginning to hurt from all that non-genuine smiling, they agreed: the colour was wrong. They got all technical about the base colour being too blue or something but I was happy enough to hear that they agreed about the colour and I didn't have to argue my case. Bill dashed back upstairs and returned with a colour chart of teeth and we three together selected a colour more appropriate.

Back on went the temporary spit ball ones for another fortnight of smiling with tight lips. Two very long weeks later and I was again back in the chair, nervously awaiting my new teeth. Bill brought them in proudly, "Ah these ones are grand, my best work yet." Yeah right, well we'll believe that when we see 'em out in the sunshine, buddy boy. l felt like a slow-mo headbanger as Dr T yanked off my temporary teeth. My tongue immediately ran over my front teeth and it was an awful feeling - two tiny sharp stumps instead of two square teeth and now Dr T wanted me to go outside and smile with these pegs so that they could check that the new teeth were the same colour.
"Please Dr T, don't show me a mirror of the remains of my original teeth - I don't need to see that underneath I look like an in-bred Hillbilly banjo player who only has enough in her mouth to suck tobacco with. I'll just have to trust that you and Bill can check that the colour is right."
"Fair enough. And don't worry, Bill's got the colour perfect this time."

They were glued in and I had a look - perfect, just like my old teeth, except stronger and hopefully immune to any stress-related nocturnal gnawing. "Great, I'm so relieved; they're so much better now," I beamed. "Well, that's the last you'll be seeing of me for a while."
"Sorry love, but we've got a few more things to sort out. It's clear that you'll need some root canal work on your upper jaw and we've got to make you a mouthguard to wear at night so that your other teeth don't get ground away...."

Yeah, it's a real treat for my husband when I go to bed at night now. He's always had to endure that final honk into my hanky to clear my nose before the two squirts of the tactfully named 'Rhinocort' are inhaled, followed by my slapping on some super-strength hand cream which I invariably use too much of and ask to rub the extra on his hands. But now my little routine ends with a 'click clack' as I pop in my rock-hard mouthguard. Any conversation we have after that results in my sounding like a lisper with a mouthful of fantails. Bring it on, baby!


deepkickgirl said...
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deepkickgirl said...

And they say romance is dead! Geez, Kath you just about had me wetting my pants with that little bit of prose. I know I shouldn't laugh at other people's misery but it is bloody funny. I too suffered from a bout of nocturnal teeth grinding when we were waiting for Will but kind of stopped automatically once I knew what I was doing - also I was scared of the nighttime mouthguard the dentist threatened me with (oh, and my dentist is my old friend from school - how is that for weird?!).