I've always thought that anyone who reached adulthood without having broken
any bones or lost a tooth or three just wasn't trying hard enough. Apparently I started trying
harder a couple of years ago, because I managed to knock out a couple of my front
'All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth'
I wish there were an intiguing story behind the injury - falling while skiing in Kitzbuhel, say,
or getting punched in the mouth while apprehending a bank robber - but there isn't. I stepped
on a piece of cardboard after unpacking some computer equipment and went face-first into a
wood chair. The chair won. This dust-up was followed by an hour at the emergency room for
stitches and ten months of dental adventures of various sorts. The dental adventures would
have been quite interesting if they hadn't been taking place in my own personal mouth.
No End of Fun
Folks who lose teeth have a few options. You can just go with it and do nothing. Get a
tattoo and affect a surly attitude. If anybody is foolish enough to ask, glare and say, 'You
should see the other guy.' Alternatively, smile maniacally at all and sundry. This is good
for discouraging door-to-door salesmen or unnerving shopkeepers. And you'll be all set for
If you can't pull off this look, you'll have to replace the missing teeth. This means either a
bridge or implants. Implants involve a lot more dental work than bridges, not to mention pain,
expense, and dealing unproductively with the dental insurer, so of course that's the option I
chose. That's when the real fun began.
The whole process started off with growing some bone. Folks getting implants in the lower
jaw often skip this step, but the upper jaw, particularly in the front of the mouth, is too small
to anchor the implants securely and must be augmented. Some periodontists remove a bit of
bone from a thicker part of the jaw and graft it onto the thin area. My doctor used the newer
technique of using powdered bone that has been treated to attract new bone cells that the
body makes. The powder is put in place and held there by a special membrane that allows only
new bone cells to pass through. Over the next three to four months, you've grown enough
additional bone to hold the implants. Pretty nifty, although I did occasionally wonder whose
bones went into the powder that was now residing happily in my upper jaw.
This phase took about an hour and a half in the chair. Most folks opt for general anesthesia
and prescription painkillers for this part. I figured anybody tough enough to lose teeth in the
first place is tough enough to handle the consequences with nothing more than local anesthesia.
Besides, I had to drive myself home afterwards. On the way home I stopped at the pharmacy
to pick up some heavy-duty antibiotics that my doctor prescribed as a precaution - you do not
want to get an infection in your upper jaw. Observation: a bleeding mouth really makes the
pharmacist eager to fill your prescription and get you out of his store. I spent the next few
hours with an ice bag on my face and swallowed some Tylenol at bedtime, but that was that. I
was back at work the next day, looking not too much the worse for wear.
About three months later came phase two, which involved drilling holes into the jaw and
placing the implants in the holes. This took about an hour. Again I had local anesthesia only, so
I got to listen to the drilling. It sounded worse than it felt. The doctor had tried to interest
me in headphones and tapes, but I passed - I like to know if and when a doctor says "oops" so
that I can do something about it. Other than the noise, it wasn't a terribly bad way to pass an
hour. I headed back home, stopping long enough to terrorize the pharmacist again, and once
home cozied up to the ice bag and Tylenol again. Back to work the next day.
Then I cooled my heels for four or five months while the implants fused to the surrounding
bone. The worst part of the whole process was wearing various annoying partial plates to fill
in the missing teeth. A lot of times I didn't. I can't tell you how many dull meetings I
disrupted by removing the plate and grinning briefly at an unsuspecting coworker. (They made
some odd noises trying not to laugh.) And my nephews thought I was pretty cool. (I've been
getting even with my brothers for being pests when we were children by being a bad influence
on their children. Revenge is so much sweeter when you're an adult who should know
The final step in the process was a trip to my regular dentist for impressions and a return
visit a few weeks later so he could glue the new teeth onto the implants.
Things I Learned
If you want to bust up the furniture, don't use your face to do it.
Routine dental work pales in comparison. You'll never be afraid of it again.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. My only complaint with the process is the number of x-rays
you need. I've had several lifetime's worth.
If you're not keen on dental hygiene, implants are not for you. Food can get caught between
the tooth and gum and must be flossed out. Poor hygiene can cause the implants to fail, and you
really don't want to have them dug back out again.
And now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to Kitzbuhel...