Cheryl’s Dental Saga Part II

It’s strange that this saga has taken almost two years and we still haven’t reached the finish line yet. Although it seems to be getting a little bit closer. It looks as if the light can be seen at the end of the tunnel and we’re almost there. Here’s an update.

A QUICK RECAP…

Due to her brain injury, she can’t go to a normal dentist. She has to go to a dentist that caters to people with “special needs.” As it turns out, the only place that she could go was UCLA and their waiting list was a mile long. Once I finally got through to a person (after weeks of calling) I discovered it would be roughly a year and a half before she could get an appointment.

In the meantime, she was suffering from severe pain, had a limited diet and literally had teeth falling out of her head when she would eat. None of this mattered to them and even though I tried, I couldn’t get her in any quicker.

We eventually DID get her in and after two or three separate appointments (which took another month or so to make happen) we were finally told that her teeth were so trashed that she’d have to have them all pulled and get dentures.

Which she did…twenty-three teeth in two and a half hours. Pulled down to the bone, some of which had to be shaved down to make the future dentures fit better.

You can read the full detailed version along with pics HERE.

Once her teeth were pulled, we had to wait about six-eight weeks for her mouth to heal just so we could even start the denture process. Didn’t help that the timeframe lined up to right around Christmas and New Year’s. So there was no way we were getting too much done until closer to eight-ten weeks.

The entire time her mouth was healing, she was basically restricted to scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes. Yes, there were other options, but you also have to factor in that Cheryl is extremely picky about what she eats. Soups were out. Mushed veggies are out.

THE DENTURE PROCESS…

For the past few months, we’ve been dealing with the process of getting Cheryl new teeth. It’s been long and tedious. First of all, the drive to UCLA is about an hour from where we live. On the way home though, we’re knee deep in traffic which means the trip takes roughly two hours. Three hours in the car…especially with someone as antsy as Cheryl is.

Add in the two-hour dentist appointment? Where she has to hold still as they take several molds of her gum line? Fuck dude, forget about it. Pretty much after every appointment, she’d come home and go straight to bed. Although I did get smart after the first two appointments and brought a pillow for the car.

 

Denture 1

Stage One denture molds.

First, they just take a simple mold of the mouth. In theory, you would think this is a quick process and normally, it would be but with Cheryl is gets a little more complicated. On top of having a lot of jaw movement left over from the stroke, for some reason, once she got her teeth removed, Cheryl can’t hold her tongue still. She’s constantly moving it all day. Whether it’s licking her lips or just moving around in her mouth. It never stops.

That doesn’t help when trying to make a mold. Especially of the bottom gums. In fact, we had to do it a couple of times. All in all, the process took a little over two hours.

 

Denture 2

Round 2!

 

Once the molds are made, we have to come back in a couple of weeks and see how they feel. They gauge the bite and make sure they’re lining up perfectly both in your face (that you basically look normal) and then you’re off for another couple of weeks.

Cheryl's New Teeth

Once the molds fit properly, she had to go back in and take all of these weird measurements with archaic, medieval devices.

Quick sidenote: The sheer amount of tools that have been created for the practice of dentistry is staggering. They literally have thought of pretty much everything. From metal gadgets to simple sticky gum they use to see how you chomp down to this weird white glue stuff to gauge where the dentures are rubbing on the inside of your mouth. Nevermind the drills and the special mirrors and… Anyway, you get the point.

 

Measurement 1

Making sure her bite lines up with the shape of her face.

 

 

Measurement 2

Checking that the upper and lower sets fit properly.

In the fourth appointment, we finally got to pick out her teeth. They literally open up this case and pick the right size teeth to fit the person’s face and then we got to sit down and pick the gradient. Too white and they look fake, too yellow and…well, you just have janky teeth.

Once all of that is done, they send us away for another couple of weeks while the labs work on putting the teeth in the molds and adjusting everything. After the two weeks, we have to go back for the same exact routine we just did, but this time with the teeth in the molds. So then it’s checking the bite and making adjustments.

It’s a grueling, very boring process. Unfortunately, the bite was off the first time we went back. For some reason, when the teeth got put in, they just didn’t line up right. Which means we sorta had to redo a bunch of shit. Once we did, it would be another… you guessed it… two weeks before we could go back. We literally drove an hour, to have the dentist pop the teeth in her mouth, take a quick look and then we were done. We were maybe in the room 10-15 minutes tops. Then a boring ass hour-long drive back.

THE BEGINNING OF THE END…

Now that everything was fixed and as accurate as we were going to get them, they had to be sent back to the lab to be “finalized.” Which mean, yup, another two weeks. The plan was, once we got the final set of dentures, we’d make any minor adjustments that needed to be made, take them home and try them for a week or so and then come in for any final adjustments because there were going to be growing pains.

The days leading up to our “final” appointment was electric. All Cheryl would talk about are all of the foods she was planning to eat. In fact, she was even lining up pity dinners with friends of ours. “I haven’t had real food in months. I want pizza…will you take me to get pizza?” Who could say no to that? Olive Garden. McDonald’s. You name it, she was setting them up unbeknownst to me.

After the couple of weeks wait, we finally went in to get her dentures. She could barely sit still. The dentist came in and started the process of making minor adjustments to that they fit as snuggly as possible. She puts the top set in and they aren’t sticking. They’re not staying in like they should. I start to panic. Whatever happened in the finishing process caused them to be altered to the point where they just weren’t staying put. FUCK!

That’s when the dentist told me that sometimes it works with people and sometimes it doesn’t, it just depends. Well shit… that wasn’t really in the plan and all of the time and money spent to make this happen was brutal. Nevermind that she was all excited to get her teeth and start eating! I didn’t want to be disappointed and I didn’t want to let her down.

For two and a half hours, the dentist and her colleagues struggled to make the top set fit and stay in place, but it just wasn’t happening. Nevermind the bottom set, which she kept pushing out with her tongue. My stomach dropped. It was starting to look like this was all a waste.

The solution, which we sorta knew might be a possibility, would be to put in implants that would actually lock in her dentures into her mouth. Up to this point, this has only been a hypothetical situation, not a reality which means COST was never discussed. They ultimately wanted to put two implants in the top and four on the bottom. That plus the part that goes into the denture for the implant to lock in was going to be another, roughly, $12,000! I was feeling shitty about the whole thing already but another twelve grand pushed me over the edge. I had no idea how we were going to be able to pull that off. Fuck fuckity fuck fuck.

One of the colleagues from the lab wanted to try one more thing to at least get the tops to stick. After another half hour, she came back and popped them right in and they stuck. Perfect! A partial weight was lifted off my shoulders. I don’t know what she did but when she came back she cheered and told me that she just saved us five grand.

Unfortunately, it took so long to get the tops right, that there was no time to fix the bottoms. We were going to have to come back. At least she’d have the tops and could wear them to get used to having something in her mouth. Between her getting used to them and them working their magic on the bottom set, hopefully, we could avoid the implants altogether.

Alas, Cheryl didn’t get to have pizza and Olive Garden that day, but she was still happy that, when she smiled, she’d at least look “normal.”

 

Upper Teeth

Cheryl with her new top teeth.

After yet another two week waiting period we went in to get the bottoms properly fitted. Surprisingly it went rather well! First, it didn’t remotely take as long as it did with the tops. We got a consult with an oral surgeon about implants. There was a question, because her mouth is so small, that she wouldn’t even be able to get implants, but as it turns out she’ll be just fine if we go that route.

The good news is that it seemed, at the time, that her mouth and tongue movement wasn’t pushing them out like they were last time. Having the tops in for a couple of weeks turned out did actually help a great deal.

When we left, it felt very anti-climatic. When she said she was done, I was pretty much like “wait…that’s it? We’re done.” I assumed there would be a follow-up appointment or something…but nope. That was that. The plan going forward was to have her get used to having the full set in. Get used to them. Learn to use them and, if need be, try denture glue before implants. After 2-3 weeks, I call the dentist back and give her an update. If the bottom set keeps popping out, then we go back for implants. If the glue works…then we’re good and we’re all done.

Cheryl gave the dentist a hug, thanked her and said goodbye. I was so taken back by how quickly we were done, that it didn’t even dawn on me that I never really said goodbye. I mean shit, we practically spent a year with this woman. I’ll definitely have to profusely thank her when I call with my update.

EPILOGUE…

The first time Cheryl put in her tops, I had prepared for at least it being a fifteen minute process but nope, she just popped them right in and walked away. Took less than thirty seconds.

She’s had the bottoms for about a week now and she’s still getting used to them. The good news is that they are staying in as is. We haven’t even used the glue once. So for right now, it looks as if we get to skip the whole implant thing. You know and saving a shit load of fucking money that we don’t have.

It’s not without problems though. She’s still learning to chew with them. I naively thought that she would just have some teeth and start eating away. It never dawned on me that it would be shoving two giant chunks of plastic in your mouth. It’s not like you can just start going to town on a steak.

Right now, she’s having a hard time swallowing with the bottom set in. Hopefully, over time, she’ll get the hang of using them and return to being able to chew and swallow normally. Only time will tell.

As for now though…it looks like we’re done with the dentist after two long years and Cheryl has her beautiful smile back!

 

Full Set of Teeth

Have you ever seen anyone happier?

 

One response to “Cheryl’s Dental Saga Part II

  1. I’m so glad to hear that Cheryl finally (after so much effort) has teeth, and her smile, back! You are an angel, Manny.

    And your trevails give me some much-needed perspective on my problems. I’ve been feeling sorry for myself that my opthamologist (since 1984) recently retired and his replacement won’t take my current health insurance, so I have to find somebody who will. (The cataract in my right eye — the one I had a partially detached retina in years ago — is now so bad that I can’t see out of it at all.) (So the scary part is if my retina starts to detach again I probably wouldn’t be able to tell right away, meaning permanent blindness in that eye.)

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