Dental insurance through my job is expensive but well worth it. Twice now it’s completely paid for a comprehensive exam and full set of x-rays that have definitively established I cannot afford to have my teeth fixed.
Both estimates for the work I need came in around $12,000 with the good news that the insurance will cover a whopping 25 percent of the cost, so I only have to come up with $9,000 out of pocket. Both offices gave me lovely brochures for credit agencies eager to loan me the funds with low payments of $850 per month.
It’s pretty exciting because if I can win the lottery and come up with my share, evidently I’ll have a smile like a Hollywood star instead of the randomly shaped and colored assemblage I now sport. And how thrilling it was to have the dentists recite to the assistants what sounded like quadratic equations to catalog the corrective procedures each of the 32 teeth needs; to be precise 24 teeth in my case, though the dentists still count the missing teeth as if they were happily in my mouth.
An exam takes quite a while even without the gag-inducing x-rays, and if I could afford all the work, it seems I’d be spending the next year or two making weekly visits to an office plastered with grinning, happy faces sporting gleamingly intact teeth, the smug little so-and-so’s.
Admittedly, this is primarily my own fault. Over the past decade or so, when it came time to allocate scarce resources, the old saw “if it ain’t broke” seemed apt and, being younger, my teeth didn’t feel broke. It’s no mystery what happens when you neglect preventive maintenance, so I can’t say this predicament is any great surprise.
Yet I do find it interesting that both of my recent returns to the dental world resulted in paeans to cosmetic perfection over the basic health I’m seeking. They appear to want me to buy the whole shebang or forget it, no one suggesting any step-by-step vaguely affordable plan—just this Rolls Royce, top-o-da-line dazzling smile. Their plans remind me of Oliver Wendell Holmes’s line from The Wonderful One-Horse Shay: “All at once, and nothing first—Just as bubbles do when they burst.”
Strangely perhaps, I’m not as embarrassed by the way my teeth look as by the way they make me sound, an unpredictable sort of Elmer Fudd lisping hiss that can startle me so much I sometimes lose my train of thought listening to the weird sounds coming out of my mouth. The trouble is one of my upper front teeth actually broke off. My insurance will pay to have the remains pulled, but to replace it with some sort of artificial bridge requires one of my two front teeth to have a root canal and then a crown that will cost me $770. Additionally, to make this crown match the other good front tooth, some procedure needs to be done to my gum-line that will cost an additional $810. When this expensive ordeal is completed, they can then make the bridge for the broken/pulled front tooth that will be anchored to the new crown with its matching gum-line. I’m not sure what this replacement tooth will cost, but it’s academic at this point, because I don’t have the $1600 to pay for the preceding procedures I need to have done.
A bit too self-conscious to look like some escapee from Deliverance, I’ve come up with my own device to fill this gap. I saved the tooth that broke off and embedded it in a shaped wad of waterproof epoxy putty that fits behind the teeth on either side of the gap. Surprisingly, it works pretty well, though the tooth does look somewhat suspect with more than a casual glance.
Unfortunately, the epoxy holder requires fairly frequent replacement and it tends to pop out at odd moments, so I have to hold it in place with superglue.
This is all a bit worrisome as the labels on both the epoxy and glue advise seeking immediate medical assistance if ingested, and I’m getting a pretty good dose of each keeping everything together, though I haven’t noticed any ill effects yet.
It’s this epoxy blob glued to the back of my front teeth and jutting up toward the roof of my mouth that gives me my annoying speech impediment, not to mention a new and unusual amount of drool that seems to form at the corners of my mouth. (I’m hoping this isn’t a symptom of that medical condition I should be seeking assistance for from the effects of swallowed epoxy and glue.)
But I’ve always been convinced that everything in life has its advantages and disadvantages, and this tribulation is no exception.
With the difficulty of finding a place in my mouth capable of crunching anything remotely hard, my appetite has lessened and I’m getting compliments on how svelte I look. I only have to make certain I just nod in thanks and smile with my mouth closed.
Mr. Macintyre has written two novels and five screenplays, and if he can sell any of them he may be able to solve the problem of his teeth. Send comments to the editor at email@example.com.