Friday, April 29, 2016

Tooth Tales: The New Journey

Here’s a sentence I never—ever—would have expected to utter: I’m excited about having some dental work done. No, seriously! It’s the first time in my life that I’ve left any sort of tooth doctor’s office feeling excited and smiling broadly because of it. And it’s all because of the new journey about to begin.

Two years ago this month, I first talked about this whole journey, but the tl;dr version is this: I wanted a prettier smile, went to a dentist who referred me to a periodontist to treat my serious periodontal disease, I responded to treatment very well, went to a new dentist early this year in preparation to go see an orthodontist, which I did in March.

And this is where the new story begins.

A couple weeks ago, I got a call from the orthodontist’s office and they’d had a cancellation, so would I like to come in on May 2 to have the braces installed, instead of May 15? Yikes! It was suddenly very real! And, all the more so because I hadn’t yet seen the full treatment plan.

Then, I got a call last week to say the orthodontist would like to see me yesterday to put a band on one tooth to get ready for next week. I still hadn’t see the plan, but figured I could talk about it with him.

When I got there, he said he’d been reviewing everything, and while his treatment approach is usually quite conservative (and traditional), he thought I’d be a good candidate for Invisalign instead of traditional metal braces. I had an open mind about it, but the more we talked the more I realised that was for me, and by the time I left I was really excited about it.

Basically, Invisalign is like a specialised clear plastic mouthguard that’s worn about 22 hours a day, including while sleeping. There’s a new device roughly every two weeks and over time the system shifts the teeth.

The devices are removed for eating, and teeth cleaning is normal—and that, more than anything else, is what sold me. I have a history of periodontal disease, of course, and with Invisalign, I can brush and floss my teeth like normal, thereby reducing the likelihood of new disease. Also, traditional metal braces tend to encourage the build-up of plaque on teeth, and I was told before that I’m especially prone to that, so anything that minimises the opportunity for plaque build-up is a good idea for me.

The added bonuses are that it’s nearly invisible, unlike traditional wires, and also don’t irritate the cheeks like metal braces can. There’s also no constant tightening required, as with metal braces, because the fortnightly devices basically do that.

So, I’m going back for my already-scheduled appointment on Monday, and he’ll take the special mould that’s sent off to the lab in the USA. There, they scan the mould and the computer devises a plan, complete with the number of devices I’ll need, and they apparently even produce a computerised look at how my teeth will look at the end of the process.

There are some catches, of course. First, it’s about 25% more expensive than metal braces (or, metal braces are about 80% the cost of Invisalign). Also, some people don’t respond to the treatment well enough, in which case metal braces are still an option. The system does allow for a couple tweaks to the treatment programme along the way if it’s not going quite as expected, which is a help.

So, because this system allows me to clean my teeth normally, because it’s less traumatic to teeth than metal braces, and because—let’s be honest—it’s not as visible as metal braces, I think this is a great option for me. Once the moulds are done and the lab does their bit, we’ll know if I really am suitable for it, and if I am, how long it’ll take (generally, it’s about a year or so).

I know there are some people who would think this is all silly, that I shouldn’t spend the money on what they perceive as pure vanity. However, there’s more to it than that. Gaps in teeth, like I have, can lead to periodontal disease, which is one of the reasons I had all the trouble—apart from my lack of attention to it, of course—because I was prone to disease. By fixing my smile, I’ll definitely make myself happier—absolutely it will—and that’s justification enough. But doing it will also make it easier for me to remain disease-free, and that’s a practical reason.

Mostly, though, I just want a prettier smile.

So, on Monday I go for my moulds and soon after we’ll see if this really is the start of the journey I thought I was beginning two years ago.

The image above is a reproduction from the 20th US edition of Gray's Anatomy, and is in the public domain. It is available from Wikimedia Commons.

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