How Susan Got Her Smile Back

“So like…am I the oldest person who has had their wisdom teeth removed?” The nurse smiled and assured me that no…they have had many people older than me see the oral surgeon for their wisdom teeth. That’s how my day started today…on this the culmination of my adventure…in how I got my smile back.

Now I’m not exactly sure when I developed this irrational fear of dentists. It seems that for as long as I can remember…I was terrified at the thought of going to the dentist. My mind knows they are good folks, in a noble profession, helping people in an important area of health. Not only health…but personal appearance…which effects emotional health and confidence in oneself.

But my emotions…they told a different story. My emotions said that dentists are glorified Nazis. Not nice folks…ones that like to inflict pain upon people. So where exactly did that come from? Coming from a girl that thinks too much…I thought about it.

I know I went to the dentist as kid. I had a few filings in my youth…but I have no recollection…good or bad, one way or the other. But what I do recall quite clearly is the orthodontist. I think I got braces when I was 11 or 12 years old. It wasn’t my idea or desire…but that of my parents. They wanted me to have braces because I had an overbite. So the adventure began with the unwilling and unhappy participant.

It was not a pretty time in my life. My dad had died a year or two earlier…and my mom Gayle and me had moved to California where we lived in a two bedroom apartment in Santa Ana. An occasional resident was my brother Michael. Living not too far from us in Garden Grove were my grandparents Mary and Henry. I was in another new school, a new state, and had to make friends all over again. (On a side note…by time I was ten years old…our family had moved ten times. Not fun…and explains a lot on why I have problems connecting.)

My mom had started back in school to become a nurse. All the while she was married to my dad Frank she had been a stay at home mom. Now she was back to square one…and made the leap to become a nurse.

It was sometime during that year that I got braces. Like I said earlier…not my choice. While it was a long time ago…I think I made monthly trips to the orthodontist…to undergo monthly torture. Unlike other dental procedures…the orthodontist in that day and time worked on my teeth without any painkiller. For those of you who had braces…you know full well the pain I’m referring to…the regular tightening of braces. Not only hurting during the dental appointment…but a pain that remained for several days as my teeth were adjusted.

As an adult…I would approach that pain by taking a couple Tylenol for a few days…but as a kid…I was clueless. Nary a word was said by the orthodontist about the pain. I think I had those bloody braces on for three or four years. Each appointment…my grandmother would pick me up from school and drive me to the doctor. She was filling in the gap and helping out while my mom was busy with her school work. Grandma and me weren’t close at all…cut out of very different cloth. But my grandfather was very sweet and precious.

My mom was not overly maternal…and one thing that I find odd especially considering that she was a nurse is other than the orthodontist…I didn’t have doctor appointments or dental appointments for teeth cleaning and examinations. It wasn’t a money thing or for lack of insurance…just one of those odd unexplainable thing.

So the only think I can come up to account for this irrational fear of dentists relates back to the orthodontist. I have only negative memories and pain associated with dental appointments. Those negative memories and impressions made for very poor choices in my dental future.

When I became an adult and was responsible for my own health care I avoided both doctors and dentists. It was about 10 years ago that I ventured to the dentist for an examine and teeth cleaning. The appointment only added to my negative impression of the dental profession. So rather than sucking it up…and doing the right thing…I avoided dentists again for far too many years…once again. If I had been able to avoid the little buggers until death…that would have been fine with me.

But God had a different plan. That plan included some painful encouragement that now was the time I needed to see a dentist. I’m one heck of a stubborn son of a gun. I dig my heals in and will persevere through so much…actually too much if the truth be told. But God got my attention in this last summer.

A summer filled with much stress due to job changes. In the middle of that stress was the month of August…which turned out to be a blur for me. For most of August…I was in intense pain…excruciating jaw pain. Precious little brought relief. My days were consumed with finding something, anything to bring pain relief. My wisdom teeth were on the move again. I was taking a blend of Tylenol and Alieve every four hours to bring the pain down to a tolerable level. Sleepless nights…and prayers crying out for relief did little to quell the pain. Finally I sent off a prayer request to Kindred’s prayer team. Shortly after sending the prayer request God in His mercy did lower the pain. Things remained the same for couple more weeks…and then finally relief…for which I was ever so grateful.

After reading some of my blog entries during that time…my sister Denise Silvestri called me to encourage me to make a dentist appointment. She said it was crazy to put myself through that pain needlessly. Being a mom…she’s rather adept at the good old maternal guilt and pressure. I think her winning argument was, “Susan…you jaw is very close to your brain. If you have an infection…it could go into your brain.” Between Denise’s argument and the occasional reminder of a twinge of pain…I bit the bullet and made an appointment with the dentist.

When you don’t already have dentist…it’s kind of like a stab in the dark finding a good one. But God’s hand guided me. The dentist I selected was Vaughn Stewart in Brea. Close by to work and home…so going to appointments would be relatively easy.

On my first appointment I advised Dr. Stewart and his staff that I was terrified of dentists and a certified dental wimp. They assured me that they understood and would tread lightly…and use Novocain as needed.

The month of September started me on the adventure that would bring my smile back. Over the next few months I would have many appointments…starting with an examine and X-rays to see where I was at dental wise. After that I moved on to teeth cleaning and received the bad news that I needed the dreaded “root canal”. Also lined up were fillings for new cavities and replacing the old mercury amalgam fillings with porcelain. Also on the horizon was having my wisdom teeth removed at the age of 47.

Well I got through the appointments one by one. Now I don’t know if Dr. Stewart is the exception to the rule…or dental procedures have advanced greatly over the year…but as bad as I thought it was going to be…all in all it was relatively simple. While not entirely pain free…it very tolerable. Novocain took care of the pain during the actual procedures…and a few Tylenol afterward kept any pain manageable.

Even the dreaded root canal was not so bad. One of the gentlemen at church, Les Nesbitt, called with a recommendation for an endodontist, Dr. Merrill Schmidt in Santa Ana. While not the first experience I’d want to sign up for…if you are in need of a root canal…I would highly recommend this doctor.

As the months ticketed by…I got the fillings taken care of as well as the root canal. As I neared the end of my treatment plan…I got two porcelain crowns. While all of this wasn’t cheep…I was ever so grateful to finally get it taken care of and for the provision of dental insurance which helped ease the financial pain. The one thing that remained was the removal of my wisdom teeth. Out of all of these procedures…I feared this one the most. Good golly…I’m 47 years old…who in their right mind gets their wisdom teeth removed at that age? Namely…me.

Early on in this process when Denise was putting the pressure on to go to the dentist…she had an excellent recommendation for an oral surgeon. Dr. Kim DiPasquale was the doctor who had removed her children’s wisdom teeth…and Denise gave him a thumbs up. In December…God gave me a gentle reminder of pain to spur me on to make that final appointment. All it took was that one painful reminder…and I called that day to make the appointment.

Everyone hears horror stories on removal of wisdom teeth. While I wasn’t looking forward to the appointment…I was looking forward to the knowledge that never again would those third molars bring me any more pain.

Well today was that fateful day. I scheduled a couple of days off work…for the appointment and recovery time. As the day approached…I was a titch nervous…but kept my focus on the other side of the pain. My partner in crime was Denise who had committed to taking to and from the appointment.

All in all…12 hours later after the appointment I am ever so glad I had them removed. They gave me some darn good drugs…and you don’t feel a thing or have a clue what’s going on during the procedure. You wake up and it’s done…with relatively little pain or discomfort. What’s amazing is how quick the procedure is. I was in and out of the office in a little over an hour. And the X-ray machine…way cool. You rest your chin and the machine does a panoramic scan around your head/jaw. Medicine continues to advance…to the benefit of doctors and patients.

It’s a done deal now…no more pain from wisdom teeth. The bleeding stopped after a few hours…I’ll be rinsing with salt water for the next few day, taking it a little easy and eating lightly as I recover.

I have a couple of brief follow up appointments. One with the oral surgeon…and one vanity appointment for teeth whiting with my dentist.

In the future when I get those reminder calls from my dentist…I won’t hesitate to come in for a check up and teeth cleaning. If low and behold I have to have a filling…I know it’s not a big of deal. After going through all these dental appointments over the last four months…I’m more committed to better dental care. That includes not only brushing my teeth in the morning and evening…but even packing a toothbrush and toothpaste to work so I can take care of my teeth after lunch. Heck…Dr. Stewart even got me on the flossing band wagon.

These days you won’t find me cupping my jaw because of pain. You won’t find me avoiding the dentist…and you won’t find me keeping my smile in check because teeth don’t look to spiffy.

Now when I smile…I’m not worried how my teeth will look. By golly that feels so good…more than you’ll ever know. Earlier I had mentioned that how your teeth look affects your personal appearance and confidence level. I know that up close and personal.

That’s the journey…on how Susan got her smile back.

My thanks to God…for His patience and helping me to get through that which I greatly feared. Thank you to Denise for her no nonsense encouragement to do the right thing…and be there to take me to oral surgeon. Thank you to Kindred’s Prayer Warriors…for praying me through. Thank you God for the provision of dental insurance. Thank you to my employer for their understanding and allowing me to keep those doctor’s appointments over these many months.

Thank you to Dr. Stewart, Dr. Schmidt and Dr. DiPasquale and their respective staff…for your excellent work…and getting me through that which I could not have imagined…with kindness, gentleness and concern.

One last note…I’ve decided if I turn to the “dark side” and do something which merits the death penalty…I’m opting for the lethal injection. Those drugs today…that put me to sleep…the only way to go!

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