A Dental History Worth Recounting

Let it be known, I fear no dentist.

The amount of work I’ve had carried out in my mouth is impressive. But when you’re almost a teenager desperate for some kind of sign that you aren’t completely repellant to the opposite sex, your desire to smile with confidence is strong. Strong enough that you’d be willing to wear a mouthful of metal for ‘many months’ of your life.

A Life in Words
From this smile (1983)….

Part of my pearly-white problem was thumb-sucking. It was something I didn’t grow out of in my early youth, like other kids. In fact, I was still doing it (at night, in the privacy of my own home) up to the age of twelve, when the damage had already been done… I’d inflicted bucked teeth upon myself. Well done! Couple that abnormality with the hereditary gap between my front upper incisors (which my father used to lovingly joke about being sizey enough to spit peas through) and I developed an aversion to open-mouthed smiling.

What child WANTS braces? This one did, desperately. And surprisingly it took awhile for me to convince first my mother and then our family dentist to commence corrective treatment. And it wasn’t to be a simple case of wiring up for 6 months or so…no! I never do things by halves.

The dentist was ‘waiting’ for what seemed to be a stubborn baby eye tooth to do the normal thing – fall out, making way for the adult tooth. Since time was getting on and the ‘norm’ wasn’t happening, the dentist’s suspicion grew so I was sent for an X-ray. It was revealed that my ‘adult’ eye tooth was growing horizontally through the roots of – perpendicular to – the  two neighbouring front incisors’. Left unattended – or undiscovered – all three adult teeth would apparently have rotted over time, all needed extraction, then I’d’ve ended up with a gap much more worthy of complaint (and aesthetic repugnancy).

So I had to undergo surgery to ‘expose’ the wayward tooth. Since neither of my parents could afford private dental work, we attended the Dental Clinic at the Cairns Base Hospital where mum’s ‘single parent’ status earned us free treatment. It was local anaesthetic so after copping three needles (two little and one Mother-of-God!) I was aware of digging, drilling and tugging sensations but opted to keep my eyes squeezed tightly shut. The culprit eye tooth was successfully exposed and ‘re-planted’ and the front and second incisors were ‘saved’ (cue pre-recorded audience applause) but I had a hole in the roof of my mouth that was ‘packed’ (with..? something) and bled like a bitch all over my pillow on the first night when my sneaky little thumb tried to creep back into my mouth. I am fairly certain that episode killed the habit once and for all.

There followed at ‘waiting period’ – for everything to settle and heal post-surgery before they could move to the next phase: the external-brace-with-elastic-strap-around-the-back-of-the-head. (This is the stage I’m at during the first part of my 1984 diary).

Instructed to wear it for fourteen hours a day, I quickly worked out that if I put the contraption on as soon as I got home from school and removed before I went to school the next day, I’d accrue “Free Time”. So that was a game I played for the however many months I was required to endure it, and surprisingly it impressed my (future) stepmother: for the self-discipline & organisational skills I displayed.

Finally I got the braces. By this time the glue, the grips, the wire, the tightenings were certainly no big deal to me. They were only applied to my upper teeth, so the poor neglected residents of my lower jaw have jostled for space from day dot. I’m assuming the dental clinic didn’t want to have to use any more resources or do anymore work than was absolutely necessary and since my lower lip fortunately disguises the lower pearlies when I smile, I guess it wasn’t considered as important.

From memory they lasted about 6 months then in quick succession I was given the plate. To the observer, it appeared to be a dainty single wire neatly ‘fencing’ my bite, but the bulk of it ‘nestled’ into the roof of my mouth considerably testing my speech abilities. The hard mould created a ‘false roof’ which also proved entertaining (and sometimes disgusting) when I consumed particular foods.

A Life in Words
…to this (2009)

That could have been the end of it. All those years of sacrifice resulted in a greater desire to part my lips and a relatively proportional increase in self confidence. But… some time after the plate was ditched and my relationship with Cairns Base Hospital’s Dental Clinic was truly over, a small gap crept back in between those two front teeth. Stubborn little bugger!

It wasn’t until the early-mid ’90’s when Mum, Julia and I were all living in Brisbane, that our brilliant new dentist in Toowong pointed out that the hereditary (and tenacious) gaps both Julia and I had (despite all my dental torture) was the result of a little piece of  connective tissue called the frenum, being particularly ‘hardy’ in our cases. The frenum is the stringy connection (dead centre) attaching your lips to the gums of both the upper and lower jaws.

So, I went under the knife again. Both Julia and I had labial frenectomies, but only at the gums, from between our teeth – we still have the ‘stringy attachment’ bits keeping our top lips connected to the insides of our mouths.

My gap has finally packed its bags. The over-bite has long gone. And I have no qualms about smiling now.


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