Tooth Or Dare

Let me make one thing clear. I would rather do almost anything than go to the dentist. Not necessarily because I’m phobic to the pain they give or the instruments of torture they use, but because since the repairs I had to endure after my motorcycle accident coming up on 12 years ago my chompers have been one accident waiting to happen after another. With my teeth’s bonds and veneers and crowns and bridges and other hardware, it’s always just a matter of time until something fails, architecturally, structurally, philosophically, whatever. And that means mo’ money to the tooth doc. Lots mo’ money.

The last failure was November 2004. As a guest of the Nature Conservancy, I was on the Channel Island of Santa Cruz for a couple days volunteering to help build breeding pens for the critically endangered island fox population there. We hadn’t arrived at the beautiful historic off-limits-to-the-public ranch in the magnificent and pristine interior of the island more than an hour earlier when I opted to snack on some pretty tough jerky and off came a crown. To make matters worse I didn’t know it had disengaged and I went and swallowed the thing. Now I’m not some weeny tot. There are people I know who would’ve demanded passage back to civilization right there and then, but I’m not one of them Instead, I just played it cool and did my job and my best to chew on and talk out of the side of my mouth opposite to the now gaping chasm that existed on the other. That, and I took a lot of ibuprofen because it hurt. But it’s more than the physical pain. Each incident is just another reminder that I’m a cut-rate humpty dumpty, put back together not with all the king’s resources, but with the wheatpaste and chicken wire the insurance companies would cover. Hey, I’m not knocking the end result — it could be a loooooot worse. But the when-not-if guaranteed obsolescence factor is a tad frustrating.

Anyway, when I got back from the island I made an appointment with my dentist who I’ve been going to since 2000 and a few hundred dollars later I was all patched up and wondering how long it would be until the next visit. Well that was today, to replace a fallen bonding.

This bond was special. We go waaaaay back, it and me. There’s older infrastructure in my mouth, but no one gave this a chance to live so long. I was at work when the previous one came off in 2003. April. I had tickets to the Dodgers that evening and I had a date with an ebullient and adorable and righteously religious young lady who had no romantic interest in me whatsoever. I knew this, I just liked hanging out with her and she me. But I certainly didn’t want to hang out with her wearing a real-life version of Billy-Bob teeth so I called my regular dentist who was out of town. I begged for a referral, which I called and that dentist couldn’t fit me in either. I begged another referral from that dentist’s receptionist and the third time was the charm; I was able to get some chair time. Once there after having to wait and wait and wait I told him the situation and asked if he could just slap something — anything! — on the broken tooth to make it look a bit less hideous in time for the game. He did as I asked but after he finished he said I’d be lucky if that quicky job would stay on a week.

It lasted more than three years until it finally gave up last Thursday night while I was using the waterpik. Fortunately I didn’t swallow this one, and even more fortunately it was pretty much intact and I had a package of over-the-counter dental adhesive just for such a situation. Too bad the stuff works better in theory than in practice. The bonding came off again Friday night during the Ride-Arc bike ride when we stopped for grub at a taco truck. I pocketed it, finished my tacos and finished the ride well after midnight. On the way home I visited the Sav-On on Beaudy and Sunset (closed) the Walgreens in Echo Park (closed) and even the Vons south of Los Feliz Village (open!) in search of another package of dental glue. Vons didn’t have it. Saturday afternoon Susan and I stopped at Walgreen’s again and they had one remaining package (at least I’m not alone!) of a different version of the stuff. That crap worked even worse than the first. It would hold the tooth on for varying amounts of time, from a few minutes to a few hours, but ultimately I’d feel that telltale slip.

The earliest the dentist could see me was Wednesday, meaning I had five days of glue-and-slip, glue-and-slip. But I was cool. I wasn’t slated to give any speeches or make any new acquaintances or see any old ones… at least not until Tuesday night with my friend Cybele at the Golden Gopher Bar downtown for a blogger ge-together. So I bided my time until Tuesday and right before Cybele picked me up last night I dutifully glued the bond back on, said a little prayer that it would hold and off we went.

It slipped loose not even a mile away from the house. Dammit! But again, instead of being some wuss and asking Cybele to turn around and drop me back at the ranch, I just apologized to her for all the fingers I was sticking in my mouth, told her why and on we went. Midway through the evening I was having a chat with Jay from when the little bond finally had enough. This time in mid-sentence it didn’t just slip, instead it timed its exit perfectly and shot out of my mouth into the dark void of the Gopher’s floor. Jay was either very polite or perhaps didn’t see the tiny white projectile fly from my face and you know what? I barely broke stride in what I was telling him. And when I was finished I didn’t even bother looking for it. Fuck it. Instead I just talked to the other bloggers the rest of the time we were there, Billy-Bob tooth and all.

Besides my dentist appointment to have the damage repaired was only a few hours away the next day.

When I arrived to his Encino office this morning I was met by a new and overly-friendly office manager. Make no mistake, office managers for dental firms are hardcore, by-or-die salespeople. If this office was Glengarry Glen Ross then this office manager would be the friggin’ Alec Baldwin “second prize is a set of steak knives” character. She starts off all gushy and sympatico and then hits me with how I haven’t been in for a cleaning in two years and why don’t we go ahead and set up an appointment with the hygienest before you see the doctor.

I pass on that offer.

After I’m strapped into the chair the dentist comes in and of course orders an X-ray. Low and behold he shows me a dark gray area at the base of a tooth a couple away from the broken one. “Looks like an abcess,” he says. I remind him it’s the same abcess he points out to me every single time I come in and that I’m not here to deal with the abcess I’m here to deal with getting a new bond which an X-ray wasn’t needed for.

So he “tssks” and he “hmmms” and he sighs and says “oh boy” as in “oh boy does your mouth ever suck” and I just want to scream and tell him to fixie my owwie as cheaply as possible. But instead I keep a lid on it, and he says…

“We should talk about implants.”

“I like my breasts the way they are, doc. So does my wife.”

He laughs at this. But he’s serious referring to the canyon where the two lower molars I’ve been missing for eight and three years respectively used to be. Both were damaged by the crash and never repaired after the insurance ran out. Eventually they became too far gone and the first one I had yanked in 1998. The second one in 2003. Good times.

In the years since I’ve left the void a void because implants run a serious eight grand. I have neither the motivation or that amount of money to change that course, but I figure what the hell and ask if there’s any option that could fill it that would be cheaper and allow me to laugh out loud without throwing a covering hand up over my piehole for the first time since last century. The fact is, I’m not sure how good I’ve been at hiding my shortage of teeth to the world. I’d like to think either I have been successful or I’m just around people who are awesome polite or don’t give a shit if I’m a couple tusks short of a full load. Either way it’s a win-win, but still I wouldn’t mind shoring things up, even if it’s only a band-aid solution.

The dentist pooh-poohs it for being just that: a temporary fix , but I remind him that where my pearly off-whites are concerned temporary fixes are a semi-permanent course of action and I press him. He gives in and reluctantly lays out the details. I say I might be interested if it doesn’t cost too much. Then he calls the office manager in and asks her to work up an estimate for the work to my front tooth and the denture. A few minutes later she comes in and tells me $1,500. $850 for the bonding and $650 for the partial.

The latter doesn’t surprise me, but the bonding seems way high. The crown I had replaced back in 2004 barely cost half that!

She adjourns for a confab with the boss and a few minutes later comes in and says if I agree to both procedures he’ll knock off two-hundies as a courtesy. But if I just do the bond, that stays at $850.


Second prize is a set of steak knives.

Still I had to admire what a closer this gal is! So I “tsk” and I “hmmm” and I say “oh boy” as in “oh boy, you’re running some kinda racquet here ain’tcha?” and she just sits there holding out a pen and the estimate for me to sign probably wondering if she remembered to reschedule her manicure appointment until I finally and defeatedly say “fine” and sign.

An hour later my front tooth is all rebonded and the impressions have been made for my falsies, which I’ll come back a week from now to have installled and the office manager will hit me hard again with how important it is for me to schedule a cleaning with the hygienist and the denist will have yet another look at my X-rays on the computer and “tssk” and “hmm” and “oh boy.”

And then we’ll do it all again when the next time comes. And there will be a next time.

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Will Campbell arrived in town via the maternity ward at Good Sam Hospital way back in OneNineSixFour and has never stopped calling Los Angeles home. Presently he lives in Silver Lake with his wife Susan, their cat Rocky, dogs Terra and Hazel, and a red-eared slider turtle named Mater. Blogging since 2001, Will's web endeavors extend back to 1995 with, a comprehensive theater site that was well received but ever-short on capital (or a business model). The pinnacle of his online success (which speaks volumes) arrived in 1997, when much to his surprise, a hobby site he'd built called VisuaL.A. was named "best website" in Los Angeles magazine's annual "Best of L.A." issue. He enjoys experiencing (and writing about) pretty much anything creative, explorational and/or adventurous, loves his ebike, is a better tennis player than he is horr golfer, and a lover of all creatures great and small -- emphasis on "all."