It Took 5 Dental Mistakes, and Now I'm an Adult With a Retainer

I'm knocking on 40's door and rocking a big ol' wire retainer. It's totally dorky, I speak with a lisp, and prevention would have been SO MUCH cheaper.

Does anyone enjoy the dentist? I'd rather get a tattoo on the flabby part of my back than go to the dentist. It feels like my soul is being violated as I sit there with my mouth open for someone else to gaze into, poke and prod at.

And while I'm on the subject, is there anyone that enjoys flossing? Anyone who derives satisfaction from flicking plaque out from between their molars? I'm still trying to figure out how humans evolved to have such freakin' sensitive teeth. I feel like by now our teeth should be self-cleaning.

Anyway, my point is that, like most people, I hate going to the dentist and I hate flossing. It wasn't until an onslaught of cavities in my twenties that I started visiting the dentist on a regular basis -- at first I went every year, then every six months when the cavities kept coming. These are the mistakes I made in my dental dealings -- mistakes that eventually caused me to require a retainer. As an adult nearing 40. Oof.

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My awesome retainer!

Mistake #1
I chose my dentist because I had a coupon. He was in the mall and offered a fairly decent discount program. Yes, I did become suspicious when the appointments grew shorter and shorter with every visit, but I just chalked it up to my frequent cleanings. It certainly had nothing to do with my diligent flossing. I flossed maybe three times a week, if I remembered. These regular albeit brief cleanings instilled me with what I would soon learn to be a false sense of security. I thought I was doing great with my minimum maintenance routine until I moved and switched dentists.

Mistake #2
I did not get a referral for my new dentist. I chose her because I liked her radio ads. She also offered a discount program but her prices were higher and her office was fancier, which lead me to erroneously assume that she was better. On my first appointment, I was informed that my gums were in a horrible state of periodontal disease. What? But I floss sometimes and I go to the dentist twice a year! No matter, my old dentist had done a shoddy job at best and I was no better off than if I hadn't gone in the first place. As they numbed up my gums and scraped away at buried tartar, I added dollars in my head, trying to figure out how much money was lost on all those cleaning appointments.

The new dentist told me I had to floss every day, and suggested I use little brushes that go between my teeth, which she notified me had large spaces between them and made them more difficult to clean.

Mistake #3
I still didn't floss everyday. I tried, I swear, but sometimes I was busy or tired and I wanted to pass out with makeup on my face and grime in my teeth. I completely ignored the suggestion about the little brushes. I didn't want to bother. 

Mistake #4
I assumed because my new dentist was better than my last dentist that I could trust her to keep my teeth in good shape, despite the fact that she only spent five minutes with me per appointment (at $10 a minute!) and ignored most of my concerns. Whenever the dentist aske if any of my teeth were sensitive, I pointed out one of my front teeth, but for some reason -- maybe because cavities are nearly nonexistent in front teeth -- she blew it off.

Additionally, I had told my dentist that I had Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, or TMJ. My jaw cracked every time I opened it. She asked, “Do you get headaches?”
    “No.”
    “Well, then, it's nothing to worry about. “ She told me to just leave it be.

On my third appointment, my regular dental hygienist was not available so I saw a new hygienist. She noticed some bleeding around my front left teeth. Well, this new hygienist had a keen eye because she also noticed that right below the tooth that was bothering me, another tooth seemed to be pushing out of line. It looked to her like the bottom tooth pushed on the top tooth and caused it to move.

I suddenly remembered visiting a friend the year before. I hadn't seen her in three years. Laughing over drinks, she said, “You didn't used to have that gap in your teeth, did you?”
    “Yeah,” I said, “Of course.”
    “No, I would have noticed.”
    “I did,” I swore, because I was sure I did.

Well, after talking with the new hygienist, I wondered if maybe my friend was right. I went home and looked through old photo albums and discovered that, in fact, the gap between my two right-hand incisors had moved so slowly over the course of the years that I never noticed.

The dentist said, “Let's wait and see.” Six month later, she said, “You need to see a periodontist.” Meanwhile, I had been having terrible shoulder pains and started seeing a chiropractor. The chiropractor made the connection between my TMJ and my shoulders. What? I thought TMJ gave you headaches, not shoulder-aches.

Mistake #5
I should have gone to an orthodontist for my TMJ long ago. Despite what my dentist said, there are lots of different side effects of TMJ that are lesser known and can include pain in the neck, ears, and shoulders. I went to an orthodontist who gave me an ortho-splint, like a personalized mouth guard, to keep me from grinding my teeth at night and keep my teeth from pressing against each other. If I had done this years ago, my teeth never would have moved.

As recommended by my dentist, I went to a periodontist. After he took x-rays, we could see that I had a lot of bone loss on my tooth. The tooth was weak and swollen. I had to undergo periodontal surgery -- the worst! The tooth needed to be scraped and I had new bone grafted on in hopes of repairing some of the loss. After I healed, the gap was even larger. My gum had sunk into my head.

I wasn't too self-conscious about the gap. You can't really see it, even when I smile; my lips kind of cover it. It was gross sometimes, like when I bit into something and I could feel the bagel or whatever rub against my gap while a small piece got stuck in there. My main concern was that the tooth was still susceptible to gum disease. I wanted to close the gap and make the tooth less vulnerable. So the orthodontist gave me a retainer.

So, now I'm knocking on 40's door while rocking a big ol' wire retainer. It's totally dorky, and I speak with a lisp.

I don't even want to tell you how much all of this cost. Prevention definitely would have been cheaper.

On top of this, I now have to undergo this crazy nightly dental routine. Where before I hated flossing, now I have five or six different things to do. I brush with an electric toothbrush that turns off after precisely two minutes to ensure the proper amount of brushing. I brush my retainer and ortho splint. I floss. I poke in between my teeth with little brushes. On occasion, I even gurgle with mouthwash and scrape my tongue before I put in my retainer and ortho-splint. Even on nights when all I want to do is pass out in my own filthy pool of drool, I still have to get up and take care of all this dental business.

Have you ever been to a bad dentist or had awful dental issues? Please commiserate with me.