What Would You Give for your Kid Fears?

I’m sitting here listening to an Indigo Girls playlist on YouTube. It’s been a while since I listened to them, and oh man, how I’ve missed these beautiful melodies. They’re like the female version of Simon and Garfunkel. They make me want to learn to play the guitar. Their music reminds me of my carefree younger days in Vermont, when I was so naive I wasn’t sure if the Indigo Girls were lesbians, and if they were, did liking their music make me one too?

There’s more than one answer to these questions, pointing me in a crooked line.

It’s been 8 days since my last post, which stinks. That weekend I was barely containing my rage over how uncomfortable my mouth was. First thing on Monday I got in to see the dentist and had him trim off a bunch of the material. It helped, though my mouth was so sore at that point it was hard to tell if it was all OK or if more needed to be trimmed.

Immediately after that, I had to drive down to Mystic for a meeting. Of course there was a big ol’ snowstorm brewing at the time, so it took twice as long to get there as it should have. As soon as I got there, it was work, work work. I considered doing blog posts in the evenings like I have in the past, but Mystic in the middle of winter isn’t terribly exciting. I only got to leave the hotel in the evenings for dinner anyway. It was really pretty under a blanket of snow, I will admit.

The saddest sight my eyes can see is that big ball of orange sinking slyly down the trees.

It seemed that there was still material rubbing the sore spot on my gum/lip, because my mouth was still in so much pain every time I tried to eat. It probably sounds stupid that I was so insistent on keeping the bridge in, when I could have just taken it out and most likely no one would have noticed anyway. But no. I refused. At one point after lunch one day I did go in the bathroom and remove it, but no sooner had I done that when I was asked to talk extensively about something. So I had to excuse myself for a moment under the premise that I was getting a mint out of my bag while I discreetly popped the bridge back in. I didn’t want to feel like I was lisping and slobbering all over the place.

I’ll tell you, having constant mouth pain really doesn’t make for a social Heather. I was so irritated the whole time I had to keep telling myself not to punch anyone in the face. I’m usually pretty quiet anyway, but this time I was avoiding talking as much as I could because the less I moved my mouth, the better. I was so relieved to get in my car after the meeting ended. The first thing I did was pop out the bridge. I resisted the urge to throw it out the window. 

When I got home, I found some emery boards and got to work sanding down the piece that was irritating me. Believe it or not, it actually worked! I probably only sanded off a 1/16th of an inch, but it was all it needed. These last few days the sore has been healing and I’m now able to wear the bridge all day without getting violent.

If we ever leave a legacy, it’s that we loved each other well.

In other news, tonight I was supposed to give a speech at Toastmasters. I had planned to talk about the history of cleft lip and palate treatment, as this was something I’d been wanting to look into for a while anyway. The meeting ended up getting cancelled thanks to the weather (snow and 15 degrees… what’s the problem?). When I got home I recorded myself giving the speech but I had issues getting it uploaded so I’ll have to try again another time. For now I am ready for night-nights.

Temporary Discomfort

I got my temporary lower bridge last week. It is a strange feeling to have something foreign in my mouth. Despite having had all kinds of weird apparatuses (I really feel like the plural of apparatus should be apparati, but apparently it’s not) in my younger days, I can’t say I welcomed the introduction of this piece.

These past few days have been filled with anxiety. First, I wondered why I thought it was a good idea to even get a temporary, when I could have just kept wearing my slightly broken lower bridge until we decided what to do. Because we still haven’t decided whether to fix the existing one or make a whole new one.

If you’ve ever had braces, or any kind of dental device, you know it takes some getting used to. This one is pretty snug, but there are a few points that seem to be pressing against my gums unpleasantly. One edge is rubbing at the crease where my lip meets my gum, causing a sore. Of course it’s the weekend so I can’t just go in and have him sand down that piece. When I try to eat with it, there’s this unpleasant squishing feeling as it mushes against my gums with every bite.

It’s bringing back memories of my younger days when I had to wear these kinds of things all the time. The mild taste of acrylic, the dull ache of pressure when I first put it in. The nagging sores where the edges rub. I must have much less patience now, because it’s all I can do to keep it in my mouth the whole day.

I know that if I can just bear through these first few days I will get used to it, as I have gotten used to all the other dental situations in my life. And I try to remember poor George Washington with his uncomfortable dentures, and realize that I am lucky to live in this day and age where my dentist isn’t cobbling together some mix of animal and human teeth for me to wear.

Another point of anxiety is wondering if I can get my insurance to cover any of this. My dental insurance maxes out at $1500. Which is nice if all you need is one crown, right?

In other news, I started listening to this audiobook:



Ever since I was a very wee lass, I have been terrified of internal organs. It’s a running joke in my family that I can’t even look at an animal heart, much less a human heart, or any other part for that matter. I have had nightmares about being in an operating room and needing to perform surgery on someone or being forced to participate in an autopsy (as the person wielding the knife, not the person on the table).

My fear has lessened as I’ve gotten older, probably thanks to gratuitous violence and gore on TV and in movies. But I am still pretty creeped out at the thought of body parts or of dead bodies. I suppose a great deal of this fear has to do with simply confronting my own mortality. I also suspect there’s a part of it that hearkens back to my earliest days in the hospital and in surgery and that feeling of a loss of control and surrender to the doctors and hospital staff.

So anyway, I’d had my eye on this book for a while and finally got to it. I’m only about three chapters in but so far it is morbidly fascinating and I have not yet had to stop in horror. Perhaps this will help me overcome my fears a little more.


Dental Update…

Last time I wrote I was excited because I went through my dentist appointment without having my bridgework removed. My doctor has since acquired the necessary tools to remove my lower bridge, so that was how I spent this Wednesday morning.

I made a quick video about it when I got home tonight. You can see I’m trying really hard to speak clearly. It takes me back to all the times I had surgery or orthodontic work and had to re-learn how to use my mouth. It really sounds like I say “meow” at 2:34.

Tomorrow I go back for a temporary bridge, so perhaps I’ll post an update of myself struggling to speak again tomorrow night!

Never a Dull Moment

Things never quite end up the way I worry that they will.

See my video for a recap of my dentist appointment and my run-in with the law today.

Pardon the bad lighting, bad outfit and bad hair portrayed in this video. This is really just how I roll at home.


A Life in the Dentist’s Chair

On a regular day, the history of my mouth isn’t something I even think about, but the moment I walk into a dental office, that familiar smell nearly knocks me to my knees with dread. Memories of countless times before, sitting anxiously in the waiting room, flipping through magazines, wishing I was a model with naturally perfect teeth, wishing I was anywhere but there.

To say I’ve had a lot of dental work is a bit of an understatement. I’ve already written about some of it, and the anxiety I developed over the years in my post Oral Fixations. You would think that having been in the dental chair literally hundreds of times in my life would mean that I would approach the chair like an old friend. Not so. Not so at all.

Tomorrow I am having a consultation with my new dentist to talk about updating my bridgework and fixing my bite alignment. I really do want to do this. My jaw clicks when I chew and it’s uncomfortable. My bridgework is nearing 20 years old, and could use some refreshing. I want to be able to chew my food comfortably again, and, if possible, do it more gracefully.

In preparation for tomorrow’s visit, I was looking through some of my old dental records. I came across some x-rays and other weird things so I thought it would be fun to share. It reminds me of how far I’ve come, though looking at some of my earlier x-rays makes me kind of sad. I wonder if I was going through all this now, if they could have done more to save my natural teeth, and perhaps eliminated the need for 10 implants. I’m told that they would never do so many implants so close together now. But I’m also told that my doctors did a great job on my mouth, so that is good to hear, and I suppose it means it was all worth it.

Walk with me now, through some of my mouth’s greatest adventures.


My first dental appliance – at least the first that I still have in my possession. This was the obturator that Mom and Gram had to wrestle and hold me down every morning to put in. It fit across the roof of my mouth and closed the hole in my palate so that I could drink my baby formula. (I have no conscious memory of this happening.)



A snippet of the new patient form my mom filled out when I started with Dr. Prusak. Thank goodness for him. He was so kind and gentle and he really knew how to handle a scared little girl like me.


Pano of my 5-year old mouth. Look at that beautiful bilateral cleft! My eye sockets look misaligned because I moved my head during the x-ray. I actually had a lot of teeth for someone with ectodermal dysplasia. Notice the creepy orbs with adult teeth buds in them in my lower jaw. I was probably scared out of my mind getting this x-ray, but I have no memory of it now.


Dr. Bond created this to push my front teeth forward and my canines outward. It worked. It was attached to my upper arch with brackets on my back molars. I couldn’t take it out. I spent a lot of time working food out of it with my tongue after meals.


Heres that contraption at work. My two front teeth started out twisted and pointing inward. Dr. Bond devised the metal sculpture to push those teeth forward. Every time I saw him he would adjust the wires just a tad until my teeth were finally in position, which it looks like they are here. This was before the bone graft to close my clefts, obviously.


Another pano at age 12. Post bone graft. I was already sporting a mouthful of metal. You can see that some of my molars were still baby teeth with no adult teeth behind them.

Fast forward about 20 years – post LeForte Osteotomy and post implants…


This is about how my mouth looks now, give or take a root canal and a crown or two. Talk about a metal mouth. I still have 9 real teeth, though they have been enhanced by crowns and root canals…


This is a plaster model of my recent mouth situation. (They look like horse teeth.) The bottom ten teeth are part of a bridge that is screwed in to my jaw on 6 implants, and the top six teeth are a bridge that is cemented onto the top 4 implants. Only my molars in the very back are what remain of my natural teeth.

I expect I will be getting another pano x-ray tomorrow. If I can get a copy of it, I will definitely post it. Of course I will post about whatever ends up happening with my future dental work too.

You may be wondering, after seeing my current model, what I could possible still need to have done. Well, the top bridge has a terrible habit of coming lose and falling off. And you can’t tell from the model but there is a slight gap between the top of my bridge and my gums, which means whenever I eat, food squeezes through and nestles in the cracks between my teeth. Since they are fake, I can’t feel it, though I have learned to constantly be checking my teeth for bits of food, it’s really not ideal, and makes for some awkward social moments.

Also, as I mentioned – my jaw alignment has somehow fallen out of whack. And I’ve broken two teeth off the bottom bridge… because it takes three licks to get to the center of a tootsie roll pop… I can’t resist biting things I shouldn’t! 🙂

Stay tuned for whatever’s next in my dental adventure… xx

A Brief Recap of Recent Life

Hey ya’ll! My apologies for the serious lack of posts lately. As often happens, life seems to rise up and consume my time like a ravenous beast. I haven’t even taken time to do my morning Zentangles this week, which is an outrage. Here are some of the things I’ve been up to:

Last Saturday I noticed my upper bridge was a little wobbly. Ugh! I think I’ve mentioned before that it is cemented on to four implant posts. I guess that was cutting-edge technology in 1997, but it doesn’t seem to be the best long-term way to give a person a solid grille.

So I noticed it was wobbly, and being the neurotic person I am, I immediately began wiggling it to see how loose it was. Like a kid with a loose tooth, I couldn’t leave it alone. So of course I wiggled it until it came off. I had denture paste in the medicine cabinet, which will hold my bridge in enough to get by for a few days. So I used that, but then I was annoyed by the gross denture paste slime in my mouth, and the fear that anytime I talked or ate, the teeth would fall out again.

Fortunately I was able to get in to my dentist on Monday to have it cemented back in. Still that was an adventure in itself because while I was there, he decided to try and fix my bite alignment, which has been off lately. So he just randomly started grinding down one of the crowns in the back of my mouth. One of the crowns that I paid over $1000 for less than two years ago.

You may wonder why I would let him do that. I thought it was just one point of the tooth that was high and causing my bite to be out of whack, so I thought it would be a quick little adjustment. By now you’d think I would have realized that nothing with my mouth is ever quick. It ended up being a half-hour process of grinding down random bits here and there, lots of rinsing and spitting, and biting on carbon paper (or whatever that stuff is) and repeating the process to get my bite aligned. Even now it’s not really perfect, but I think he had to stop before grinding my molars to stumps. Ugh! I hate my life!

Just kidding, I don’t really hate my life, but I hate moments like that. I was lying there wondering why people are turned on by things like 50 Shades of Grey and BDSM, because I feel like my dental experiences involve dominance, bondage and masochism, and let me tell you, it does NOT turn me on. It just makes me want to punch someone.

Moving on. In exciting news, I finally bought a new car this week. I’ve been talking about it for at least five years, but there was always some obstacle that prevented me from doing it. Namely, being up to my ears in student loan debt. But in the last couple of years I’ve been saving money like a squirrel hoarding acorns and I finally had a nice amount in my savings account so I feel comfortable having a car payment in my life again. My credit score was through the roof, so I was able to get a ridiculously low interest rate, which also made me a happy camper.

In equally exciting news, tomorrow is the NFED Regional Family Conference in White Plains, NY. It sounds like there are a lot of people signed up to go, and the weather forecast is clear, so it should be a great turnout. I’ll be zoom-zooming down there in my new car and I can hardly wait to reconnect with people and to meet new friends!  I will write a blog post about that once I get back.

Now it is time to get ready for work! Happy Friday Ya’ll!  Here’s a little happy tune for you.

Awkward Moments with Artificial Teeth

chatter teeth

1. When you refer to your implants and people look questioningly at your chest.

2. Not being able to feel if you have spinach, seeds, bread – anything – stuck on, in-between or around your teeth.

3. Getting massive quantities of food stuck underneath the bridgework.

4. Needing to use a WaterPik to feel like your mouth is actually clean.

5. Needing to bring two kinds of floss, toothpicks and a variety of brushes when travelling without the WaterPik.

6. Having to keep a stash of toothpicks in your desk at work, in the console of the car, and in your purse for those on-the-go moments.

7. The glare in photos.

8. Forgetting you have teeth (or just how far they extend) and smacking them with your glass while drinking.

9. Getting comments like “Wow, your teeth are perfect! How’d you get so lucky?”

10. Breaking a few teeth off your bridge while biting into a chocolate lollipop.

Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful on the daily for my dental implants and bridgework. Even with the hassle of keeping them clean, and the occasional incident (I’m not kidding about breaking off teeth with lollipops, as well as apples and chocolate), I love having a full set of teeth to smile with and to show off when I talk. My self-confidence is ten times greater than it was before my dental work was complete. I will happily WaterPik my evenings away if that’s what it takes. But sometimes you’ve just got to laugh at the silly things that happen when you’ve got a mouth full of man-made materials.


Even cartoon wallabies get food stuck in their teeth!

Oral Fixations

This past Thursday I had to get a root canal. I’ve had two before and found them to be among the least annoying dental procedures I’ve ever had. Despite that knowledge, I still felt that familiar sense of impending doom as the hours passed and my appointment time drew nigh. Logically, I know that I have survived countless dental procedures before this one. Logically, I know that the endodontist has performed countless root canals before this one. Logically, I know that getting this root canal will make future dental experiences more bearable because that tooth will no longer send me angry pain signals every time it is touched. Despite all this logic, I would still rather not climb into that chair.

The first memories I have of going to the dentist was when I was 3 or 4 and my mother had to take me to several before we found the right one. One dentist looked in my mouth and shook his head. “This is beyond my expertise.” Another pediatric dentist had straps on the exam chair, to restrain the arm flailing and leg-kicking that ensues when you frighten a small child. Thankfully, my mother said no to that place.

We ended up with a pediatric dentist named Dr. Prusack. He reminded me of the picture of Shel Silverstein in “Where the Sidewalk Ends” I was both charmed and intimidated by this man. On my first couple of visits I tried to pull some tricks. The waiting room had a play area with a tunnel that went under the magazine table where I halfheartedly attempted to hide. I cried and I kicked my feet, but Dr. Prusack would have none of it. He’d tell me to knock it off, and if I relaxed and just let him work, it would be easier for both of us. Because of my ectodermal dysplasia, most of my teeth came in with pre-existing cavities, or with very thin or non-existent enamel. So I saw Dr. Prusack often for fillings and crowns in addition to regular cleanings. At the end of each visit, I’d get to select a plastic trinket from the toy chest at the end of the hall.

When I was 9 or 10, it was time to start orthodontic work. A few doors down from Dr. Prusack was Dr. Bond, James Bond. (Really.) He fitted me with the first of many “appliances” which were designed to expand my palate and push my front teeth forward. Because of my cleft palate, my upper jaw was narrow and my two front teeth grew crookedly on a gum-island that was separate from the rows of teeth on either side.

Orthodontic work was never a fun time. Because of the thin enamel, my teeth had always been extremely sensitive to cold and touch. I compensated for this while eating and drinking by warming up cold foods on my tongue until I could chew them, or by avoiding my teeth entirely. Cold (or hot) drinks were delivered directly to the tongue and down my throat without meeting the teeth at all. I always brushed my teeth and rinsed my mouth with warm water. So plunging my teeth into a tray of cold impression material was nothing short of agonizing. I can’t even think of a way to describe the feeling. The pain sent chills through my entire body, making my stomach lurch and my eyes water. I really don’t think the dentist or assistants understood how awful this felt because they’d always coo and tell me to hang in there, it would be over in 2 minutes. After a while I learned to ask them to mix up the material with lukewarm water, and while it was still unpleasant, it saved me from feeling like I was going to die in that chair.

Something perplexing began happening to me during those times. Lying back in the chair while Dr. Bond worked in my mouth, I’d begin to feel anxious. Waves of heat began passing through my body and then a terrible itchiness would erupt under my skin. It was like the chair was made of prickly material and the back of my legs, my butt and my back were being poked with it.  I’d squirm in the chair and scratch here and there to try to stop it.  The more itchy I felt, the more anxious and hot I’d get and the worse the itching became. Finally the squirming would become so disruptive that Dr. Bond would ask what my problem was. I don’t know why, but the itchy feeling embarrassed me and I never told him about it. I would excuse myself and go to the bathroom where I would quickly yank down my jeans, press cold wet paper towels to my skin and scratch myself like a dog covered in fleas.

As if all the discomfort of dental work wasn’t enough, I now had to have this baffling discomfort with my skin too?  My mom switched laundry detergents, thinking that perhaps I was allergic. I began putting lotion on every day before I got dressed, thinking it was a dry skin issue. Nothing seemed to help.  I knew that the itching was heat related, however, it didn’t always happen when I was hot or in a hot environment. Finally it dawned on me that it was stress-related. For people with skin that functions properly, when you start feeling stressed, you start to sweat.  In my case, all the areas that would get itchy were areas that couldn’t produce sweat. Whenever I would feel anxious or stressed (at the dentist office or in the middle of a math test), I’d feel those dreaded waves of heat and itching. I still don’t know whether this prickly feeling comes from the nerves simply getting too hot, or if I actually have some semblance of sweat glands that are just trying to do their job and can’t. Luckily as I have grown up, I have learned to recognize when that itch is about to start and I am usually able to calm myself and cool myself down before the itching gets really out of control.

It may seem like I have digressed from the original topic of this post, but bear with me. The anxiety that I often felt during all those years of orthodontia can return to me in an instant when I am at the dentist. Even though now I am all grown up and can make my own decisions about treatment and such, when I lie there with that little light shining down in my face and the smell of latex gloves under my nose, I am once again at the mercy of the dentist. While for the most part I can lie back and let my mind go elsewhere, there are still moments in which I feel that familiar heat rising up inside and I have to hold back the tears because I am suddenly afraid and defenseless.

Recently I was having prep work done for a crown. It’s normally a boring, routine procedure.  (Except nothing is ever routine with my mouth.) Several things happened on this visit that wore me down. First, due to all the scar tissue in my gum and cheek area, putting the Novocaine in is so painful it brings tears to my eyes. Then, he couldn’t get the temporary crown to come off, so he was using a slide hammer to try to whack it off even though I’d asked him specifically NOT to do that. Imagine taking a screwdriver and placing the tip against your upper canine.  Then, take a hammer and whack it a couple of times.  Awesome, right?  So my nerves were quickly getting frazzled and the temporary was not coming off.  He ended up using the drill to break apart the temporary crown. Later, when he took an impression of my upper teeth, my bridge came out with it. It’s really not a huge deal because the bridge is just cemented onto my dental implants. It doesn’t hurt or anything and can be quickly cemented back in. But it is a weird feeling to have it off because suddenly my upper lip caves in and I can’t talk without a comical lisp. The dentist gave his assistant my bridge so she could clean it up a little before putting it back in. Then he left the room to check on another patient. As I sat there trying to calm myself from the sting of the needle, the jarring whacks to my face, the drilling and now the insult of sitting there without my front teeth, it was all I could do not to burst into tears. I really wanted to get up and walk out at that point, but my bridge was out and the tooth to be crowned was still unfinished. On top of all that was that another tooth in that area was being sensitive, even with the Novocaine. Which is why I ended up needing a root canal.

So on Thursday I was feeling just a tad nervous about voluntarily putting myself back in the chair. My hands were shaking as I sat in the waiting room. Fortunately the endodontist was incredibly gentle about giving me the Novocaine. It stung only a little and the whole procedure went by smoothly. That night and the next day I didn’t have any pain at all, except for a little tenderness where the needle had been. So of course I’m glad I did it, and having a good dental experience like that reaffirms the notion that sometimes you have to push yourself to get through something for the benefit of your future self.