A Musician Sings a New Tune After a Full Arch Reconstruction.
For most of my life, I’ve had problems with my teeth. Growing up, I had crooked teeth that were prominent in front (one was longer than the other), and one of my incisors was set back from my other teeth with a noticeable canine.
To make matters worse, when I was nine years old I hit my face on the bottom of a swimming pool and broke my front tooth in half. My dentist, who was also a family friend, tried to help by fixing the tooth with a bonding agent, but the material often failed and would fall out.
Once, while in junior high, the composite fell off. I went to class anyway, thinking my classmates somehow wouldn’t notice. Of course, everyone noticed! I was teased so much in the first few minutes of class that I called my mom to take me home.
A Tight Budget
As the youngest of ten children, the family dental budget was often stretched thin. When I needed to have cavities filled, the dentist used silver-colored amalgam fillings as an economic and durable solution, but they made my already-troubled smile look even worse. I had a “metal mouth” from so many silver fillings.
When I asked the dentist to use white fillings, he told me that the silver amalgam fillings were an overall better option for my mouth because of our family budget. Therefore, he used the silver fillings all the way to my canines, and they were very obvious when I smiled.
At age 16, a different dentist approached my parents about my smile. He was not an orthodontist, but he had started doing braces and asked my parents if I would like to be his patient.
I was so excited for this opportunity! I never thought that I would be able to get braces and I was thrilled. I thought that at least if my teeth were straighter, the dark fillings wouldn’t be as noticeable.
Many of my friends had already had braces, and I remember everyone complaining about them. But I never complained. I was thrilled to have them because the braces and elastics covered my dark fillings. I wore them for about a year and a half, and when they came off, my teeth were much better than before. I was much more confident with my smile.
Unfortunately, not long after getting my braces off, I lost my retainer and couldn’t afford to get another one. By the time I found it, my teeth had moved so much that the retainer no longer fit. My teeth were not as crooked as they had been originally, but they were not straight. The dentist told me that my only option was to put braces on again. I mowed lawns, cleaned houses, and babysat to save up money to pay for braces a second time.
Try, Try Again
The outcome after the second round of braces was less than I had hoped for. The dentist suggested “shaving” down my front six teeth to adjust my bite. I trusted him, having no real idea of how that procedure would affect my bite and the problems it would cause.
A friend who was working for an orthodontist suggested that I have her doctor examine my bite. This doctor told me that my teeth were now too small for my bite, and that I needed to have braces a third time to space out my teeth. I would also need veneers.
At the time, I could not afford veneers, so I went with a temporary solution, which was to put composite on my teeth. I researched dentists to find someone to do the composite work after the second attempt at orthodontia was complete. I was told that the bondings would become discolored over time and would only last six to eight years at the most—and probably less because of my broken front tooth.
Initially, everything looked great. But within six months, my teeth started chipping. Bits of composite would pop off when I flossed, and when I bit into certain foods. I was constantly going back to the dentist to have him refill the chips. It ultimately became a very expensive fix because I was constantly paying to get the composites filled.
The next six years were especially difficult because I had a restricted diet for fear that something would stain or chip my teeth. I couldn’t drink grape juice or eat any foods with certain colors.
Pain and Suffering
My problems weren’t just cosmetic. During an 18-month volunteer church mission in South Florida, I started having a lot of pain in my lower jaw. My left cheek swelled to the size of a softball due to an abscess. It was so painful that I couldn’t eat or see very well. At the time, I lived near a dental school in Fort Lauderdale, so I went to the clinic and they got me in the same day.
The student doctor who I saw was specializing in endodontics. He cleaned out the infection in my mouth, gave me some antibiotics and pain medications, and asked me to come back in a week.
During that week, the pain and swelling continued. When I returned to the clinic, the infection remained. The dentist started digging into my mouth. After about 30 minutes or so, he pulled out a strip of metal. It was part of a file that had been used to prepare my tooth for a root canal, almost a decade earlier, when I was 14 years old. It had broken off in my mouth and had been there ever since.
It took nearly two months for the infection to completely subside. During that time, the doctor found two more pieces of file in my mouth. Finally, after the third piece was removed, the infection went away. During those difficult months, the doctor also switched out several of my dark fillings for white ones, and I was very grateful.
The Last Straw
In early 2017, I was chewing on a sunflower seed, and my two front teeth chipped—both the tooth that was already broken and a huge piece of the tooth next to it. I finally decided it was time to invest the money to get veneers!
After doing research online, I narrowed down my options to several dentists, all of whom I met with and interviewed in person. I even drove to California for a consultation.
I brought a list of questions, told each one about my experiences, and explained why I was so terrified to have this dental work done.
As I was moving forward with my research, a friend told me about someone she knew who had veneers, and she showed me pictures of her gorgeous smile. She gave me the number for Arrowhead Dental Laboratory and suggested I give them a call.
In May 2017, I met with Dr. Jim Downs of LêDowns Dentistry while he was visiting Utah. After seeing my teeth and hearing my story, Dr. Downs told me I would be a good candidate for the full arch reconstruction course.
He said most of his patients who needed full arch veneers were twice my age, and the fact that I had so many problems with my mouth would be a good learning experience for the dentists who came to the course.
He explained that as part of the course, he would be teaching other dentists and explaining everything he was doing as he worked. That was extremely appealing to me because I knew he would be doing things right. Being a part of a course sounded amazing!
A New Smile
When it finally came time for me to have the procedure, I appreciated that Dr. Downs took the time and effort to explain the process to me. Because he did that, I had confidence in his dental work.
The temporaries were the greatest advancement in my oral health up until that point. Each stage of the procedure was a welcome and exciting improvement. The fact that the temporaries were all one color and weren’t chipping was a benefit for me.
It has been life-changing to have permanent restorations because they don’t chip or break or cause me any oral health problems. A few of my siblings have also had dental issues, but nothing in comparison to what I’ve been through.
For the first time in my life, my teeth are now functioning at a high level and are beautiful! Today, my gum health is significantly different too. My gums used to be red and sore and bleed often, but I’ve had zero gum problems since the procedure.
The reaction of other people to my new smile has been dramatic. People have stopped me mid-conversation to ask what is different about me. Sometimes they can’t determine what has changed, but others specifically say that my teeth look amazing.
I didn’t tell many people about my full arch restoration because I wanted to see if they would notice. And they have! They think they’re admiring my teeth but I know it’s my new, confident smile.