GETTING THE SMILE OF MY DREAMS.
I remember the day as if it were yesterday, despite the fact that it happened more than 13 years ago. After 16 long months of wearing braces, the metal brackets, bands and wires were finally coming off! I couldn’t wait to see my beautiful, shiny smile. My sister and brother both had gorgeous teeth—especially my sister—she had a model’s smile. On my way to the orthodontics office, I envisioned how great my smile was going to look when I saw it in the mirror. School photos were going to be awesome this year!
It seemed like it took the orthodontist and his assistants forever to take off my braces. Wire by wire, bracket by bracket, band by band, the braces popped off. Finally, it was done. The orthodontist told me to smile and he and his assistants gleamed with pride as they looked at me. “My smile must look fantastic,” I thought. The orthodontist picked up a small mirror from the nearby table and handed it to me.
“Take a look!” he said.
I lifted the mirror up to my face to get the first glimpse of my teeth sans braces. I felt butterflies fluttering around in my stomach. I was so excited! I smiled proudly in the mirror. And then it happened: I saw the results staring back at me.
My heart sank. This isn’t what I had spent all those years in braces to end up with!
There they were—my straight teeth. But they didn’t look anything like my sister’s or my brother’s teeth. They were so tiny . . . so insignificant . . . so miniature. They almost looked like baby teeth! And even worse, not only did my teeth look unnaturally small, about half of my smile was gums!
I almost gasped. I snapped my lips shut to cover my teeth. I never wanted to smile again.
School photos (or any photos for that matter) were going to be a disaster. I certainly wasn’t going to stand next to my sister or my brother in family photos. No way! I wasn’t going to have my tiny teeth and my crummy smile compared to their glamorous Hollywood-esque pearly whites!
I was devastated. At the time, I was only 12 years old and it felt like my life was over.
The way I felt when my braces first came off may seem a little dramatic, but those feelings were definitely real. Over the years, I started becoming a bit more accepting of my smile, but not much. I still didn’t like it very much, but I didn’t feel as much horror about my smile as I did immediately after the braces were removed. People would often tell me that they loved my smile, so that helped.
But it didn’t change my overall dissatisfaction. I mean, sure, I had great teeth as far as health was concerned; I never had any cavities and my teeth were straight. They weren’t yellow or discolored but rather a pearly, translucent white. My gums were healthy, too. But I just didn’t like my smile. At the end of the day, I knew that if anyone ever gave me the chance to improve my smile, I would.
In February 2013, I was excited to start a new job at Arrowhead Dental Lab as a Doctor Relations Specialist. From the moment I started working at Arrowhead, I made it known that I’d be interested in being considered as a patient for the Full Arch Reconstruction seminar. I knew some of my colleagues at Arrowhead had been lucky enough to be chosen for this procedure and I hoped that someday, the chance would also be mine.
Sure enough, in the fall of 2013, less than a year after I started working for the company, my chance came! One afternoon, my supervisor told me that a patient spot had opened up in one of the upcoming full arch courses, and he wanted to know if I would be interested.
Life is kind of funny. Generally, when something isn’t an option, you totally want it immediately—and you have no patience to wait. But as soon as the thing that you want so badly becomes an option, you suddenly feel unsure. That’s exactly how I felt the moment my supervisor approached me with the full arch opportunity.
“Can I think about it tonight and get back to you?” I sheepishly asked.
“Of course,” he responded.
Immediately, a bevy of thoughts came flooding into my mind:
Was this really necessary? Certainly, my smile was fine as it was; maybe I should just be grateful for what I have. Can I really afford this? What is this going to feel like to have it done? Is it going to hurt? Oh yeah, they’re going to use needles to numb me. Oh no! It is going to hurt. I don’t want them using needles on me! I don’t know if I can go through with this.
My thoughts of uncertainty were not eased when I brought up the idea to my friends and family. I got a chorus of the same negative thoughts regarding the idea of getting my teeth redone. The responses were unanimous: “Don’t do it!” “Your teeth look great as they are!” “You have a great smile; why would you want to change it?”
The most resistance came from my boyfriend, Justin. We had just started dating and he was (which every new boyfriend should be) very happy with me the way I was. He didn’t think I needed to change a thing (he’s kind of great that way).
“I love your smile the way it is,” Justin told me. “I’ve known lots of people who have done this kind of thing and haven’t been happy,” he added. “I don’t think you should do it.”
My mind was spinning. Everyone agreed that I shouldn’t do it. But I had always dreamed of having the perfect smile. It is what I had wanted before I had braces. I wasn’t sure what to do.
The next morning, I talked to some of my colleagues at Arrowhead who had undergone the procedure, to get their opinions. It made sense to talk to people with firsthand knowledge about it, rather than people who were just giving me emotional responses based on fear.
A fellow Doctor Relations Specialist, Hope Gordon (who was featured on the cover story for Aesthetic Dentistry’s Winter 2013 issue) was one of the first people I approached. Hope was emphatic and enthusiastic with her advice. “Do it!” she told me. “It isn’t going to be as bad as you think. You won’t be sorry you did it.”
“Okay, good,” I thought. Hope’s advice was exactly what I needed to hear—someone who had already done it was being my cheerleader. Maybe this was the right choice? But I needed more than just one person’s opinion, so I polled the rest of my Arrowhead colleagues.
Everyone else I talked to gave me similar advice. They all told me that I was going to love my new smile and that I should definitely do it.
But I was still very worried about one thing—the pain. I had never even had a cavity filled, so I just could only imagine how painful this procedure would be. Also, I hated needles. I cringed at the thought of it.
When I talked to Dr. Brian Britton, who helped prep me for the procedure, he totally put my fears at ease. Dr. Britton told me not to worry in the slightest. He had this ‘magic medicine’ that he could put on my gums beforehand and I wouldn’t even feel the needle at all.
“Don’t worry about it,” Dr. Britton explained. “I’m good at what I do. I’ll make sure you don’t feel a thing.”
So that was it. All my concerns were addressed. I made my decision. I went to my supervisor that day and gave him my answer. “I’ll do it!” I told him.
On the Road to a Better Smile
The first step in my procedure was to check on my occlusion. During work one day, I happened to be observing an occlusion course taught by Dr. Jim Downs. Since Dr. Downs knew that I was an upcoming patient for a full arch course, he asked me to volunteer for an examination. After he looked at my bite, Dr. Downs determined that my Shimbashi was way off. A normal Shimbashi is around 16. Mine was 11. I knew what that meant: my bite was about 5 mm overclosed than it should be.
“Do you get headaches?” Dr. Downs asked.
I sure did. Every morning, I woke up with a headache—but didn’t everyone? Wasn’t that normal?
Dr. Downs assured me it was not and he thought the reason I was getting them was because my bite was way too tight.
Dr. Downs then fitted me for an orthotic. I wore it for a few months to open my bite. After just a short time, I noticed a big difference. As my Shimbashi improved, my headaches diminished. By the time my Shimbashi was corrected, my morning headaches disappeared completely.
So although I was getting my teeth redone for aesthetic purposes, I was also solving a medical issue at the same time! Now, I had even more confirmation that I made the correct decision to go through with the procedure.
In November 2013, I was prepped for my temporaries. Just as Dr. Britton had promised, he made sure the prepping was painless. He coated my gums with his ‘miracle gel’ and he was right; I didn’t feel the needle at all. I felt calm throughout the rest of the procedure because I knew I was in good hands.
I had my temps on from November 2013 until I was seated for my permanent Elite crowns by Dr. Jim Downs during a Full Arch Reconstruction course in February 2014. I remember feeling quite nervous that day—mainly because a large group of doctors gathered around me, staring inside my mouth.
I remember thinking, “Please don’t find anything gross!” Even though I felt nervous, I was super excited at the same time. Nearby, a television screen showed the procedure as it was being performed. I told myself, “Don’t look! Don’t look!” I didn’t want to see my smile before the entire arch was complete. Just like when I was getting my braces off years before, it felt like it was taking forever. Again, I was so excited—I couldn’t wait to see my new smile.
When everything was done, I remember Dr. Downs telling me to smile. When I did, he and all of the other dentists in the room and the various dental assistants all smiled back at me. Their faces gleamed with satisfaction. Dr. Downs picked up a small mirror from the nearby table and handed it to me.
“Take a look!” he told me.
I lifted the mirror up to get that first glimpse of my new Elite crowns. I felt butterflies fluttering around in my stomach. I was so excited. I smiled proudly in the mirror.
And then it happened. I saw the results staring back at me.
My heart felt like it would pop right out of my chest.
But this time, the smile in the mirror was the one I had always dreamed of! My teeth weren’t little baby teeth anymore. They were a normal length and they took up more of my smile than my gums did.
I was elated! I loved my new smile. I was so happy with my decision to go through with the procedure.
Beaming with Pride
Today, several months after the procedure, I am still just as happy with my new Elite smile as the first moment that I saw it. I am so glad that I put aside any fears and followed my dreams. My friends and family all love my smile now, even my boyfriend. My mom loves my smile so much that she wants to have her teeth done, too. I no longer feel ashamed of my smile in photos. In fact, for our next family photo, I plan on standing right next to my sister and proudly smiling with my biggest grin. The smile of my dreams is finally mine!
My new smile has also helped me with my work as a Doctor Relations Specialist at Arrowhead. Now, when I consult with doctors, I can give them specific, firsthand knowledge of the procedure. I can tell them, “Yes, this patient would be an excellent candidate for a full arch because . . .” and give them specific reasons based on my experience. I can tell them ways that they can help their patients feel more confident and less fearful. Yes, it’s true: I could have done these things without having undergone the procedure. However, since I have firsthand knowledge, I can speak with confidence, clarity, and authority on the subject because I know what it is like.
To anyone who has considered this procedure, but is worried about going through with it, I offer the same advice that Hope Gordon gave me: “Do it! It isn’t going to be as bad as you think. You won’t be sorry you did.”
COVER STORY CREATIVE TEAM
Aesthetic Dentistry: Dr. Jim Downs, Denver, CO
Porcelain restorations: Roy Petersen, Arrowhead Dental Laboratory, Sandy, UT
Photography: Justin Grant, JustinGrantPhotography.com
Hair and Make-up: Melinda Johnson, Salt Lake City, UT