When I was sixteen, the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I fell off a bicycle. At that time, my family had a summer home in Lake Waubeeka, Danbury CT. Some of the roads were very hilly and riding down one of them I missed a turn, tumbled over, and fell. I lost several of my front teeth as well as breaking my jaw and compressing vertebrae.
This happened over 50 years ago but some of the consequences from that accident are still with me today. The lasting impact has been on my teeth. Prior to the accident I had decent looking teeth and didn’t even require braces. I did have a canine tooth that had never descended but I liked the way that looked. It was a little funky and, a teenager in the late 1960s, I thought it gave me some panache.
My memory is that I didn’t lose that tooth in the accident but sometime afterwards a dentist decided it needed to be removed. The first apparatus I got to deal with the loss of my front teeth was a removable partial. At the age of 16 I now had something in my mouth that I thought was only for old people.
I was a self-conscious teenager, maybe all teenagers are self-conscious, so it is amazing to me that I didn’t really let the accident and what it did to my appearance bother me that much. After I recovered, I just went on with my business.
Once I was in graduate school, about six years after the accident, I switched dentists. I then kept that dentist for 46 years even though I moved away from New York City 41 years ago. Dr. John was a conservative dentist and left my mouth and the partial alone for a few years. In 1986 or 1987 – at least sixteen years after the accident – I got a fixed bridge – false teeth that stay in your mouth. They are glued in.
Besides being conservative in his treatment approach, Dr. John was also a perfectionist. As a result, I had the best-looking false teeth one could imagine. After another ten years, he decided it was time for implants. When I first started seeing him, implants were a recent technology and Dr. John wasn’t sure I would have enough bone to support them.
Eventually, after refinancing our mortgage to afford the procedure, after surgery and bone grafts, and multiple attempts to get the teeth looking pristine, I had implants. I still have them. Last summer I went to New York and saw Dr. John who told me two things. The first was that the left canine tooth needed an implant, the first time since 1996, that I would need one. The other thing was that he was retiring.
It is hard to say which news was more devastating. It has been almost a year and I am still grieving that Dr. John is no longer my dentist. A surgeon in Amherst extracted the tooth and I began the protracted process of healing and waiting. In April, the Amherst surgeon told me I couldn’t get the implant. Although I didn’t say this to him, I have kept wondering why I had the tooth extracted if I can’t get an implant. I am going for a second opinion so the story isn’t over yet.
My recent troubles with this tooth and a potential implant have reminded me of the accident and the trauma that I suffered as a result. Although, thankfully I have been able to have a happy and fulfilled life despite the physical scars and disfigurement from it, the accident remains a terrible thing that happened to me that I can’t completely escape or resolve.