Yesterday, I bit into an apple and heard that satisfying “crack” that happens as the fruit's skin breaks and a bit juice dribbles down the chin. Now, some of you are undoubtedly thinking that this is nothing to write home (or a blog post) about but you would be wrong, and I suspect many old people agree with me.
For nearly a decade, I wore an old-fashioned, conventional upper denture that, as they all do, covered the entirety of the gum and roof of my mouth. Even though the fit of my denture was extraordinarily good, biting an apple and eating corn on the cob have been nothing but a memory.
Also, for all these years, I felt that I alone supported the Sriracha hot sauce company so that I could taste at least something.
Many people do not know there are taste buds located on our upper palate, fewer than on the tongue for sure, but they are there and they contribute to our ability to taste. With the denture, along with normal decline in taste buds with age, most food has been a weak shadow of its previous self to me. Strong hot sauce gave mild-tasting food some oomph.
There's a boring, old joke among elders: If I'd known I would live this long, I'd have taken better care of my teeth. All too true although god knows I put thousands more dollars in my mouth over the years than the rest of my body required to keep it in working order.
Fifteen months ago, I wound up in a dentist's office with a huge infection in my upper gum. Of course, I couldn't wear my denture during the week it took to heal so I was stuck at home for the duration because nobody – NOBODY gets to see me without it.
Afterward, the denture never fit right again and I needed to use that disgusting “glue” to keep it in place, something I'd never required before. I asked the dentist if there wasn't some other solution for me.
Sure, he said, implants. Except the number I would need for an entire upper gum is so far beyond my means that it might as well be labeled Trumpian. When I explained that, he suggested an “overdenture.”
In my case, it would involve implants, but only four saving me tens of thousands of dollars. It turned out, however, there was a snag. Because I'm old and have some bone loss, before implants could be made we had to grow me some new bone in my upper gum.
This was an entirely new idea to me and I consider it a miracle. The dentist drilled several holes, inserted powdered human bone from which the DNA has been removed so my body would not reject it and then we let it sit for several months until x-rays showed that it had hardened and grown together with my own bone. Like I said, a miracle.
(There are other kinds of bone grafting that might be used in this procedure depending on individual circumstances.)
More drilling came next to insert the titanium implants. They too sat there for several months until the metal had fused with bone. By this time, a year had passed but like most long-term projects, in my old age I no longer have the impatience that plagued my youth.
Or maybe it was that well-known elder phenomenon of time passing so swiftly now that we hardly notice a year gone by.
Molds were made of my gum with the implants and of the teeth in my old-fashioned denture to create the overdenture. There is a great deal miniature engineering involved, but there is art involved too.
For example, compared to my real teeth, the bite was slightly off kilter in my old denture and the dentist has corrected it now to be reasonably close to what I recall it had been with my original teeth.
Here is a drawing I found online of what an overdenture – my kind, anyway – looks like (this shows six implants; I have four).
The “wire” between the implants, like the implants themselves, is made of nearly indestructible titanium. On the inside of the overdenture, not shown here, are tiny "clips" to match the wires so that the denture snaps into place on the wire and is unsnapped each day for removal to clean it and the wire.
Finally, there are a series of minute adjustments over a few weeks to alleviate any painful areas on the gum and shave any thick spots on the denture. In my case, the cut in the denture above the two front teeth had to be lengthened so it would not rub against the frenulum (also frenum) - that little fold of tissue that connects the gum to the inner lip.
These and some other final fixes will be done in one or two more visits and I will be a much happier woman. Well, I already am if you don't count that I choke whenever I think of the price.
The total came to just over $18,000, about half the average price for a full set of implants although prices vary widely from place to place, dentist to dentist and specific procedures required.
I am deeply aware of how lucky I am, that many people cannot afford this. One of the great failings of Medicare is that except in very few, very specific (read: hardly any) circumstances, it does not cover routine dental work and certainly not implants or dentures.
The money for my overdenture and the work involved came out of my end-of-life fund intended to pay for my care for a couple of years if I become completely disabled.
It took a long while to decide to go forward but in the end it came down to the fact that sometimes you just need to close your eyes, take a leap and hope for the best.
It's not rational but I'm hoping to live long enough before I need the end-of-life fund for it to be replenished from some careful, safe investments. It's worth the gamble to me to once again fully enjoy one of life's greatest pleasures - food in all its glory of amazing tastes.
Now there will be a lot more apples eaten as they should be (crunch), much tastier food in general and come summer, I'm looking forward to my first corn on the cob in a long time - no hot sauce needed.