The Dental Arts

I may be a bridgetender, but like an onion, I have many layers. I also have a degree in Dental Laboratory Technology and Management. I am fascinated with dental appliances and their fabrication. I graduated with honors. I had big dreams.

Not that those dreams went anywhere. After applying to 200 different labs with no viable offers, and after seeing that dental appliance technology is outpacing the little mom and pop labs that I hoped to be a part of, and after having a wrist surgery that would have made it extremely painful to do the fine motor movements required on a day to day basis, I wised up and went back to bridgetending.

But the fascination remains. So when I needed a crown replaced, I was delighted to see it’s entire design and creation chairside. We’ve certainly come a long way from the days when you had to get a gloopy, bad-tasting mold taken of your teeth, then come back weeks later to have a crown fitted that had been fabricated in an offsite lab.

Instead, they popped off my old crown, and took photographs of my teeth from every possible angle, and then, voila! A three-dimensional image of my teeth appeared on the computer screen. It was fascinating.

From there, Mary, the technologist, created a crown for me on screen. Make no mistake, this was no flimsy endeavor. This takes skill in both science and art. She has to have knowledge of oral anatomy and how various teeth interact with one another. And she also must create a final product that will not only be functional but also aesthetically pleasing. That’s an admirable talent.

I watched her create this tooth and enjoyed imagining her thought process. It was like digital sculpting. Leonardo da Vinci would have been intrigued. And proud.

She consulted with my dentist (a big shout out to Dr. Steven Lockett in Renton, Washington, and his entire amazing staff!) and did a few tweaks based on his suggestions, and then sent the data off to the machine for fabrication. I wish I could have seen that. I know that the machine carves the crown out of little blocks of some mysterious substance that is probably trademarked by the company that created CEREC, the CAD/CAM (computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing) system that my dentist uses.

I could be wrong, but I think of it kind of like 3d printing in reverse. Instead of creating things from a bead-like substance, this machine carves it down from a cube. I mean, seriously, how cool is that?

In no time flat, my crown was hot off the presses, so to speak, and ready to go into my mouth. In it went, and off I went. Just another thing checked off my to-do list. And yet, when I think of the science and artistry that went into the whole endeavor, I still am filled with awe.

By the way, one of my favorite blog posts is the one I wrote entitled Cool Stuff You Never Knew about your Teeth.  Check it out! If you don’t learn at least one thing from it, I’ll eat my hat. With my brand new crown.

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The Molar Mic

Having expended great effort to try, unfortunately without success, to become a Dental Laboratory Technologist, I am still fascinated by all innovations dental. You’d be surprised at how many there are. Needless to say, they rarely grab headlines.

But when a friend sent me this article about the Molar Mic, I was floored. Here you have a mic that fits on your back molar, and can not only transmit what you say, but also receive sound. That’s the fascinating part for me. Because you aren’t hearing those sounds through your ear, you’re hearing them through your bones. It never occurred to me that that was even possible. The sound vibrates through your skull right by your auditory nerve, and apparently with practice you can hear it quite well.

Now the Pentagon is interested. (Damn, but I wish I got in on the ground floor of that stock!) Apparently this thing has been tested out in Afghanistan and also during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, with very favorable results.

Imagine being able to communicate hands free, in a wide variety of environments, without even having to worry about dropping a device that is attached to your person. Imagine hearing things that other people can’t without having to worry about your sanity. The possibilities are endless.

Could this technology take a nefarious turn? Sure. Spying. Terrorism. Being recorded without your consent. It’s all possible, and, sadly, that’s  why this research will most likely continue to be funded.

But I’m imagining how this technology might evolve. I picture myself driving down the highway, discussing with my husband whether or not I need to bring home a gallon of milk. Sure, people might think I’m talking to myself, but hey, I’ve been known to do that anyway.

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George Washington vs. Donald Trump

Can you imagine what it must have been like to be the first president? I mean, the first, ever. In the history of the world. No pressure, right?

George Washington was quite a character. First of all, he was hellbent on making sure that no one mistook the presidency for a kingdom. He absolutely refused to wear outlandish, royal clothes. No thrones. None of this fancy stuff for him. He was not a vain man. He didn’t want to be perceived as superior to the people. He wanted to be considered a unifier.

He spent a lot of time traveling, talking to the people. That’s why so many places can claim, “Washington slept here.” I guess you could say he slept around. In that way, the presidency hasn’t changed much. But it definitely has in other ways.

For example, Washington had a staff of two, as opposed to the thousands that are on staff today. Granted, he didn’t have the population, or nearly as much need to be an international player, that the position has now. Back then, you could walk right up to the White House door and knock without being tackled. People picnicked on the White House lawn. Those days are gone.

According to Wikipedia, Washington was also the first (and last) president to ride at the head of an army to suppress an insurgency. He did so during the Whiskey Rebellion.

I can sort of understand why people were so upset. Here’s this federally imposed tax on a commodity that was often used as a trade good in lieu of currency, when they had just fought the Revolutionary War because of taxation. But governments can’t operate for free, so Washington had to nip that in the bud.

Speaking of nipping things in the bud, I’d like to put to rest two rumors about Washington that seem to persist. First of all, he never had wooden teeth. I mean, hello. Wood expands when exposed to moisture, and who wants to risk splinters in their mouth? No, his extremely uncomfortable dentures were a combination of ivory and human teeth. While they often looked brown, that doesn’t mean they were wooden.

The other myth is that Washington was foul-mouthed. Not only was he not prone to cursing, even though he often had good reason to, but he prohibited cursing amongst his troops. All his writings indicate that he was a dignified man, not inclined to outbursts. He would have sooner died than utter the words “pussy” or “shithole”. In fact, according to NPR, he swore by a set of precepts called the Rules of Civility, as taught to him by Jesuit instructors, which included the following: “Use no reproachful language against any one; neither curse nor revile.”

George Washington was an honorable man. He’d have been horrified by Trump’s language and behavior. He would be sickened by Trump’s mocking attitude. It would have never occurred to him to ask for a military parade in his honor, and he certainly wouldn’t be upset that people did not applaud him when he thought they should. Washington was not about being worshipped or adored. And Washington would never, not in a million years, have dodged the draft.

George Washington was far from perfect, but in terms of ethics, morality, dignity and class, you might say that these two presidents are, indeed, centuries apart.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

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Yep. These are George’s choppers. Ouch.

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Bruxing

True confession: I am a bruxist. When I’m feeling stress, I tend to clench my jaw and/or grind my teeth. I don’t even realize I’m doing it much of the time. I even do it in my sleep. I know I’m going through a rough patch when I wake up in the morning and my jaw aches.

Once, I had a dream that I was deep within the bowels of an old, creaking wooden ship. I woke up and could still hear the creaking. It was me, grinding my teeth so hard that they were groaning in protest. Needless to say, I got a night guard to wear right after that. I’d kind of like to keep my teeth.

But for the past week I’ve had to wear my night guard even in the daytime. I had a filling replaced, and my constant grinding was not allowing the area to heal. I had to go back to the dentist 3 times for bite adjustments, and in the meantime my clenching and grinding caused the ligaments under the tooth root to get bruised. So here I am, wearing the adult version of a pacifier, feeling really grateful that I work alone, and looking forward to the day when I’m not in pain anymore.

My subconscious does its best to send me signals when all is not right in my world. Unfortunately, I’m quite adept at ignoring them. So then the signals get louder or more persistent, until I get with the program. I think I need to pay closer attention to what I’m trying to say to myself.

Our bodies have a language all their own. Since they cannot speak, they act out in other ways. Panic attacks. Back spasms. Stomach upsets. Reduced immunity. Heart attacks. It’s best to listen to these messages while they’re still “whispers” instead of “shouts”.

Bruxism

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Credit Where Credit Is Due

If you were told that someone had a talent that only a handful of people on the entire planet had, wouldn’t you be impressed? Wouldn’t you be even more impressed if you knew that person was also a free speech advocate, had been in a few films, organizes for street performers, is a storyteller and has a radio show?

Meet Abby the Spoon Lady. This woman is talented beyond measure. She’s also intelligent, well-traveled, and dedicated. That should be all anyone needs to know about her.

But that’s not how the world works. If you check out her Youtube channel or Facebook page, both of which show you dozens of amazing performances, you’ll be enchanted. Unless you start reading the comments. Then, if you’re like me, you’ll be infuriated. While many people recognize her talent, trolls abound. They criticize her looks. They criticize her clothes. They criticize her lack of teeth.

It seems to me that if Abby were a man, she wouldn’t get this type of feedback. But being a woman in the music world, you’re supposed to be glamorous and perfect in every way, or you can’t be taken seriously. I don’t find Willie Nelson particularly attractive, but you don’t hear people discussing that to the point where his talent gets forgotten, do you?

Give Abby a break. I think she’s beautiful. I think her talent is also beautiful. I think the world is a much more beautiful place because she’s in it. I hope I get to see her perform live someday. And if I do, I hope the trolls stay home.

Abby_the_Spoon_Lady

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Freeway Space

Every career field seems to have its own nomenclature. When I was getting my degree in Dental Laboratory Technology and Management, I had to learn a whole host of new words and phrases. My all-time favorite was “Freeway Space.”

Freeway space is that gap between your upper and lower teeth that naturally occurs when your jaw is relaxed. When making dentures, for example, you always have to allow for freeway space. Otherwise the poor unfotunate who wears them will never be comfortable.

The funny thing about that is that I had never even realized that my teeth aren’t touching most of the time. We really don’t spend much time thinking about the spaces in between, the gaps, the absence of things. We can barely wrap our heads around the things that are present.

In this case, though, it makes perfect sense. We wouldn’t want our teeth to be constantly grinding, grinding, grinding on each other. (For that, I simply have to go to sleep. Thank goodness for night guards!) All that friction, and we’d be toothless in no time.

But mostly, I just like the idea of freeway space. It sounds like such a laid back place to be. Free. The way. Spacey. Give me my freeway space.

I once had a Tai Chi instructor who would say, at the end of class, “Don’t forget to put a love bubble around your car.” It was his way of telling us to drive carefully. It used to make me inwardly snicker. As much as I love cheese, that concept was just a bit too cheesy for me.

But if he had said, “Give yourself some freeway space,” I’d have said, “Dude. Yeah. I will. Thanks.”

And my jaw would have instantly relaxed.

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The Size of the Fight in the Dog

So, I’m trying to get out of my rental lease early, in order to move into my new (to me) house. That means I need to swallow really hard and allow potential renters to root around in my underwear drawer in my absence. My dog Quagmire is less than thrilled by this process.

You’ve got to understand, Quagmire is a little bad ass. He’s been through a lot in his life. He refuses to talk about it. But he was found running the streets, half starved to death. He wasn’t fixed, and he’s middle aged, so the only thing I can guess is that he escaped from, or was ejected from, a puppy mill.

Needless to say, he’s not a people dog. He is bonded to me, for sure. That little Dachshund manages to keep me warm at night. But no one else is allowed in our house. Not if he has anything to say about it.

He once bit a cop on the ankle. Well, technically, he gummed a cop on the ankle, because I had to have his front teeth removed when I adopted him. They were all cracked. Someone must have kicked him. But the cop had no way of knowing that. I’m grateful that he didn’t discharge his weapon.

I haven’t had many visitors since Quagmire moved in. He gummed a friend of mine who never liked dogs in the first place. If anyone so much as knocks on the door, he barks and lunges and growls.

In essence, I’m living with a wiener-shaped Pitt Bull with a major chip on his shoulder. Well, as the saying goes, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. So good luck, potential renters! You are about to encounter a furry little ninja! Try not to take it personally.

Update: We found a renter just yesterday! I don’t know who is more relieved, my dog or me!

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Cool Stuff You Never Knew about your Teeth

My latest degree is an AAS in Dental Laboratory Technology and Management, so I’ve spent a great deal of time learning about teeth and their anatomy and function. Teeth are a lot more complex than people realize. To quote Hermey the elf in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, “It’s fascinating! You’ve no idea! Molars and bicuspids and incisors…”

Anyway, I could go on for hours, but without using too many technical terms, here are a few cool things about teeth that you may not know:

  • Every ridge and crevice in your teeth serves a purpose. When aligned correctly, the ridges help you grind your food so that you can digest it properly, and the crevices help you sluice away debris so that you don’t leave a lot of food behind to create cavities.
  • When your teeth grow in your jaw, each tooth starts off as several individual parts, called “lobes” that eventually fuse together. Your molars, toward the back, are made up of 4 or 5 distinct lobes.
  • This blows my mind. The shape of your teeth is closely related to the shape of your face. If you have a round face, your teeth tend to be more rounded. If you have a square or rectangular or triangular countenance, your teeth will likely follow suit.
  • Women’s gum lines tend to be more curved than men’s.
  • The reason whitening toothpaste works is that it contains material that grinds away your tooth’s enamel to expose the dentin underneath, which is whiter. The problem with that is that you can’t get that enamel back, and it’s there for a reason. It’s harder, protects the tooth, and helps prevent cavities. Also, once the pretty white dentin is exposed, it starts becoming less white. It’s a vicious cycle. Personally I will never use toothpaste that has that whitening factor.
  • Teeth are subject to something called “mesial drift”, which means they have a tendency to move forward in your mouth if nothing gets in their way. That’s why it’s never good to just pull a tooth and leave nothing in that space, because all the teeth behind it will start marching forward like little soldiers, but unfortunately they won’t always be disciplined enough to stay in a straight line.
  • If you have an infection in your tooth, it’s a really bad idea to ignore it, because that infection can travel to your sinuses, your brain, even your heart, via the lymphatic system. It’s really dangerous.
  • The minute you remove teeth and don’t replace the gap with something, the bone that supported those teeth begins to resorb, which is basically a fancy word for slowly dissolving. Not a good situation if you want to have tooth implants later. The less bone the dentist has to work with, the less options you will have.
  • When your jaw is relaxed, your upper teeth are usually not touching your lower teeth. This is called “freeway space”. I bet you never noticed that. I know I didn’t.
  • This isn’t exactly tooth trivia, but I find it interesting. You know the ridges on the roof of your mouth? They’re called rugae, and they’re there to give your tongue traction so you can speak properly. That’s why people with nice slippery retainers talk funny. No traction.
  • There are an amazing amount of tooth anomalies out there. Some people’s teeth will come in in the wrong order. Some will develop multiple copies of the same tooth. Some people’s teeth will come out of the roof of their mouth, or erupt sideways. Some people’s tooth roots will twist around each other, or they’ll form additional roots.
  • The more mixed your heritage, the more likely you are to have problems with the development of your teeth. For example, if you inherit the large teeth from your mother’s side of the family combined with the small jaw from your father’s side, your teeth are going to be crowded and come in every which way.
  • That whole thing about George Washington having wooden teeth? Total myth. Wood swells when it gets wet. He did have several sets of dentures, but they were made of ivory, gold and (gulp) lead. It has also been said that some of his teeth originally belonged to his slaves.
  • I can’t stress this enough. If your dentist gives you a retainer, WEAR IT. If your teeth have been moved, it takes a long time for the underlying bone to fill in where your teeth are no longer located. That means if you don’t have a retainer to RETAIN your teeth in their current position, they’ll slide right back to their old location, and all that hard work, discomfort and expense will have been a huge waste of time. One of my biggest regrets is that I stopped wearing my retainer. Also, don’t go bending the wires of your retainer. They’re positioned for very specific reasons.

I’ll leave you with this: Anthropologists have discovered that even the Neanderthals brushed their teeth. They used sticks, which have left behind grooves in the fossil teeth, which is why we know of their habits. So, even cavemen knew the importance of brushing their teeth. I bet they’d have used floss if it were available, too. So you have no excuse.

teethThis actual tooth image is by Joshua Polansky, of Niche Dental Studio. He’s my Dental Lab hero because he stresses the artistry of his work above all else, and I hope to do this, too. He has many other gorgeous images that are available in poster form, and I hope that some day they will adorn the walls of my own dental lab. You can see his art work here.

More than Just a Case

Back in 1999 I had to have major surgery. I’d never even spent the night in a hospital, so I was terrified. So terrified, in fact, that for three weeks prior to the event I was clenching my teeth in my sleep with such intensity that my dentist told me that I had caused hairline fractures in every tooth in my head. The day before the surgery I had to go in and get a routine EKG and have a chat with the anesthesiologist. While I was waiting I could hear the staff talking about this case or that case, and I thought, “I don’t want to be considered just a case. My very life is going to be in these people’s hands.”

When it was finally my turn, the anesthesiologist came in and we talked about allergies and medical history and all the usual doctor stuff. He was quite professional and polite, and extremely efficient. These are all qualities you want in a person who is going to knock you out. But I wanted something else. As he was about to leave, I said, “Wait! One more thing.” He came back in and he looked up from my chart for the first time. I said, “Hi. My name is Barb. I have people that love me. Okay? And I have bad habits and I get impatient and people don’t always get my sense of humor and…Oh, hell, I don’t know. I just want you to know I’m a person.” He got really quiet. He sat down. He looked me in the eyes, shook my hand and said, “Nice to meet you, Barb. I’m Mike.”

That night, I didn’t grind my teeth. And the next morning, the surgery went off without a hitch. So to all doctors out there: I know you’re busy. But it doesn’t take much. Just a little humanity.

Female patient and male doctor(8)

(Image credit: blog.medicalcenterarlington.com)