6. The Denture Experience

I suspect some of my previous remarks about the Dental Hospital sound mean minded and ungrateful and I don’t want to give that impression.   No one has treated me badly.   They are so decent it’s another world.  The students, regular staff, instructors are all courteous, kind, considerate and they try to explain things.  Nothing at all like my experience of dentists in the marketplace.  Maybe one reason people put off going to the hospital and give it a bad rap is that they have already been mistreated, lied and condescended to and robbed by dentists in the marketplace and they expect the hospital that trained them to be all that and worse.  And it is not so.  Maybe it’s that people see what they think they are going to see or later organize the story of what happened to be consistent with what they previously expected would happen.  Its easier than admitting you are wrong.  Most people cant cope with paradox very well.  It doesn’t bother me greatly because I once studied philosophy.  That’s my explanation anyhow and its no credit to me, I just had some good teachers.  Anyhow there is paradox to confront.  These people are helpful and kind when working  in the hospital or community health centres but their peers in private practices are blatant extortionists.

Over 12 appointments in 5 months they patched me up anyhow, removed what wasn’t salvageable and filled the rest and made partial dentures for top and bottom.  And with another 5 appointments over the next year all together it cost me  about $250.  Private treatment  I calculated  would come to a bit over $4000.  Funny that.  Same as the amount the government scheme allocated per person.  I must be a very representative piece of average.  The doctor who had first filled in paperwork for me to get private treatment under the Scheme was perplexed that I would choose not to take up the Scheme’s opportunity for treatment by a ‘proper’ dentist.  Apart from having to explain again that no ‘proper dentist’ wanted to deal with me anyway I said I would not persist in trying to find one because I  preferred the treatment I’d got at the hospital, I’d have paid  them more if they’d asked rather than be a conduit for taxpayers money into the pockets of a class of nefarious shysters (the dental profession for those who are not concentrating.  That’s you Gavin.)

The main problem is the dentures.  I haven’t yet met anyone who is comfortable and happy about them.  They look fine.  They probably help keep your face in better shape.  I’ve had them for a year.  I’ve put them in place most days for as long as I could stand.  That is about 4 hours maximum if there is no option, generally 2 hours is the limit.  Then I cant wait to get home and rip them out.  The mouth’s first reaction is to salivate like mad trying to sluice the foreign objects out.  Then it goes on strike and dries out to a bad extent.  Continual speech becomes awkward.  Eating with them in the mouth is not possible.  At least there is no pleasure in the experience.  The first time I had them I thought ‘we’ll take this carefully to start’ and I made up a bowl of strawberries and cream.  I desisted just before I choked on a nasty combo of detached lower denture, mushed berries in the wire and cream.  You can’t taste food properly with most of the mouth covered in thick plastic (latex or whatever they are made of.)  You cant chew food at all. The dentures don’t have the same cutting edges that teeth have and they are not long enough, just a couple of milimetres poking out of the pink plastic.  ‘They’ suggest you cut the food up into little pieces.  And toss it down your throat I suppose.  You can’t even enjoy a cup of tea.  At first I thought I was just being precious, finicky about it all but when I started talking to other people I found they agreed.  It’s like a shameful secret.  Everyone thinks everyone else is managing better and its their own fault somehow if they are not.  ‘They’ tell you to persevere, persist and it’ll get better.  It doesn’t.

All this puts a damper on your social life; at our age people’s idea of socializing seems to involve a lot of shared dining.  Something I took for granted before.  You have to make sure you get roughage in your diet and masticate it properly or you will become constipated and a legion of ills that spin off from that.  It makes any jobs where you might have to talk a lot over 4-8 hours or look presentable to the public impossible.  Earlier generations got through this; I salute them now and I’m sorry I didn’t understand sooner what they were going through.  Maybe if the experience started 30 or 40 years ago it’d be easier, I don’t know.  So I’ve become reclusive and apparently grumpy.  Even going out for a coffee and piece of cake has become not worth the trouble either alone or in company.  The result is I have lost, am losing, a lot of weight, I’ve gone from a loose comfortable size 12 to a very loose size 8 in danger of slipping right off.  Some might think its great to be nothing but skin, bone, muscle and  tendons, I leaned that way myself even but not any more.  I try to grab a handful of flesh from my thighs or hips or bottom but I can’t.  I’ve never felt so fragile and vulnerable.  A robust friend gave me a hug recently and I was afraid he’d break my ribs.  And I am stronger and more muscular than average.

Why has there been no research and development here?  Surely there is some other material which uses suction rather  than rather than twists of wire to stay in place.  Why not something softer and  flexible  that moves with those hundreds of muscles that make up the face that could be used instead of these stiff plastic plates.  Why do you think so many older people look unhappy, mouths set, faces frozen without expression?  Surely the teeth themselves could be  more like the real thing instead of these useless blunt stumps.  Research goes on to make better implants, though the idea has been around forever but dentures remain the option for the poor and the old, you cant get rich out of  them so there it goes.  Forget about that.   Trouble is the kind and considerate people, at the hospital at least, I’m not talking about private practitioners, forget them, who offer advice and instructions are talking about something they have no first hand knowledge of and never will usually.  No one tells them because we all think ‘it is just me, I need to try harder, longer.’  And even if we do tell them they have a way of not hearing.  We know that.   Its a bad habit we humans all have of tuning out what we don’t want to know;  ‘what smoke that smells like meat coming out those chimneys? No, someones just doing a bit of burning off’.  So we give up trying to speak the unhearable.

For a long time there wasn’t a day I didn’t wake up to wish I was dead and to speculate on how that might be done.  After a very long time I have become reacquainted with depression.  One reason I suppose why its taken me a long time to get back to this.  At first at least for a couple of hours a day it felt good to be able to walk down the street and smile at a child without scaring them.  Or talk to someone without being distracted by their being distracted with the state of my teeth, or lack of them.  Now I’m not so sure I care though I dislike the self obsession that comes with depression.

 

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