My Last Baby Tooth – Part 1

I’m labeling this post as "Part 1" as this is, unfortunately, a story that is going to have at least a couple more chapters over the next several weeks.

When I was a child, a routine dental exam revealed that one of my baby teeth did not show any signs of a permanent tooth growing beneath it.  The dentist explained that without a permanent tooth coming in, I would not lose the baby tooth in the normal manner and that the baby tooth would hopefully last for a pretty long time.  On the other hand, he did acknowledge that baby teeth obviously aren’t intended to last a lifetime and that, sooner-or-later, it would begin to break down and have to be removed.  This was back in the late 1970s.  Over the subsequent years, I’ve had two different fillings put in the tooth in order to help strengthen it but, otherwise, it has largely served as an odd conversation piece during visits to new dentists.

A few weeks ago, I started to notice that the area around that tooth was becoming sensitive.  Touching the jaw-line around the location of that tooth causes a jolt of pain, focused around the spot where the baby tooth meets the gum.  It hasn’t yet given me any kind of continuous pain and, usually, it hasn’t really been too much of a problem while eating. I was obviously concerned that the discomfort was an indication that the tooth was failing and put off a visit to the dentist for a few weeks on the faint hope that the problem would just go away.  Earlier this week, I finally decided that it wasn’t going to clear up (and it was also getting a bit worse), so Thursday I did go to see the dentist.

The dentist did confirm what I was afraid of.  The tooth is finally breaking down and now will need to come out.  His recommendation is to replace it with an implant, which is an artificial root that is put in by an oral surgeon and then can be used as the support for a crown.  The implant is a titanium rod that the oral surgeon basically screws into the jawbone through an incision made in the gum.  I hope that is more fun than it sounds but I somehow doubt that it will be.  On the positive side, the dentist assured me that the use of a crown with the implant is pretty much indistinguishable from a real tooth in look, feeling, and function.

At Thursday’s appointment, they took an X-ray and the dentist did a short exam to confirm the problem.  They then took a huge number of photos.  I find it interesting how much high-tech digital technology is now involved in dentistry.  They now have monitors at the dental chairs and all the photos and X-rays are immediately transferred to a computer (running Windows XP…) and displayed right away.  At the beginning of the appointment, the hygienist took several digital photos of the tooth in addition to the X-ray.  They have a tiny digital camera at the end of a wand (similar to the electric toothbrushes they use for cleanings) making it easy to take the close-up photos.  For some reason, I found it really funny that every time she took a photo, an old-fashioned camera shutter sound played loudly from the computer behind me.

After the diagnosis and determination that an implant was going to be needed, the dentist then took a whole bunch of photos of my teeth using a Nikon digital SLR camera.  The camera had a very large, presumably specialized lens that was also fitted with a number of lights, which I would imagine were needed to get anything recognizable in the photos.  Presumably this was intended to fully document my mouth to help with getting the right sizing and coloring of the implant and crown.  The whole thing felt rather weird, though.  I’m not an extraordinarily comfortable photographic subject under good conditions, so it felt really strange having someone snap all these close-ups of my mouth, often with a metal instrument (the doctor called it a "lip retractor") holding my mouth wide opened.

Finally, to better inform me on the implant, they showed me a short video about it.  This was obviously produced by the manufacturer and was hosted by a doctor who was apparently one of the designers of the procedure.  The whole thing was kind of cheesy and I was a bit amused how he kept explaining all the potential side effects or complications with statements to the effect of "we are ethically obligated to inform you of this, but it very rarely ever happens." Fortunately, it did sound like most of the risks were pretty minor and included the typical "risk of infection" that is there with any surgical procedure as well as potential impacts to bite, speech, appearance, etc. any of which could easily be corrected.

The video also went over the alternative treatments that were available.  Ever since I first learned about this tooth, I remember being told that eventually a "bridge" would be needed to replace the tooth.  Doing a little research online, I found that implants started becoming generally available in the early 1980s (not that long after I first found out about my tooth), but I suspect that they have probably become much more common and routine in recent years.  A bridge is a much more destructive approach where the dentist files down the teeth on either side of the gap and then fits crowns over both.  The artificial tooth is then attached to and anchored in place by those two crowns.  Obviously, the big disadvantage of this is that it requires otherwise perfectly good teeth to be damaged and crowned.  The implant process leaves the other teeth alone.

The next step of this process will be the extraction of the baby tooth, which is scheduled for Wednesday, May 7th.  They mentioned that they would call me if an appointment opens up that would allow it to be done sooner, but I admit that I’m not in that big a rush.  I’m sure I’d be more anxious if I were in more continuous pain, but right now I simply find this to be something I dread more than welcome.  I know I need to get it done, though.

In addition to doing the extraction at the May 7th appointment, the doctor said that they would take the necessary measurements and impressions to prepare for the implant procedure.  They also will give me all the remaining information that I need at that appointment to get the surgery scheduled.  I’m not sure how long it will end up being between the two procedures.  Fortunately, the tooth is towards the back, so I shouldn’t look too much like a clumsy hockey player during that time.

Look for the next installment of this story shortly after May 7th!

8 Responses to “My Last Baby Tooth – Part 1”

  1. Dáire says:

    Greeting from Ireland!

    I found your article very interesting as I’m currently undergoing orthodontic treatment and I have been for a few years. I was put under a general anesthetic when I had my wisdom teeth removed because I also a buried adult eye tooth which wasn’t coming down from the roof of my mouth removed.

    I am currently under the impression from my orthodontist that he has no other plans for my baby eye tooth apart from leaving it in my mouth and juggling it around with the rest of my teeth. I was in with my local dentist yesterday for a clean, who I give periodic updates about my orthodontic treatment to but who otherwise has no other connection with my orthodontist, and he inquired after the baby eye tooth and asked me if my orthodontist was going to leave a gap for an implant or if not what was the plan. He also told me that I can’t really expect it to last beyond my 20s and I’m 24 now.

    I’m not in again with my orthodontist until the 7th of July so I will have to wait until then to sit down with him and discuss but I’m worried he’s not going to tell me he has any extra plans to circumvent its inevitable failure as a replacement for an adult tooth.

    Did you have your procedure and are you still alive?! As mentioned above I was fortunate enough to be under general anesthetic for my 5 removals…. thus far.

  2. jgraebner says:

    As posted in “part 2″ of this entry, I did have the tooth extracted a couple weeks ago. It was pretty painful, but I did survive. From what I was told, my extraction was a bit more difficult than this type usually is (the tooth was apparently somewhat fused to the bone), so your mileage may vary.

    I haven’t done anything about the implant yet. The dentist indicated that I needed to wait 3-4 weeks for the extraction to fully heal first and that timing runs into a long-planned family vacation. At this point, I plan to deal with the implant after I get back from the trip, which would put it into early July. The gap in my teeth is a bit annoying, but I can live with it for a bit longer. It helps that it is towards the back, so at least it isn’t visible.

    Good luck with all your dental projects! Hopefully it will work out without being too difficult.

  3. kerenlove says:

    hi im am 25 years old going throught orthotendics treatment as well my problem is that i have a canine impacted in my pallet and i still have my baby tooth im so scared going throught the surgery althaught i had four of my wisdom teeth removed!i hope my baby tooth will last ..i know the best thing to do is going throught the surgery and have the tooth exposed but im very concerned about the surgery what should i do ???

  4. jgraebner says:

    Dental surgery is no fun, but I can speak from experience that it is very possible to get through it. As scary as it is, I think it is far better than the alternative. I’m not a doctor/dentist, so I can’t give definitive advice, but my suggestion would be to follow the recommendations of your dentist. If he thinks you need the surgery, it is almost certainly the best thing to do.

  5. Yes, Dental Implant is not fun, Dental implants are the procedure to take for the recovery and restoration of your dental structure. With a dental implant, the implant material is directly fused into your bone structure resulting in a structural and functional connection between the living bone and the implant. This means, that with a dental implant, you can do everything you can with your natural teeth, without any trouble or special care. This procedure is the most effective solution for healthy and natural teeth.

  6. Jolene says:

    I found your article and website very interesting. It’s definitely a great resource for information regarding dental implants, tooth implants.
    I just added you to my list of bookmarked websites. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  7. Diane says:

    I am 56 years old and still have 2 baby teeth. They’re doing just fine

  8. Rick says:

    I am a 64-year-old male who has never lost my two bottom baby teth. All of my dentists through the years told me I would hav them forever. Then, about a year ago, a very young associate of my dentist cheerfully informed me that I would need implants and here is the info, etc. etc. I visited the oral surgeon/implant specialist who told me it would cost aobut $3,000 per tooth. I am looking for an alternative incuduing just getting the worst of the two pulled and wait to see if I want to do the rest. The worst of the two has roots that show up on the photos as being quite dark. Suggestions? Advice?

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