Back in the chair

Im­plant saga

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - Mike Master­son Mike Master­son is a long­time Arkansas jour­nal­ist. Email him at mmas­ter­son@arkansason­line.com.

I’m fully re­clined in the leather chair again, star­ing into the light above as Dr. Der­rick John­son, the na­tion­ally re­garded spe­cial­ist in im­plant­ing lost teeth, pre­pares to con­tinue the re­build­ing process.

Hard to be­lieve a year has passed since he pulled three of my ail­ing rear up­pers and laid the ground­work for what’s hap­pen­ing to­day. Yeah, I con­fess to be­ing a bit ner­vous, but the man is a wizard with the Novo­caine ad­min­is­tered slowly in pre­cise amounts to avoid pain.

This time John­son is do­ing his thing not where we started al­most a year ago at his Moun­tain Home fa­cil­ity, but rather in a sec­ond new In­te­grated Den­tistry of­fice just off Exit 88 in Bentonville. John­son now trav­els be­tween that new, blue build­ing and Moun­tain Home.

I’d writ­ten pre­vi­ously that Dr. John­son and I share a com­mon back­ground in that he was a den­tal stu­dent at Ohio State Univer­sity dur­ing my ten­ure as di­rec­tor of the Ki­plinger Public Af­fairs Fel­low­ship Re­port­ing Pro­gram there be­tween 1989 and 1994.

—————— As promised, I’m keep­ing read­ers ap­prised of my progress in hav­ing four up­per mo­lars trans­planted so at age 70 I can con­tinue to chew un­til chew­ing no longer mat­ters.

I fig­ured in the big scheme of life’s fi­nances, there’s not much more crit­i­cal (or en­joy­able) in the de­clin­ing years than be­ing able to chew one’s food, even if it’s gruel with ched­dar. With the pop­u­lar­ity of im­plants on the rise, I de­cided to hit the re­tire­ment ac­count and ex­plain the process for those who de­cide to have it done. Hear­ing from the one be­ing treated is the best way to know what it’s like.

This was part three in my saga. It was time to ac­tu­ally place three of the four im­plants into my up­per rear gum­line where a bone ma­trix for months has been slowly ad­her­ing to my nat­u­ral bone. One im­plant had been placed at the last visit when more bone was added else­where, so it was time for the posts for my new teeth to be placed in align­ment with those re­main­ing be­low. Adding bone was much sim­pler than I’d ex­pected, and I never felt it.

It’s al­ways been a con­cern of mine that some­how my im­planted teeth might not line up with the ones be­low. Then I’d re­al­ize how painfully me­thod­i­cal the doc­tor had been in his X-rays, scans and visual mea­sure­ments at ev­ery step.

His reg­is­tered nurse, Mon­ica Sch­nei­der, had care­fully in­serted the IV I’d re­quested to keep me calm (along with a mask to pro­vide laugh­ing gas I’d al­ways wanted to try, such a sissy man), and once numbed from be­neath my cheeks to the back of my up­per jaws, John­son be­gan by mark­ing pre­cisely where and at what an­gles these would go, all based on his mod­els.

In those ar­eas, he then drilled im­plants into the newly grown bone be­fore hand-screw­ing their fi­nal turns into ideal po­si­tion. I felt noth­ing ex­cept some slight pres­sure. All the while he and Mon­ica were telling me to take deep breaths. Did I need more Novo­cain? Was I comfy?

I found it in­ter­est­ing as I lay lis­ten­ing to the soft mu­sic in such a user-friendly en­vi­ron­ment that, had I not mis­tak­enly eaten that morn­ing, nurse Mon­ica could have given me IV anes­thetic to put me to sleep for the 90-minute process. I’d have awak­ened not re­mem­ber­ing any­thing, she as­sured.

Sounded nice. But then how could I ex­plain the process ex­cept to tell you I fell asleep and awoke to a done deal? So I opted for the numb­ing and the ex­pe­ri­ence. It pro­vided op­por­tu­nity be­tween in­stru­ments in my mouth to re­al­ize what was hap­pen­ing and throw in a bit of chit-chat: “Been on va­ca­tion yet? How long in your new place? Like it bet­ter than your Moun­tain Home of­fice? How ’bout them Hogs?”

When he was sat­is­fied the three lat­est im­plants were right where he wanted them, he stitched up the open­ings while leav­ing the ac­tual im­plants in place just be­neath the sur­face. In about four months when the bone has fully so­lid­i­fied around them (lots of bone in­volved in re­plac­ing up­pers), he’ll un­cover them and at­tach the new faux rear mo­lars.

I’m won­der­ing what it will be like af­ter a year to have a mouth full of teeth again, you know, ac­tu­ally chew nor­mally. Ah, the seem­ingly sim­ple things we take for granted when we still have our teeth.

When it was over, den­tal as­sis­tant Han­nah helped me to my feet. I took a mo­ment to re­gain some equilibrium and won­der why they call the stuff laugh­ing gas. I never even chuck­led, so I’m re­nam­ing it dizzy gas.

The fol­low­ing week, it was back to the Moun­tain Home of­fice where den­tal hy­gien­ist Bon­nie took all of four min­utes to re­move my stitches with­out a twinge of dis­com­fort.

Now it’s more wait­ing for bone to do its thing, prob­a­bly un­til some­time in Novem­ber. Then the doc­tor will see how solid the im­plants have be­come. If they pass muster, Mike’s hope­fully mag­nif­i­cent mo­lars will be back in busi­ness at age 70.

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