The Dentist Becomes the Patient

The Dentist Becomes the Patient

As he approaches his 40’s and reflects on the dental journey behind him it has been a long road of pain but a journey with the long game in mind.  Sure, he had braces as a kid much like his peers.  A few fillings in college after late nights and a diet change from high school.  However, in his 30’s he experienced not just mouth discomfort but extreme pain in his joints. The pain grew throughout the day and he also noticed that he found some temporary relief from opening his mouth open really wide to stretch his chewing muscles, temporary relief.  He also noticed that during dental cleanings that his jaw muscles would severely fatigue and cause the need for a mouth prop. What were the treatment options to restore functionality? Would the treatments relieve the pain? What would his patients say if they found out he was going through a similar treatment process? Would the dentist now become the patient?

Second Chapter of the Dental Journey

When their first son was a baby he found himself unable to read to him at night due to the incredibly painful joints.  His smile looked great but his function was poor. Something had to change. As a dentist himself he found himself referring people to the orthodontist for the same symptoms he was feeling.  One day a patient his age with the same symptoms asked him “if this was you, would you go to see the orthodontist?”  He knew the right answer for the patient and for himself but felt like such a hypocrite.  So, immediately leaving the exam room he called the orthodontist office next door and made an appointment for a consultation.

Starting the Esthetic Process

The consultation was great and he was immediately fitted for a splint to wear.  Some patients call these night guards.  However, this was a night guard by design but by name it was a misnomer because the intent was to wear the appliance nearly 24 hours per day = night and day guard = splint.  Night guards protect teeth in grinding and clinching environments and are used for healthy joints.  Splint therapy is for unhealthy joints even if there is no presence of clinching and/or grinding of the teeth.  Splint therapy involves wearing this appliance except for when you are eating, brushing, flossing or drinking anything but water – much like the demands of Invisalign.  However, Invisalign is virtually invisible from 3 + feet away.  A splint is quite visible from any distance.  As a dentist he felt like the prospect of constant wear in front of patients and social situations would cause him to either feel really self-conscious or if not worn allow the pain to return.  Would the appliance work even if worn?

Splint Therapy A Success?

After a short time with the appliance the verdict was in and it was a success.  So much so that he felt no shame in wearing the appliance because it brought comfort and allowed for full function upon retiring in the evenings to read books at their son’s bedtime. Occasionally, he would go to the physical therapist for his jaw joints and then dovetail those appointments with an immediate adjustment of his splint at the orthodontist’s office.  Soon the appliance was so comfortable he found himself eating a meal and then realizing that he had accidentally left it in place.

Clinching of the muscles continued but without the discomfort.  After breaking several mouth guards, he now realized just how much he was clinching his teeth at night. The muscles for chewing are really powerful.  They can not only destroy the splints but also the teeth too.   The movement of the teeth lasted for a couple of years then ended in yet another position that challenged confidence. As a result of the movement of teeth spaces developed between his upper front teeth.

Are Metal Braces an Option?

After a duration of comfort with the splint and no apparent need for a physical therapy visit the decision was made to move the teeth into the same position that the splint had positioned the lower jaw.  Traditional metal braces do this movement best and with the most predictability, so treatment began to apply orthodontic wires and brackets to the all the teeth.  Again, he felt self-conscious in his 30’s wearing braces but the joy of comfort was better than the fear of shame.

The Dentist is Now the Patient

Now it was time yet again to be the patient and have cosmetic porcelain crowns done on his own teeth.  Yes, he had recommended this many times to his patients but this time he did not want to be the hypocrite.  He chose porcelain crowns for their strength, beauty and inability to stain over time.  After whitening the teeth first, the final shade of the porcelain crowns was chosen.  Whitening needed to come first because natural teeth whiten but the porcelain crowns (or if porcelain veneers were chosen) do not whiten with a whitening agent.  It took many try-in’s and shade adjustments to really match the shade of the neighboring teeth but in the end beauty and joint harmony were accomplished.  God in His infinite wisdom knew that when the mouth was in great functional harmony that it would also look really great too.  Function first, form second.

Recognize this person?  If you guessed this is me then you’re correct.  This was my dental journey and I can tell you that it has been an irreplaceable experience to be on the other side as a patient.  I can understand the discomfort, lack of self-confidence, shame of wearing an appliance that is unsightly, fear of injections, trust required of the treating dentist, desire to be done with treatment but also to take the time to do it right and gratitude for a healthy and handsome outcome.  Playing the long game and seeking joint health and comfort was well worth it.  I am very grateful for the expert care of Dr.’s: Birdwell, Archer, Amy, Power, Sparks, Faulconer and Lee, as well as Micha Sale, PT, MEd.

Esthetic Dentistry’s goal is comfort, confidence and beauty. We offer the full breadth of dental services at Reflections Dental Care in Oklahoma City. Call 405-563-7097 to set up a consultation or visit Reflection Dental Care for more information. Lance R. Schmidt D.D.S. is the owner/proprietor of Reflections Dental Care. Follow us on Twitter.

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