Adventures in dentistry

News flash: North American dentists are expensive. So, early last year, in the weeks leading up to my last day of work I went to my dentist in Calgary for a cleaning and check up. Thankfully, my company health benefits covered most of the $400+ bill. Since then, I’ve been diligent about brushing and flossing.

Now that we will be leaving Argentina in less than two months, I set out to have my teeth cleaned in the Southern Hemisphere.

For many, a trip to the dentist is an unpleasant experience. The thought of going to one in a foreign land is probably equally unnerving.

Yesterday, I had a cleaning and a checkup. No issues. Ninety bucks and my teeth have never felt cleaner, with the added bonus of no bleeding gums during the appointment. Perhaps wine and beef keep gingivitis at bay.

But, this wasn’t my first trip to the dentist here. The first was eight years ago and it was a bit more of an adventure.

True confession – some of my pearly whites are souvenirs from our first trip to BA in 2008. Yup, my upper, four front teeth are my “sou-veneers.” I had long contemplated getting porcelain veneers to cover stains on my teeth that I’d had since childhood. I was self conscious and the stains always made me reluctant to bust into a toothy grin. Much to my dismay, no amount of teeth whitening treatments would completely remove the stains.

Fast forward to 2008 – a week before our first trip to BA.

During our planning, I happened to read an article by a friend in the Calgary Herald on medical tourism. He had ventured down to Buenos Aires for a vacation AND to some restorative dental work (a crown, I think). His experience was positive so I contacted him to get more details. The cost was a fraction of what he would pay in Canada.

Encouraged by what he had to say, I sent an email to the dentist who did his work.

My Calgary dentist quoted me $800 for each veneer. In Buenos Aires it was around $325. With a personal recommendation and countless testimonials on their website, I started making plans.

I had a week to get things organized before we left – thankfully the dental staff spoke English and, because they deal with people on vacation, they were able to easily accommodate our travel schedule.

The first week of that trip to Argentina was spent in BA. A few days after our arrival I navigated my way to the dentist’s office and was impressed with the setup. The equipment looked newer than my dentist’s at home. So far so good. The dentist walks in and he’s a handsome son-of-a-gun. So far so great! We talked about the procedure. Decided on a shade of ‘white’ for my veneers. I opted for several shades down from the razzle-dazzle Hollywood chompers – settling on a shade equal to my other teeth.

If you’re dental phobic, you might want to skip this next paragraph.

Next thing you know my mouth is wide open, I get a shot or two of freezing and, what seems like moments later, the dentist is grinding the enamel off my four front teeth. No turning back now. As gruesome as it sounds, that’s a necessary step – otherwise the veneers, when attached, would stick out farther than they should. He makes quick work of the grinding and hands me a mirror. Now if you haven’t seen teeth without enamel, I assure you it’s not a pretty picture. They are yellowish, which made them look worse than before I started. Think back to watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” to the part where he gets a “wonderful, awful idea” and smiles at the camera. Yah – just like that. Which is why I, not-so-lovingly, referred to them as my Grinch teeth or Grinchlings.

Welcome back squeamish readers.

With that nasty piece of work behind us, he takes a set of impressions on which he will create my four veneers. Then he takes a small bit of white putty, pushes it onto my Grinch teeth and with the expertise of a sculptor, moulds and carves an impressive set of temporary veneers he then hardens with some magical blue light. Presto Change-oh. He hands me the mirror again and I can’t believe how amazing the temporary ones look. For something that was putty moments before they were very impressive fake teeth thankyouverymuch.

With those on and my face still semi-frozen, he instructs me not to try to floss between them because, unlike the permanent veneers, these were essentially one piece made to look like four separate teeth.

He told me to come back for the real deal when our travels to other parts of the country were finished – which would be about two-and-a-half weeks later. My final question was of the utmost importance given our next stop was the wine region of Mendoza: “Can I drink red wine?”  He assured me I could. Great news! I didn’t want to worry about these temporary teeth getting stained the whole time we were gone.

Our flight to Mendoza was the following morning. After we packed up at the hotel and I stopped staring at my dazzling new smile in the mirror, we went to the airport. As great as they looked, my teeth were still very sensitive from their trauma the day before.

We were traveling with our good friends (who to this day probably still think me nuts for lining up the dental thing on our vacation). While we were waiting to check in for our flight, I had an eery sensation that the temporaries were loose. A quick run of my tongue across the front and all felt good (and did I mention that they looked frickin’ amazing?).

I’m not sure what caused the tickle in my nose and subsequent sneeze – dust, the morning sunlight – it’s not important.  As I went to cover my mouth and nose, the velocity of my sneeze shot my temporary veneers directly into the palm of my hand. Yes! That happened!! Read it again for full impact.

Okay, so, to recap, it’s Sunday with our flight taking off in an hour, my Grinch teeth on full display and my beautiful teeth clenched in my fist.

I hightailed it to the washroom. The airport public washroom. You know the ones that are never quiet nor clean. With hesitation, I approach the mirrors over the sink. I snarled my lip outward and up to reveal what I had hoped didn’t really just happen.  Osmond one minute, yellow snagletooth the next.

My mind quickly shifted from what things looked like to how things felt. With the freezing/numbness long since gone, and without the temporary veneers to protect the Grinchlings, my teeth became radically more sensitive to EVERYTHING, like air for instance.

After a failed attempt to reattach the temporary veneers (what was I thinking?) I wrapped up my beautiful smile in a small strip of the sandpaper they call tissue down here. With my head hung low, I went out to break the news to my fellow travellers, who had wondered where I shot off to in a hurry.

I shared with them the gory details, and my new “smile,” they cringed then consoled me as good friends do. We discussed next steps.

Being a Sunday morning there was no hope of getting in touch with the dentist. There was talk of getting some Polydent, the thought of which made my teeth ache more. Superglue – um, no!

There was nothing to do but tug my upper lip over the mess and board the plane. After all, there was wine to be had in Mendoza and I was ONLY going to have to live like this for less than three weeks. Sheesh.

As my Grinchlings became less sensitive, and I learned to drink wine without having it come in contact with my enamel-free teeth (go ahead, try it!), we spent the remainder of our amazing first trip to Argentina having great laughs over my predicament. Often times, I would smile at passing children in a sick attempt to foster nightmares – after all, a guy’s got to make the most of a bad situation.

After arriving back in BA, I make a beeline to the dentist. I unfold the tissue and show him the barely worn temporaries that should really still be in my mouth. He apologized and quickly distracted me with my new, permanent veneers. They were like the beautiful cousins of the ones that flew out of my mouth weeks earlier.

In that instant, all was forgiven. My only request was that he make sure that whatever adhesive he planned to use would give me a great smile for at least a month or two. That was eight years ago and they’re still going strong.

So yesterday was a reunion of sorts when I went back for my cleaning. They’ve moved offices. Seems a bigger operation. Business is good.

As Ricardo Montalbán’s Mr. Roarke would say, “smiles everyone, smiles!”

8 thoughts on “Adventures in dentistry

  1. I had very expensive veneers put in here in the US. I wish I knew about BA, I could have had a fun trip AND the veneers for less than just the dental work alone in the US. I remember those pointy, yellow teeth… I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror before having the temporary ones attached.

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  2. Pingback: #BangkokRevisited | HashtagsHappen

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