I am 60 years old, and have been concerned for years about losing my last baby tooth.
Now it is not normal for a 60-year-old to still have a baby tooth any more than it was normal for it not to come in until I was 3 years old, but I was not a normal child. No one is, but my abnormalities all showed up on my face.
I spent my first month in the hospital without Mom and Dad to cater to my every whim, as a first child and first grandchild on both sides might expect. I was born with a bilateral cleft lip (harelip) and an alveolar cleft palate. My father, who was a photographer by hobby, came to the hospital in great anticipation of my arrival, and left in bitter disappointment with no pictures. Dr. Bauer did a fine job on my lip, left my alveolar cleft alone, and I went on my merry way not realizing until I was about 5 that I had any defect at all. I compensated. It’s amazing how these things hit you later in life.
Randy looked ok without teeth.
About 2 years ago I was walking with a friend, a doctor by profession, and she commented, “You have done so well in life in spite of your handicap.” I didn’t even know she was talking about my lip. Nonetheless, underneath all the other self-esteem problems that have beset me over the years, for the first time I decided to admit that the birth defect was a handicap, and do something about it.
My front tooth was my biggest concern. It was always loose because there was no bone surrounding it. It reached out to my left front incisor for support instead. As you age, your gums recede and with them your bone. This frightened me because I did not want to end up with a huge gap in my mouth right in the front because I smile a lot, and my gums were doing their aging thing.
It’s one way I compensate. If I don’t understand something, I smile. If I can’t see well so I don’t know whether I know you, I smile. If I want something, I smile. If I’m extremely happy or tickled I laugh out loud. As a child, I covered my smile with my hand because my teeth had grown into my alveolar cleft, and my baby tooth was brown. At age 19 I had braces which amazingly pulled the teeth out of the cleft without losing the baby tooth. I had it crowned, and I was good to go for 40 years.
Today they typically repair alveolar clefts when the child is 8 or 9 years old, but they didn’t know how to do that then. Last year I was at a dinner party, and my seat partner told me that he worked with disadvantaged children who have cleft palates. How fortuitous! As soon as I went home, I asked my dentist what he could do. He responded the same as always, “I don’t want to touch it.” He referred me to a gum specialist who said, “You don’t have any bone, but there is a way to get it to grow.” He referred me to a surgeon who said, “This can be done, but I don’t do it regularly, and I am going to refer you to a specialist at UCLA.”
Dr. Peter K. Moy is my hero. Six months ago he told me I would lose my lateral and canine teeth, but he could repair the bone with a growth hormone, and insert posts which he could later crown. He did the surgery to inject my cleft with a hormone, placed a wire mesh to keep it in place, and sent me on my way – with all my teeth. Yesterday he took out the wire mesh. I still have all my teeth. The gum tissue is down around the teeth, like normal people have, and I am a swollen, but happy camper. I can’t smile yet, though, so no picture. Sorry!
When my parents were my age, they battled cancer and heart failure. I am getting my birth defect repaired, and with God’s help I’m ready to go for another 60 years.
P.S. My doctor smiled when he read the title. I forgot to say in this article that Mom had restaurant rules, and one of them was that we couldn’t talk about bloody operations during dinner. As teens, we thought that was pretty hilarious, so that’s exactly what we did, the bloodier the better. So the title to this was an inside joke. Sorry, Dr. Moy. This may not have been bloody at all. I slept through it! :)