Th 231417

Life Changing Dentistry

Nov. 1, 2006
Patty’s story reinforces how time spent on general information about ‘cosmetic’ dentistry can change a patient’s viewpoint about life.

Patty’s story reinforces how time spent on general information about ‘cosmetic’ dentistry can change a patient’s viewpoint about life.

I think you will agree that the subject of cosmetic dentistry has had a very commanding presence in the lives of dental hygienists in recent years. Much energy has been devoted to the education of hygienists where cosmetic dentistry is concerned. Most hygienists are now familiar with the types of materials being used for a variety of different cosmetic procedures. In addition, most hygienists are up to date with the special care these materials must be given after placement in the mouth.

All over the country dental hygienists are acutely aware of the role their dentists are expecting them to play in getting the “cosmetic dentistry” message out to patients. In fact, cosmetic dentistry has been given such an emphasis in many dental practices that hygienists are under a great deal of pressure to “sell” cosmetic cases.

I like to look at cosmetic dentistry from the other side, from the patient’s perspective. A patient’s story can inspire, encourage, and empower you to continue in your commitment to excellent patient care and education, as well as to be steadfast in introducing cosmetic dentistry to each and every one of your patients.

This is the story of Patty. Her life has been changed by cosmetic dentistry. She is a sales manager at a Las Vegas hotel. It is my hope that - by focusing on the benefits achieved by the technologies available today - any “pressure” you might feel to sell cosmetic dentistry will be redirected into a desire to help your patients. Perhaps you will change a few lives along the way.

I think Patty says it very nicely: “I hope that other hygienists realize the difference they can make in helping people like myself, who may want to do something but not really know where to begin or how to ask for the right kind of help.”

For the record, Patty is not my patient. I was not involved in her case; however, I am very privileged to be the one who shares her experience with you.

My thanks to Patty for taking the time to relay her insights, thoughts, and revelations on how the technology of comprehensive cosmetic dentistry can not only be smile enhancing but life changing.

My hope is that Patty’s story will inspire you to talk to your patients about their desires. Take the time to ask questions and listen to your patients’ responses. I agree with Patty in the hope that hygienists will realize the difference they can make by helping people who may want to do something about their smiles, but don’t really know where to begin or how to ask for the right kind of help. RDH

Patty's story

Less than six months ago, I would never have imagined that such an amazing personal experience was ahead of me, or the incredible difference that I would feel inside, as a result of the changes to my smile during this time. This has truly been a life-changing event and one of the most important things I have ever done for myself. The beautiful esthetic work has been a catalyst to a deeper level of personal change, bringing out more vibrancy in my personality, greater happiness in my expression, stronger pride in my appearance, and, most importantly, an excitement about smiling again! I could not be happier with the results.

I’ve learned a lot about myself throughout the process and am extremely grateful for the supportiveness and encouragement. Looking at pictures of myself over time, I was surprised to notice how much less I was smiling as the years passed and the energy that was missing in my expression.

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I had become very good at not smiling, and I could see that a definite difference reflected in my personality. This was a sad realization for me, as I could tell that an important connection had been lost. Even if you are a very confident person, when you are not happy with your smile, a big part of the self-expression of “who you are” turns inward, diminishes, and doesn’t radiate “out” to the world.

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Looking at before and after photos now is almost like seeing a different person in the mirror. There is not just a dramatic difference in terms of how I look. Behind my smile, there has been a very powerful emotional change, too. In an extraordinary way, everything just “feels” right - inside and out.

My smile feels like it should - healthy, strong, and complete. I’m very happy and smiling without even thinking about it! It feels absolutely awesome to have this kind of connection again! Confident, excited, and ready to fly! These are very simple words to describe something so amazing but that is truly what makes it attainable. A physical change can become a catalyst for a deeper personal change, shifting your course in a better direction, every day for a lifetime. That is exactly what has happened for me.

I’ve been very inspired through this experience and believe that dentistry will continue to improve the quality of patients’ lives through this type of work, as well as set a precedent of excellence within the dental industry.

As a patient, my experience has been with one of the very best clinicians, combining technical expertise, advanced technology, and esthetic dentistry in a way that I have not seen presented before. I hope that this becomes the model for many others, helping dental/medical professionals gain more knowledge about the benefits of comprehensive dentistry for their patients.

It has truly been a pleasure to work with a dentist and team who have provided such exceptional care, the very best dental care I have ever received. Each person on the team is highly skilled, gentle, and focused on creating a seamless patient experience. There is a very meaningful difference in terms of the quality of time spent with people - getting to know what is important to them, answering questions, and understanding concerns and sharing experiences. As a patient, I felt as though I were coming to visit friends and to enjoy time in a beautiful office retreat, leaving more relaxed than when I came.

For many years, I had wanted to make some cosmetic changes, but had not found the right person to help me understand several reasons that may have caused my smile to change over time. No one had taken the time with me before. As we talked, a wealth of knowledge was shared with me and all my questions were answered with tremendous expertise. These insights made a lot of sense, and I became really curious about comprehensive dentistry and finding out if something was off balance in my bite and jaw position! What an amazing concept!

Excited even at first appointment

During the first appointment, I knew that I wanted to go forward with more extensive testing. Cosmetics would definitely improve my visible smile but not necessarily change the pattern of erosion and recession that had already been in process for many years. Possibly, the results of testing would help define any structural issues I might have and help to establish a baseline for optimal dental health in the future. I was excited and even started thinking about esthetics as a secondary goal. (Wow! This was a pretty big shift in thinking for me, since it was cosmetics that had gotten me there in the first place.) Ultimately, I was helped to see that there may be a way to correct bite issues that I knew were not going to improve over time.

I was fascinated by the technology and very excited to be the patient. The objective of the tests was to measure muscle/joint activity to determine optimal bite relationships for my mouth. Essentially, two levels of testing were used to evaluate bite position: normal (at rest) and relaxed (optimal resting position). After measuring normal levels, a TENS unit was used to relax facial and jaw muscles to help find an optimal resting or “relaxed”position, where muscle tension would be minimal.

The results would then be used to determine an ideal relationship between teeth, muscles, joints, and jaw bone, and define proper bite position. From a treatment perspective, this ideal position would provide a basis for restorative efforts, helping to reduce further wear of teeth and recession of gum tissue. From a cosmetic perspective, proper alignment would improve overall esthetic results and minimize future replacement work as well.

In my case, there were some pretty interesting graphs to help tell the story and I was actually very surprised at the results! After several years of braces, I wouldn’t have guessed that so much could have shifted in my mouth or the effects of stress, grinding, and recession would have taken such a toll. I was seeing that I had become very conditioned to absorbing stress, without realizing the extent of tension or pain that was really there. It was an important red flag and I started to think about a lot of things from a different perspective.

Looking back, the only thing I would have changed or done differently is that I wish I could have found all of this out sooner. If only someone would have taken the time to tell me about the possibilities.

Finding the ideal position that day was like finding a piece of gold! I was amazed at how the exact position was pinpointed and how I remembered how my mouth (bite) felt when I was in high school. Somehow, 20 years later, I remembered that feeling almost immediately. Through the testing experience, I was able to see and feel what I needed to know to make an important decision. Based upon the results, different options were discussed, and I decided it was more important to correct the bite issue first before pursuing the next steps with cosmetic treatment. In retrospect, going forward with testing was one of the very best decisions I could have made.

The first step was to re-create the ideal position for my bite. A special orthotic was fabricated and adhered to my lower teeth. This acrylic overlay would actually hold the proper position in my mouth necessary for the jaw and muscle tissue to begin the healing or restructuring process over the next several weeks. I wore a permanent orthotic rather than a removable one, which was easier for me and actually helped speed up the healing process!

As soon as the orthotic was in place, it felt great. I had fun talking and singing to myself to get used to the new position. In less than a day, no one could hear a difference in my speech or see it in place. There was no real visual change at all. During the first few weeks, my jaw and teeth were a little tired while adjusting to the new motion used while speaking and chewing. Ironically though, this was actually less work / movement than I had been doing over time, it just took a little while for the muscles to relax and ease into the position and become comfortable again.

I noticed some other positives once the orthotic was in place. Within the first week, the tension and pain in my shoulders went away (and I have not experienced that same kind of pain again since treatment began), and I was even sleeping better.

Subsequent visits and testing over the following three to six weeks showed a lot of improvement in my bite and reduced tension in my jaw. Visually, we could also see slight changes in the symmetry of my jaw line and relaxing of facial muscles. Within eight weeks, I was most surprised to notice that the clicking and popping motion on the right side of my jaw had stopped. Without realizing it, the healing process had not only corrected issues in my bite but helped to relieve tension in various muscle groups where excess stress and tension had been absorbed. I never expected to feel this kind of “overall” health benefit from this type of dental procedure.

Once the initial testing was complete, an amazing process to create my new smile began! A great deal of time was spent reviewing photos, talking about shape, structure, and color, color, color! I really enjoyed this and felt like the goal was to find exactly what I wanted.

Ideally, I was hoping for my smile to look healthy for my age, with very natural color. When I returned for the procedure and my temps were put on the upper and lower teeth, I had no idea what an amazing difference there would be in my smile from that day forward. New acrylic temps were created and fitted over all my teeth.

The whole process only took about four hours and I left the office that day with a much more beautiful temporary smile than I’d had in years. During the procedure, I was very comfortable. The work was done with such precision and care that I could not have felt more secure. Overall, I was surprised that there was so little pain or swelling compared to other types of treatment I had had in the past. Relaxing in the chair, I was also amazed at the hundreds of carefully orchestrated steps between the dentist and the assistant, as well as the supportiveness of the entire team throughout the process.

I think I was most surprised at how emotional everything was for me that day. I cried often, feeling very relieved, anxious, and happy all at the same time. I began to realize how much of my self-confidence was associated with my smile, and how humbling it was not to feel good about that part of myself. It was really hard to know what to expect but I was literally overcome with emotion when I saw the changes. I couldn’t believe the difference in my smile, or that I had actually made it that far with the process. Letting go of fear and making this positive change has been an important emotional process for me.

The next morning, I was completely amazed at the difference in my smile. The temps looked great and I was smiling all day long! Only a few minor adjustments were necessary and the transition from orthotic to temps was very easy for me. Over the next few weeks, I was “learning” how to smile again and it felt great! Close friends could see that something about me had changed but they were surprised at how natural the temps looked, even after I told them.

It was exciting to think about coming back in a few weeks for the final steps. During that time, there was tremendous preparation going on behind the scenes, as a highly customized smile was being created just for me. With meticulous attention to detail, porcelain veneers and crowns were literally sculpted to achieve a beautiful, warm smile. Seeing the shape of each tooth, the translucence of color and the overall effect of proportion and symmetry, and what I saw in the mirror was much more natural than I ever imagined possible. I think the results surprised everyone and I was ecstatic.

Almost immediately, everything felt right. Within a few days, I couldn’t remember how my old smile felt. It’s kind of like learning to walk or starting to run - once you begin, you keep moving forward. Strength, confidence, and momentum build with practice and the same thing happens when you smile: confidence and enthusiasm build over time and the energy just radiates out. I can definitely tell the difference myself and now I’m smiling again without even thinking about it. It feels amazing! For many reasons, I believe that dentistry has a tremendous gift to give to others just like me. Finding a dentist who truly cares about making a difference in others’ lives, who is approachable, open, and understanding, and gives patients important knowledge and manageable steps to move forward with confidence makes all the difference in the world.

This has been a very important time in my life. I will never forget the intensity of the emotions, the excitement, and pure joy that I felt over these months, and the incredible gift of being able to share this experience with people who really care. I wish that everyone could find a golden key like this. In a very special way, I feel like I have been given another chance to really enjoy life and be as happy as I can possibly be. How I feel about my smile is even greater than I can convey in words and beyond my expectations of what I had hoped could be achieved. I will always be amazed at this dream come true!

Kimberly Miller, RDH, BSDH, is a Senior Consultant with The JP Institute. The JP Institute offers continuing education training for the entire dental team. JP specializes in analyzing and refining practice philosophies, business systems, hands-on implementation of clinical skills, technology and product integration. Call The JP Institute for information on their Mastership Certification Courses, Dental Spa Product Line, and In-office Consulting Services at (800) 946-4944 or visit