joankingWhere is the tooth fairy when she’s really needed? Seniors, we could certainly use her as we get older. 

Our 30- and 40-something children or grandchildren see their dentists for veneers and whitening, but as we get older we are not so much concerned about our appearance as with usable teeth. It won’t help to put our broken or fallen out teeth under our pillow. Unless we have ample dental insurance, there’s no tooth fairy waiting to pick up the tab.

A simple cavity repair may not solve the problem. We have expanded our vocabulary and increased our knowledge to include “root canal,” “implant” and “bridges.” We have to pay big bucks to replace or save even one tooth. Dentists usually don’t ask, but if I ever had my choice of filling, I would ask for chocolate.

My sister, a 90-something whose only medications are vitamins, decided she could do without a lower molar, so she had it removed rather than pay hundreds of dollars to have it repaired. She has adjusted well.

Many people have trouble paying for even regular health insurance and forgo dental coverage. The cost of a necessary but dreaded crown can be well over $1,000 and comes out of pocket.  Using the services at Marquette Dental School clinic or community clinics can reduce expenses for those qualified when there is major work to be done.

Even a King can have trouble coming up with the cost of a crown! When a relative needed extensive tooth repair, 24 crowns in less than four years at a cost of more than $20,000, we hoped it was not a family trait. 

Gone are the days when we could pick up an apple and take a bite; now we need to slice and dice. Applesauce, however, fits any age. We used to live surrounded by apple trees and when my middle daughter lost a tooth while climbing an apple tree, she came crying empty-handed. Her solution to the lost tooth was to write a note and put that under her pillow and the tooth fairy delivered for her. At that time, it was a dime – now I believe it’s up to a dollar coin. We would really have to up the bounty for even a routine X-ray.

Popcorn is another casualty of aging – the flavored rice cakes and puffed varieties in a bag are a poor substitute. The “old maids” I used to love are just too destructive. And cutting meat into small pieces works but slows down the eating process, which I guess is what is intended to help digestion.

Some of us do have those starry teeth that come out at night – and then we can’t find them in the morning. This seems to be an occasional problem in nursing homes when a resident may go in search for “lost” teeth and somehow find a better-fitting pair in a nearby room. If they’re not in the container near my bed, where are they? Could they be at the dinner table or next to my lounge chair? St. Anthony, help me out – again. If there was a senior tooth fairy to sneak in at night, we might mistake it for an intruder and get out a cane for defense.

The dentist’s mantra is “brush and floss,” along with good nutrition – common admonitions we’ve heard all our lives. As we age, we learn that good dental health is also tied to our overall physical condition. 

Our dentist reminds us that a healthy mouth contributes to a healthy body. In contrast, lack of teeth and dental decay make chewing difficult, contribute to poor nutrition and also give food an abnormal taste. The bone loss that may accompany aging sometimes makes dentures hard to fit. We are reminded that smoking, excess sugar, some medications and diseases can especially foster gum disease that can adversely affect the heart.

On the plus side, dentistry has high speed drills, pain medications that work well and a variety of devices that make a regular dentist visit much more tolerable. I dreaded a root canal several years ago and ultimately found it to be one of the best dental visits I had, almost pain free and much quicker than expected. The most pain came from looking at and paying the bill.

I can’t resist – how long has it been since you heard, “What time is it to go to the dentist? Two-thirty.”

If you’re reading this and still have all your teeth, can eat caramels and corn on the cob, you’re either under 50 or wonderfully healthy.

(King, a member of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish, North Lake, is married to Thomas. They have seven children, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.)