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My discount dentist found a tooth behind my nose. Things went downhill from there

Kate Burnham's troubles began when she Googled "cheap to free dentistry."

Kate Burnham's troubles began when she Googled 'cheap to free dentistry'

Kate Burnham's dentistry woes started with a rogue nasal tooth, progressed to a painful extraction and eventually ended with the unwanted nickname 'Denture Girl.' (Ben Shannon/CBC)

The discount dentist wheeled his little dental chair toward me.

"Good news," he said. "We looked at your X-rays, and we found that tooth we'd been looking for. It took us a while because it's not where it supposed to be."

"You mean in my mouth?" I said. He nodded. "Well, where is it?" I said.

He stuck out his pointer finger and tapped me on the bridge of my nose.

"You're kidding," I said.

Just outside the door, I could hear a throng of dental hygienists whispering excitedly amongst themselves. Word had travelled fast. The dentist inched closer, this time with his iPhone, and snapped a picture. The flash was blinding.

"Just a second," he said, chuckling and texting the photo to someone I suspected was not a dentist.

"Um, hi?" I said, reminding him of my presence.

An unconventional treatment

"Oh, right!" He slapped his hands on his thighs. "OK, here's what we're going to do. First, we'll excavate."

"The ground?" I asked, picturing him wielding a fossil brush instead of a dental hook. He shook his head.

"The roof of your mouth," he said, still with a grin I could have done without. "We're going to dig a hole an inch deep to expose the tooth behind your nose. Then we'll attach a chain."

Each time the dentist would reach into my mouth and yank the gold chain like he was expecting a light to turn on.

"A…pardon?"

"Oh, yeah! It's so cool!" He reached inside my mouth to show me. "We'll cement a chain to the tooth, and then every week, we'll pull on the chain, so that over the course of two years, the tooth will come down out of hiding and move toward the front of your mouth, to line up with the rest of your teeth. How's that sound?"

"Thounth awfah," I said, both of his hands still in my mouth.

Yanking my chain

Every Thursday for two years, I went to see that man. But not without resistance. Every Wednesday night, before the office closed, I'd phone the receptionist and try to wrangle my way out of it. Eventually she got wise to me and stopped taking my calls.

Time passed. I celebrated my 23rd birthday in the dental chair, sporting a blue X-ray smock and a paper party hat he plunked onto my head as a joke. And it was always the same routine. Each time the dentist would reach into my mouth and yank the gold chain like he was expecting a light to turn on.

"How do you feel?" he'd ask.

"Like a hall closet," I'd answer.

When Kate Burnham's dentist discovered a tooth growing in her nasal cavity, the treatment plan included a little metal chain and two years of weekly visits. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

Over and over we did this, until one day he reached into my mouth, yanked the gold chain and said, "Hunh." He wheeled his little chair backward and squinted at me, cocking his head to one side.

"What is it?" I said.

"You know your rebel tooth?" he said, "There's been a development."

"What kind of development?"

"Now it's backward," he said, grinning. "And it's damaged the tooth next door. Both teeth have to come out. Today."

That escalated quickly

I called my wife, Amy, and asked if she could help me home following the extraction. She rushed in 10 minutes later.

"Just look at me," she said. "Tune out the dental sounds and concentrate on my face." Just then, the dentist returned, brandishing a pair of dental pliers the size of hedge clippers.

"We all set?" he asked, lowering the dental chair. I nodded.

"Aren't you going to knock me out?" I said.

"Oh, no," he replied, "I never put my patients under! I don't want to toot my own horn here, but I'm so fast with extractions that none of my patients feel pain. Plus, we gave you some local anaesthetic, so we should be all set."

Not to toot my own horn,' the dentist said, 'but I'm quick like a cat.

He braced himself against the chair and gripped my rebel tooth, rocking it back and forth until it came loose. He held it up for me to see. The root was exposed and bleeding.

"Dear God!" Amy cried, recoiling in horror and jumping backward. A tray of dental tools clattered to the floor.

I panicked. "Wha?!"

Amy tried to regroup. "Nothing," she said between gags. "Just some… blood spatter." Her pale face twisted into a weird smile I assumed was meant to comfort me.

It did not.

The dentist pried out the second tooth and tossed it into a bowl. "That's it," he said, "we're done!" He sat down to peel off his bloody medical gloves and began bragging to Amy. "Not to toot my own horn," he said (a second time), "but I'm quick like a cat."

As he spoke, he lost his grip on the rubber glove he'd been removing, and his hand snapped backward, smacking me in my newly swollen cheek. I yowled in pain, but he didn't notice. He was busy handing Amy a stack of business cards, insisting that she refer her friends.

A 'pretty girl'

Afterward, Amy helped me out of the office and we waited for a taxi so I wouldn't have to bring my toothless shame on public transit. When we got home, I curled into the fetal position.

"This will all be worth it," Amy said, kissing me on the forehead. I nodded, determined to focus on the prize.

"I'm going to be a pretty girl," I croaked, a bag of frozen peas strapped to my bruised and swollen face.

The next day, I hobbled back to the dentist for a checkup.

"Are you experiencing any discomfort?" the dentist asked.

"Only when I'm awake," I said.

"Do you have any questions?"

"Yes," I said. "Why are you doing this to me?"

What do you get when you mix a rare dental condition with a discount dentist you found on Google? For Kate Burnham, the answer was whole lot of pain and a new set of dentures. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

He grinned and globbed purple dental plaster into a metal mould.

"Is this for the dental crowns we discussed?" I asked, eager to fill the hole in my face.

"No," he said. "This is for your denture." Then, sensing my anxiety, he added, "Don't worry, it's just a partial."

I worried.

'Are those your teeth in my hair?'

The turnaround time on the denture was surprisingly quick. The dentist fitted me that day and sent me home sporting two little plastic teeth attached to a strip of pink plastic gum.

Hours later, I was sitting on the couch, watching The Golden Girls, with Amy's head resting on my lap. As I began to unwind, I yawned. No sooner had I opened my mouth than I felt something fall out. I looked down. Two little plastic teeth were parting Amy's bangs.

"Honey," Amy said slowly. "Are those your teeth in my hair?"

"No," I said, stuffing the denture back into my mouth.

A romantic moment: lovingly stroking your partner's hair in your lap, then having your dentures fall out onto them. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

When Amy went to sleep, I sat up and Googled "how to make dentures stick." I learned there are many types of denture adhesives, all of them pink and messy and, as it turns out, equally embarrassing to be caught having in your purse.

In the days that followed, I also learned that the Internet forgets nothing. Because I had failed to delete my search from my browsing history, Google began to tailor its advertisements to my new station in life. I'd go on Facebook and see ads for timeshares in Florida, Life Alert bracelets and bath chairs that promised to take the risk out of showering.

The flying denture

A week later, I went to my work's annual staff party. I bought new pants and a new denture adhesive for the occasion. It made my mouth taste like a glue stick, but it promised to hold for up to 12 hours.

The party was at a ping pong bar. I had a great time until a coworker made a joke that was a little too funny, and I opened my mouth a little too wide to laugh.

I felt the October breeze rush through the gap where my front teeth should have been.

That was the moment I clocked what I assumed was a pink cough drop traveling through the air. It shone in the candlelight and disappeared into the dark. I looked around and waited for someone to claim it.

That's when I felt the October breeze rush through the gap where my front teeth should have been. I clamped my lips together as the slow and horrific realization washed over me. I jumped up without explanation, squatted on the floor and began drunkenly fumbling for my teeth.

Spotting my pink plastic teeth amidst a sea of pink plastic ping-pong balls on the floor of a dark bar was not easy. My fingers groped blindly until I landed on what I knew to be the missing part of my face. I looked around. Two drunken strangers were watching me, wide-eyed.

Needing to clean my teeth, but refusing to walk past my coworkers while toothless, I made a choice. I blew the dust off my denture and popped it back inside my mouth. Then I went outside and hailed a cab. I had lost my teeth on the floor of a public place. That was my cue to go.

Yearning for 'forever teeth'

Amy found me on the bathroom floor the next morning. "I wondered what happened to you." she said, "I woke up and all I saw was a pair of teeth on the pillow."

That was it. As the shame and hangover wore off, so did my patience. I decided to go back and give the dentist what for.

I couldn't live like this. I wanted my "forever teeth." I wanted teeth that wouldn't land on my desk during meetings. I wanted to swim in the ocean without having to chase my teeth in the tide. But mostly, I wanted my youth back.

I marched into his office and gave the receptionist my name. As she disappeared to let the dentist know I'd arrived, I heard his familiar chuckle.

"Tell denture girl I'll be another ten minutes," I heard him say.

Denture girl. There it was. Unlike the plastic teeth which never seemed to, I could tell that this nickname would stick.


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About the producer

Kate Burnham is a humour writer and comedy nerd. She lives in Toronto with her wife, Amy, and dogs, Lucy and Gary. When she's not writing, she's cooking dinner for friends, re-reading Nora Ephron books or re-watching episodes of I Love Lucy. She is currently on the waitlist for the "Golden Girls at Sea" cruise.

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