Local Woman Receives Life-Altering Christmas Gift
BY MELANIE COUGHLIN
Special to The Pilot
Vanessa (who asked that her last name not be used) is a pretty, bubbly young teacher. She smiles often and loves to laugh.
There has been just one thing stifling her carefree nature: two missing front teeth. With Vanessa's smile always came a twinge of self-consciousness. Could anyone tell she had false teeth?
It is a worry she has carried with her for years. One of Vanessa's permanent incisors failed to grow back in after the baby tooth came out. The other incisor was impacted and removed by an orthodontist when Vanessa got braces.
As a result, she received a retainer with false teeth. She says it helped, but brought with it a new reason for concern.
"There was the worry about it (the retainer) flying out when I sneezed, and that did happen one time," Vanessa says, laughing even at an embarrassing memory.
Replacing the retainer with implants was not an option for Vanessa, a mother of three children, ages 9 months, 3 and 5. Though she and her husband both work full time, the high cost of implants, ranging between $1,000 to $3,000 per tooth, made it unfeasible.
"With three kids, it's just not something we can afford," Vanessa says. "It's not that it's not a priority, because it is, but my kids come first."
Vanessa had pushed her desire for implants far back in her mind until an arbitrary decision changed her course.
More than a year ago, she was thumbing through the yellow pages in search of a family dentist. Randomly, she chose one: Drs. Monroe and Monroe, DDS, PA, where the husband and wife team of Dr. Clement Monroe and Dr. Kamron Monroe have been in practice for 12 years.
She met Dr. Clement Monroe during a routine teeth cleaning and mentioned that one day she hoped to get implants. He was immediately struck by a personal desire to help Vanessa.
"This really came home to roost with me," he says.
Monroe says he has wanted to do something like this, to help a patient in a big way, for a long time. The idea came to him six years ago when he, along with an ear, nose and throat doctor, did an "ultimate makeover" for someone. His desire to give a patient a free makeover percolated over the years as he and his staff helped people each Christmas.
"We give as an office on a yearly basis ... to someone we want to help out," says Monroe of the assistance, which has ranged from free hygienic care to food. "Our office culture is that we have a commitment to the community and the greater good of the community. Our staff in general is a very giving group. They want to help where they can."
Monroe saw in Vanessa a need that was similar to the patient he had helped with the makeover. He also saw her financial need. She was the patient he had been seeking. Six months ago, he told Vanessa that he was going to give her dental implants. Vanessa's reaction was, she says, "shock."
"I was completely overwhelmed," she says, her smile giving way, ever so briefly, to tears.
After Vanessa was educated on and agreed to the procedure, she had little time to ponder the enormity of Monroe's gift to her.
Dental implants take several months, and for the teeth to be in by Christmas, work had to begin immediately.
The longest part of the process is the second step, the time at which the implant itself is placed. The implant is a titanium rod which is placed into a socket drilled into the jaw; it acts as the tooth root.
Over the course of four months, the body naturally produces bone to grow around the rod. Once the body has accepted the implant, a process called integration, the crown is placed around it.
By December, Vanessa's body had fully integrated the implant, and she was ready for the permanent crowns that were perfectly matched to her other teeth. Days before the procedure, Vanessa started dreaming of the things she would do once she had her front teeth.
"I'm going to go buy a big bag of apples. It will be the first time I've been able to bite into one in more than 10 years," she says, then thinks of the food she most looks forward to eating. "My favorite thing is corn on the cob. I can't take a bite into it without taking my retainer out."
The crowns were placed in early December. Monroe was delighted with the result, but not as delighted as Vanessa.
"I cried. I cried the whole time, even during the procedure," Vanessa says. "I think it was the expectation of what this was going to mean. I was just overwhelmed with the emotion of, 'I get my two front teeth for Christmas.'"
All along the way, Vanessa husband was rooting for her, and when he saw his wife for the first time after the final procedure, he was amazed.
"He said, 'It looks so real, I forgot which ones aren't real,'" Vanessa says, smiling and laughing without restraint, all self-consciousness gone.
The couple celebrated that night by going out to dinner, the first meal Vanessa enjoyed without worrying about food sticking to her retainer.
"I was thinking, 'I'm eating a sandwich right now, and I don't have to take the retainer out," she says. "I'm biting into a sandwich and it's not sticking."
Vanessa's gratitude to Monroe extends beyond her ability to eat without hassle and to smile without anxiety. She sees in her chance selection of Monroe's practice a touch of the divine.
"This is like an answer to prayer for me. I truly believe that God led me here. I have prayed and prayed for a way for me to figure out how to do this," she says. "What he did is exemplifying the reason for the season."
Likewise, Monroe is grateful to Vanessa.
"She is really touched by this, but it has brought a lot of joy to the office," says Monroe. "It's really a Christmas gift to ourselves."
It is a Christmas gift that will keep Vanessa smiling for the rest of her life.
Contact freelance writer Melanie Coughlin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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