Brand building through storytelling

Help! Middle-aged teeth are chewing up the family budget

I try to live within my shrinking means, I really do. No more but-I-love-it purchases for me! Yet whenever I make a date with Lisa,  my good intentions desert me. “Do I really need this?” cuts no ice with Lisa. Ditto “I can get it cheaper down the street” and “I think I’ll just wait for the sale.” Lisa is my dentist, a woman of standards. I never guessed I would log so many hours in her chair.

My teeth, more than 50 years old, have become as finicky and fragile as a heritage home. Fillings are crumbling like Victorian chimneys. Entire teeth require the stem-to-gudgeon renovation better known as a root canal. Just when I think I can take a break from dental repair, I discover that I need a crown. My husband, also Lisa’s patient, isn’t faring any better. The other day he asked me, with the stunned expression last seen after a renovation spree involving built-in cabinetry and UV-filtering blinds, “Do you realize what we’re spending on dental work?”

I don’t want to know but I can’t help guessing. The masochist in me is making calculations: how many bistro dinners/linen jackets/hotel rooms in New York for one whole-nine-yards procedure with Lisa? I’ve nixed the dinners, the jackets and the trips to New York. I thought that sacrificing guilty pleasures would gain me some financial ground.

Then my teeth betrayed me. Hence my new extravagance—lying in Lisa’s chair with my mouth at an impossible angle while the drill screams and saliva drips down my chin. How can anything so miserable cost so much money?

At least I’m not alone. Every front-end boomer I know is in a state of dental sticker shock. (When we broke free of corporate life, we didn’t think of the dental plans we’d left behind.)  One woman, bucking the trend, recently decided to forgo the most expensive procedures and let nature take its course. “I can live without my teeth,” she says. That’s way too extreme for me, but I’d be willing to lose the odd chopper at the back of my mouth where no one will notice.

Trouble is, Lisa won’t hear of it. Have you ever heard an architect rail at the destruction of a heritage landmark? Lisa has the same protective zeal for my ordinary middle-aged teeth.

Rona Bruser, Young WomanHow expectations have changed! My Russian Jewish grandmother accepted the loss of her teeth with the same stoicism she had mustered for the death of her firstborn child and her husband’s erasure by dementia. “Zoll zein,”she said. So be it. The root cellar generation didn’t know from root canals, and my grandmother, for one, would shudder at the cost. Yet I remember how my grandmother would cover her mouth if we caught her without her dentures. Even in her 80s, she set great store by her looks. With her missing teeth, she had once cracked Brazil nuts.

My grandmother had no education to speak of. I doubt if she ever read Shakespeare’s unforgettable lines, from As You Like It, that sum up the losses of age: “…second childishness and mere oblivion/Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” But I can picture her nodding in sympathy. For her, as for Shakespeare, toothlessness was step one in the great unraveling.

No wonder we resist it. Especially my fat-conscious, yoga-toned, vitamin-swilling generation. Many of us would rather shell out for laser surgery than play tennis in glasses. So how can we contemplate dentures?

Twenty years ago, dentists were wringing their hands for want of patients. The fluoride kids had grown up to be adults like me, with trouble-free teeth and small families. What were dentists going to do? A business magazine put me on the case. “Dental marketing is hot,” said my editor. Chortling at the very idea, I rounded up proof that big-ticket cosmetic procedures were replacing the bread-and-butter stuff. I checked out the wild frontiers of exotic dental decor (one waiting room featured a wall-size fish tank). Urban dentists were rivaling restaurateurs in their quest for the new and buzz-worthy.

I forgot all about the dental marketing story—until the day I met Lisa, who had just bought the practice from my former dentist, Brian. “Look what I found in your file,” she said. “I thought you’d like to have it.”

There was my story, with a full-page photo of Dr. Fish Tank. Brian used to follow my writing career. He figured magazine pieces were just a warmup for the best-selling thriller that I surely had to be planning. “So how’s your best-seller coming along?” he liked to ask, smiling at his own joke.

It seemed ungracious not to take the crumpled story home, where I tossed it without a second look. But Brian’s running joke has acquired a certain urgency. Lisa has me by the short and pearlies, with no end in sight. Think of the crowns I could buy with the proceeds of my best-selling thriller!

Posted by Rona

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