WATERTOWN — Just two days before Christmas, Jennifer L. Bennett received the gift of a lifetime.
A one-on-one aide for special needs students in Fulton, Mrs. Bennett was surprised with some life-changing news Thursday morning: she will be the next recipient of the Second Chance program at Upstate Oral Surgery and Dental Implants.
The program provides those with poor oral health an opportunity to receive a new set of permanent teeth through a full-arch restoration. A full-arch restoration is intended to restore aesthetics, chewing and speaking ability in patients who have lost all or most of their teeth. The procedure, typically costing approximately $50,000 to $55,000, will be done free of charge.
The average adult has 32 teeth in total, 16 on top and 16 on the bottom, or 28 once they have their wisdom teeth removed. Mrs. Bennett, 47, has 13 teeth left after a 20-year journey with tooth decay and loss. Mrs. Bennett has struggled to keep her teeth and said in her application for the program that having 13 teeth left has made her self conscious about smiling.
“It means the world to me,” Mrs. Bennett. “When you don’t really want to smile in front of people, other than your family, it’s hard. It’s amazing, it’s great that they offer this to people.”
Soon, Mrs. Bennett will gain a new smile and the confidence that goes with it. Oral surgeon and U.S. Army veteran Dr. Logan Curtis, who owns and operates Upstate Oral Surgery and Dental Implants at 22632 Summit Drive Suite B, made the announcement that Mrs. Bennet had won Thursday morning in front of both staff, program applicants, patients and Mrs. Bennett herself. Thankful for the opportunity, Mrs. Bennett said she would never have been able to pay for a procedure like this, even with insurance, and is excited for what is to come.
In total, the process for Jennifer’s new smile could take up to a year. The major surgery during which the rest of her teeth will be removed and replaced will be done in one day, but the follow-up process will take longer. Before Mrs. Bennett left after the announcement had been made, the team at Upstate Oral Surgery made sure she had her first appointment scheduled with them to get the ball rolling.
According to Dr. Curtis, who will be joined in this process for the first time in its three-year history by restorative dentist Dr. Thomas T. Bunker, he is aiming for the beginning of March for the procedure. During the next several months, it will be all about making sure the implants integrate.
“It’s a biological process that takes four to six months for the implants to fully integrate,” he said. “Once that’s done, the bridges that Tom and I will put in the day of surgery are temporary. They look beautiful, but they’re not meant to last more than two or three years at most. Then he’ll go ahead and go through the process of putting in what’s called a final bridge. Those will probably withstand a nuclear blast — those aren’t going anywhere.”
Mrs. Bennett said she started out with a great dentist as a child, but had to switch to another when she aged out of the client group. From there, things went downhill as she encountered dentists who would rather pull teeth than fix the problems, she said. She bounced around to dentists before her husband referred her to Dr. Bunker, and she and her entire family have now been visiting him for several years.
Due to her past experiences, Mrs. Bennett said she absolutely hated going to see a dentist, becoming physically ill at the thought. Even now, although she knows and trusts Dr. Bunker, when he does anything or his staff clean her teeth, her eyes are closed.
“I told Dr. Bunker I would rather give birth in your chair with nothing than be sitting there (about to have something done),” she said.
Dr. Bunker was the one who told Mrs. Bennett about the contest and made sure she knew how to enter before she left from her cleaning appointment that day. Given that she has been dealing with dental issues and tooth loss for about 20 years now, and has been his patient for over 10 years, he said he was really excited for her to receive this smile restoration.
Many things factor into the decision of who will win the contest each year, one of the main ones being need. This year, over 180 people applied, up from around 150 last year.
“I was really hoping she would win because she’s been through a lot,” Dr. Bunker said of Mrs. Bennett. “I know it’ll make a difference for her and I’m looking forward to seeing how she looks with all her teeth in; it’s been a very long time.”
Mrs. Bennett’s husband, Scott D. Bennett, knows just how hard the road has been for her.
The two were high school sweethearts and got together in 1989 when Mr. Bennett was a senior and Mrs. Bennett was a sophomore. They married in 1997.
He said he is looking forward to his wife’s spirit picking up and her gaining self confidence. Though he doesn’t really notice her missing teeth and how they impact daily life, he said he knows the procedure will be a great thing for her.
Funded through Dr. Curtis’ practice, the procedure involves Dr. Bunker donating his time and skill, Upstate Oral Surgery donating time and skill, MicroDental Laboratories doing the same, and Nobel BioCare, which makes the implants, donating all the materials.
“I just think I’m gonna feel better about myself, I don’t think I’ll be so conscious about smiling or who I’m talking with,” Mrs. Bennett said. “I’m very thankful for Dr. Bunker and this opportunity. It’s hard going through life not wanting to smile because you’re embarrassed.”