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Of Braces and Home Improvement

an orthodontic journal

August to October 2005 
z Monday, August 8 

Sorry in the delay of updating the site this month. As you may know, I had been suffering with back problems for the past two months and haven't been able to sit at the computer very much. In fact, I haven't been able to sit anywhere very much!

I decided not to get the cortisone shot after all. I went off the anti-inflammatories in preparation for the shot (expecting the worst in terms of pain). But after a couple of days, it was clear that the pain wasn't so bad. So I started re-thinking the whole cortisone thing and opted instead to try acupuncture. And I'll be damned. So far, it's working like a charm. It's like a fricken miracle! The pain is almost all gone! I can tie my shoes again without pain! I can drive my car again without pain! And I can sit here and type this without grimacing. And I haven't taken ANY pain medication at all for over a week!

So far, I've had two acupuncture treatments and one very painful acupressure massage. Part of my problem was that all my back muscles, hip muscles, and upper leg muscles were too tight. They were so tight that even just applying a mild amount of pressure on those muscle pressure points made me jump. Yes, I had been doing some stretching, but what these muscles really needed was a good massage. I don't want to give you the impression that I was lying on that massage table floating away to the sounds of Enya. It hurt like hell to get the acupressure massage, but afterwards I felt so much better!

The acupuncture was no picnic, either. They had to stimulate a few of the crucial points with a bit of electric current. It wasn't painful, it just tingled...and sometimes it made my hand or leg twitch. And there were times when my acupuncturist applied a needle to a spot and said (as he as stimulating the needle) "Let me know when you feel it." About five or 10 seconds go by.... "OK, I FEEL IT NOW! (owwwwwwww).

I've had successful acupuncture before with this doctor and I totally trust him. His family has been practicing the art for over 300 years. His mother is a famous acupuncturist in Japan. In addition, the guy is a 4th degree black belt in Karate and he surfs here in Northern Cal (those waves can be strong). In fact, he just won the "senior men's division" title in some sort of surfing contest (he's around age 45). Quite an "impressive dude."

He asked if I ever see a chiropractor. I don't see one mainly because I don't know a really good one. I was warned long ago by an orthopedist that a bad chiropractor can make you worse and even hurt you. Well, my acupuncture doc knows a really good one. In fact, he calls him "a healer." That sounds like a pretty damn good recommendation. My brother (who doesn't live in my area) sees a DO (Osteopathic Doctor) for his back. The guy gives him adjustments and my brother says it's amazing how he makes his pain go away in a matter of days. So I'll keep an open mind to that.  Now that I know that I have a moderately herniated disc in my back, I need to stock my arsenal of treatment alternatives!

I have one more massage and two more acupuncture treatments scheduled. I plan to begin doing the strengthening exercises I learned in physical therapy. I have to decide whether I'll actually go back there to get formal physical therapy, or do it myself at home (I know most of the exercises). I suppose I'll see how it goes.

You can imagine how happy I am to get free of this pain. The summer isn't over yet, so I can enjoy what's left of it. I don't dare try to play tennis for at least a month (maybe more). And that kickboxing class will have to wait, too. But that's OK. Just to be able to do the normal things we all take for granted is enough reason for me to celebrate. Fortunately I watched my diet over these past two months (except for all the ice cream I ate in Hawaii), so I only gained a couple of pounds from the inactivity.

I want to thank everyone for their caring and helpful emails. It has been hard to be away from the site, and only do the minimal amount of work it takes to run it. Hopefully from here on, everything will get back to normal.


Have you seen the film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? If not, put it on your list of things to see. It's an impressive re-make, and Johnny Depp does a wonderful job of giving us a new, slightly dark Willy Wonka. But the main reason you may be interested in seeing this film is young Willy's headgear. I call it "the mother of all headgear." You'll get a kick out of Willy's meticulous dentist dad, too.

And speaking of films with a dental slant, the long-awaited Thumbsucker, starring Keanu Reeves as a "new age" orthodontist, opens in limited release in the US on September 18. Which probably means it will mainly be shown in theaters that lean toward independent films, such as art house cinemas. If it does make it to the major theaters, it probably won't be there long. So if you plan to see it, don't wait -- or else you'll have to be patient enough for the DVD.


My kids both have loose teeth, and it's driving me crazy. I keep forgetting that they can't eat crunchy stuff. It makes it difficult to get dinner on the table. It's funny...not too long ago, I was making my family "suffer" through soft meals because of my braces. Now the dinner tables have turned!

Tuesday, August 23

Well, the back pain is gone, and it has been gone for over a week! I had my last acupuncture appointment on the 11th. It was a really long appointment, with a little more massage thrown in. When I got up off the table, I felt really dizzy and slightly nauseous, which is quite unusual (never felt that way before, afterward). The doc said that it was a "very strong treatment" and had me drink an herbal concoction "for my blood." I'm usually not into the herbal stuff, but this time I drank it. It took about 45 minutes for me to feel OK again.

After the treatment, my back actually hurt a little more than when I'd come in. He left a dermal needle behind my left knee, and another one at my left ankle and instructed me to stimulate them several times a day. That was fairly unpleasant, but I did it for several days until I couldn't stand doing it anymore.

As the days passed, the pain began to change and diminish. By Saturday it was down to a whimper. By Monday, it had totally disappeared, and for the first time in two months, I was totally pain-free!

After what I'd been through, I decided to be extremely careful. I continued to rest periodically on a heating pad and do slow leg stretches and pelvic tilts/bridging. A few days later, I tried doing a couple of easy physical therapy exercises. A few days after that, I got on the exercise bike and rode it for 10 minutes with no resistance (to see if the motion would bother my back -- it didn't.) A couple of days later, I did 20 minutes on the bike with light resistance. And yesterday I did 30 minutes, splitting the time between the bike and the Nordic Track with medium resistance. I've been slowly working up my strength level on all the physical therapy exercises, and slowly doing some of the stretches that hurt previously (they don't hurt, now-- yea!)

All I can say is....what a relief! But I view these next few weeks as a transition period. If I fool myself into thinking I'm totally better, I might re-injure myself. So some activities are still off-limits, such as vacuuming the carpets, pushing a heavy shopping cart, or lifting anything remotely heavy. I figure that if I can continue strengthening and stretching, this whole horrible episode will get further behind me and stay behind me. Then, when I've been OK for a few months, I'll try to resume some of those other "risky" activities.

But one thing's for sure: no lifting anything over 30 pounds. And no lifting or shoving furniture. I hate asking for help, but I have to ask myself what's worse -- waiting until my husband comes home to help with the task, or doing it now and risking another back injury? Whatever it is, it won't be worth it. So I have to learn to take a step back and be patient on some things. If you knew me personally, you'd know that I'm a "let's get this damn thing done now" sorta person -- so waiting on help doesn't come naturally to me.


On a different note, I'm once again adding some new and interesting products to The site has a "what's new" section, and all the new products will be on that page as they are added. If there is an oral hygiene product you've had trouble finding, email me and let me know, because I'm totally open to suggestions.


School starts next week for my kids. Starting school before Labor Day -- and in August -- it seems against the laws of nature!

Well, the summer is over! I'm not looking forward to the onslaught of drop-offs and pick-ups for their various sports and activities. All the back-to-school meetings and school volunteer guilt. Every Saturday and some Sundays taken up by various games. You know how it goes -- it's busy with a capital B.


Now that my back seems to be better, my husband and I are once again talking about replacing the icky carpet. There's hardwood underneath it, but we have no idea what sort of condition it's in. Believe it or not, we're actually considering having those floors re-finished. I'm looking forward to the final product, but just thinking about the process makes my head hurt. Whether we re-finish the floors or put down new carpet, it really needs to be done.

This carpet was here when we bought the house more than 10 years ago -- and it wasn't new, then. So we're dealing with a carpet that's at least 15 to 20 years old and has been through a couple of families with kids and pets. It used to be camel colored. Now it's a sort of grey oatmeal color, no matter how well or often we clean it. It's just shot and it looks awful. It's even disintegrating in some places! Like I said -- icky.

Wednesday, September 1

I can't believe the havoc that Hurricane Katrina has brought on Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama! This has been an awful year for hurricanes. First Florida and the Caribbean get pounded, now other parts of the Southeast!  One of DentaKit's suppliers has offices and warehouses in Metarie, LA and I'm sure praying for those people and their families.

Please consider making a donation to one of the many relief organizations listed in the official FEMA site. I know that we're all worn out from continual donation solicitations, but just imagine if your house was under all that water and you had lost everything!


I haven't written about my teeth lately because...well, there's nothing much to write. I wear my retainer every night, and the teeth are fine. No issues whatsoever. That's the way it should be, don't you think? On the other hand, my kids have dental issues. My older daughter is losing some molars, but they are stubborn and not readily falling out. She may need to have them surgically removed. My younger daughter just lost two teeth so she has a slightly gappy smile again!


My back continues to be OK! Yea! I'm still being really careful, however. If I overdo it even in the slightest it lets me know, and I stop and take care of myself. Such is life with a herniated disc. I bought a really great heating pad (moist heat with digital controls). That helps a lot.


Well, the school year is underway again. Today I found myself sitting atop piles of forms to fill out and checks to write (oh God, how I hate filling out those forms!) Soccer practice (twice a week) is back in session, and soon the Saturday games will start. Rush, rush, rush. I really hate all the rushing around in the afternoon, but there isn't much I can do about it. Each kid is only in one after-school activity. They deserve at least one enjoyable activity (mother guilt! mother guilt!) I just hate being the chauffeur -- it gets really exhausting! Is your life this complicated, dear reader?

I was reading an article about some celebrity who discovered the joy of taking his son to soccer practices and driving him to school every day. Oh sure, when you have "people" to do all sorts of things for you, you can enjoy the nitty gritty. Personally I don't enjoy being stuck in a traffic jam for 20 minutes, inching slowly forward, trying to take my kid one mile down the road to school. (Repeat at pickup time). What planet is that guy living on? Oh yeah, Planet Hollywood! OK, enough bitching...


I try not to "talk shop" here too much, but I want to mention that DentaKit has added a bunch of nifty products to the online store, including various types of bracket covers that are wax alternatives. We have two types and will be adding a third type soon. We'll also soon be adding some fine-gage interproximal brushes and an interproximal "brush" that has no wire in the middle, so it's much softer than regular brushes. If you're so inclined, surf over to the What's New page and check it out. We're adding helpful new products all the time.

Wednesday, October 5

Today I put my money where my mouth is and donated 5% of DentaKit's profits from September to the Red Cross Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund. It felt really good to be able to write that check. I know that there are many organizations to choose from.  I chose the Red Cross mainly because a dear friend works for the Red Cross in Arizona. Over the years, she has told me a lot about what she does to help people. Anyway, if the Red Cross isn't your cup of tea, there are a lot of other organizations that are helping the hurricane victims.


I'm moving ahead with several household projects. It's not easy; work keeps me really busy and I'm also trying to exercise regularly and stay on top of all the normal household stuff. But anyway, I finally have carpet people and hardwood flooring people coming in to give me estimates. I still have no idea what we'll choose. It depends on the numbers, which we won't know for a few more weeks.

Here's something new. My kids like to shower in our stall shower, because they "hate the shower curtain" in their bathroom (standard tub). Their bath products are all over our shower -- and they have a lot of bath products. When they shower, they tend to leave their dirty clothes on our  bathroom floor. Much yelling ensues; it's really annoying. Finally it dawned on me: why don't I have a shower door installed on their tub? DUH!!! A few estimates later, the door has been ordered. Very nice silver hardware with gluechip obscure glass. It should be installed before the end of the month. I can't wait!


Speaking of all these domestic issues, our kitchen sink clogged up again. Of course, it did this on Friday night, out of the blue. Remember when our water heater died on a Friday night last year? What is it about Friday nights?! Not wanting to pay overtime to a plumber, we made do until Monday morning. We poured a lot of Drain-o stuff in, hoping it would make a difference. No such luck. Cost of the plumber clearing the drain: $125. Sometimes I feel like life is like a game of Monopoly. Sometimes you get to collect the $200 when you pass Go, and sometimes you get the sucker card.

But that doesn't even begin to compare with what happened Friday morning. I started the minivan to take the kids to school (A Toyota Sienna, model year 2000) and all this noxious bluish-white smoke began pouring from the tailpipe. What the hell?! Good thing we have another car. I called a couple of mechanics. Hmmm. Could be a cracked somethingorother cap inside the engine. Cost of fixing that? Oh, only around $2,000 (double that at the dealership). On the other hand, it could be another whatchamacallit that also entails disassembling the engine. Equally expensive. Fortunately my husband was working from home that morning, so he knew what the somethingorothers and whatchamacallits were. I'm rather clueless about mechanics.

OK, regroup for research. An hour of Google later, a chill ran down our spines as we read post after post about the "Toyota Engine Sludge Problem," some "Toyota Engine Sludge Hotline," and the class action suit that is being formulated by disgruntled customers. What does this Engine Sludge do to your car? It kills your engine. That's right, we're talking about ENGINE REPLACEMENT -- oh holy shit, that's like $5,000!

I called Toyota Corporate to ask about this "Engine Sludge Hotline." Oh yes, it's real. It's actually called "Engine Gel Customer Assistance blah blah blah..." In a nutshell, if we go to a dealership and the car is diagnosed with this Engine Gel problem, Toyota will reimburse us for the work. Not pay for it outright, mind you, but reimburse. And only if we have the work done by a dealer$hip. Why do I have a feeling that Toyota will try to wrangle its way out of paying to fix my car? Hmmm, what would give me that impression?

After much discussion, my husband and I decided to immediately get an oil change and a new PCV (or is it PVC?) valve installed. We checked the coolant levels. I think they're OK; we're watching them daily. One of the problems (aside from Engine Sludge) could be a cracked thing inside the engine that leaks coolant into the line, resulting in the tailpipe smoke and also rapid use of coolant.

The smoke has dissipated since doing the oil change. Now the car seems to be normal. But I have a really bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I think that this is only a band-aid. It is a $120 risk to take the car to the dealership for a diagnosis. When faced with a possible $2-5000 expense, $120 doesn't seem so bad. It still pisses me off. We're trying to decide what to do, and watching the car very closely.

If you have a Toyota car (various makes and models are included in this Engine Gel thing), model year from 1997 to 2002, then your car may also develop this problem. Be sure to change your oil twice a year or every 7,500 and keep all your paperwork. Toyota needs proof that you did proper oil changes. If you have any questions, go to the Toyota website for the phone number and talk to the customer assistance department.

One thing is certain: if our car has this problem, and the company won't reimburse us, it will be the last Toyota we ever buy.

Anyway, I'll keep you guys posted. Maybe we were lucky this time. Maybe....


I headed over to the local Indie theater last week to see Thumbsucker. I really enjoyed the film. It is a dark ironic comedy, and it reminded me of Garden State -- and even Orange County, to some extent. In a nutshell, the film is about people's imperfections and dysfunctions -- and how people grope to find happiness and meaning in their lives. Keanu Reeves (as orthodontist Dr. Perry Lyman) played a superbly dark and troubled orthodontist. Despite what some reviews say, this is not a "Ted Logan Grown Up" character. No comparison to Ted Logan whatsoever. (Unless Ted totally lost his joie d'vivre and had become darkly disillusioned in the ensuing 25 years since his telephone booth adventures). Anyway, I had one thought when Dr. Lyman was examining Justin's mouth: "He only told him to bite down once!" My ortho had me do that ad naseum! LOL. Anyway, I won't spoil the plot by spilling all the details. I thought it was a good film -- the sort of story which will rattle around in your psyche for days or weeks afterward. Great performances by everyone all around. If you don't catch it in the theaters, put it in your Netflix queue when it comes to DVD.


I hope you enjoy the History of Braces article that I wrote this month. It's not all-inclusive, but it does touch on most of the significant historical events and facts. It was interesting writing that article -- I learned a few things new things, myself!

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