A New Smile

at Half the Price

By Jeff Schult (copyright 2004)

The artist wanted to admire his work. "No, no, not like that," he counseled. "Don't bite down, it looks fake. Relax ... that's it."

Sitting up in the chair, I was looking at a mirrored wall and at my cheery dentist, for whom I was trying to manage a smile, despite a serious lack of muscle control over my upper lip. Lots of Novocain will do that. Everything inside my mouth felt somewhat out of place. I ran my tongue slowly over the backs of my upper teeth, the new ones.

The image in the mirror was startling. I looked like an ad for toothpaste - big, bright-white bicuspids and incisors, a toothy smile, had replaced my quirky, crooked, mysterious, all-purpose expression of ambiguous approval.

I wondered for a moment about what I had given up. That other smile, the one that did not show my misshapen, deteriorated teeth, had its own charm. Why had I come to dislike it so much? It could not be good, I thought, to look this happy and friendly all the time.

My face looked implacably confident. I would have to work on the nuances.

The dentist, Josef Cordero, called out down the hall to his wife, also a dentist. "Telma, come look at Jeff."

Telma Rubinstein swept into the little room.

"Let me see," she said. I tried my smile again, not biting down, not fake.

"Show me the lowers." I could manage that. My teeth were bared in what could not be a smile. It had to be a snarl, I was sure of it.

"What a difference," she said. "They are perfect; they look terrific. You look fantastic."

She was right. I forgot about the old smile. I suddenly felt very smart, having found these dentists in Costa Rica. I had looked everywhere for the best talent at the best price.

I had looked in the United States, too. Sure, the talent is available. But I couldn't afford it.

I had never especially liked or disliked my teeth. I took them for granted. I did not have them braced and straightened as a child; my dentist and parents deemed it unnecessary. My teeth came in, straight and true, with an overbite that hindered neither eating nor smiling. I had a spate of cavities - seven at one time! - when I was about 12 or 13, in my new, adult permanent teeth. These were filled with metal. I was told to brush more thoroughly, to take care of my teeth; that they would have to last me. Flossing was not yet being emphasized.

I already was brushing thoroughly, I thought. In any case, that year was an aberration. There were no more cavities. My adult teeth were a little small, perhaps, in my big mouth, in my slightly oversized head - the latter of which was the butt of a few jokes. A special, extra-large football helmet had to be ordered for me to play on the freshman team in high school. In 1970, in western Pennsylvania, I was far more concerned about the mandatory crew cut than I was about a slightly crooked grin. Braces were not a birthright then, as they seem to be now.

My wisdom teeth showed up when I was around 18, crowding my other teeth slightly forward. At the front, they competed for the limited space available. I did not take particular notice, nor did anyone else that I recall. I suppose, looking back, that I was not so bad to look at, in a goofy, lanky, redheaded sort of way. Some girls thought so. I had no complaints worth mentioning now.

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Intro/Cover Page

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This article led me towards writing my first book, Beauty from Afar. For more information, see www.beautyfromafar.com and/or the book's page at Amazon ...

As of 2007-'08, you can most often find me at: www.jeffschult.com.

Before ...
After ...

Dr. Josef Cordero and an assistant work on the teeth of a patient in an examination room at Prisma Cosmetics Dentistry in San Jose , Costa Rica . Cordero and his wife, Dr. Telma Rubinstein, average 60 hours or so a week in the office, most of them in masks and gloves.

Though they practice general dentistry, much of their practice is in full mouth reconstruction for patients -- such as the author -- who come to them for both their experience and for significant savings when compared to the cost for the same work in the United States.

Photo by Jeff Schult .

Additional Links (Will open in new window):

The Butterflies of La Paz (story, photos)

Home and Abroad: Comparative Cost Chart

Prisma Cosmetics Dentistry

Las Cumbres Inn/Surgical Retreat