MASTERSON ONLINE: Cheer medical innovation

Eufemia Didonato

I’ve been spending considerable time lately on padded treatment recliners in dentist and dermatology clinics. It’s all part of my war on the inevitable physical ailments bent on overwhelming me as I age.

If you’re over 50, I suspect you can relate.

There’s really nothing we can do when such moments of reckoning arrive except try and ignore them (at our peril) or make yet another appointment and hope we are in good hands.

Fortunately, being in capable hands over the past month is exactly what’s happened where both my aging teeth and skin are involved.

Hopefully, my experiences will bring a measure of comfort to fellow baby boomers.

First, a crowned root canal in the upper front fractured at the gumline the other day, leaving me looking like, well, the Ozarks-born boy I am.

The countenance staring back from the mirror was not my favorite, especially with a family reunion only two days away.

Possibly being gap-toothed in the family photos to come left me wondering what could possibly be done at the last minute without even a nub of tooth to which another crown might be attached. It seemed like a lost cause.

With hopes fading, I’d reached out for salvation to the man I consider the finest dental expert and innovator in Northwest Arkansas: Dr. Derrick Johnson at Integrated Dentistry in Bentonville.

But what, if anything could even he do at the last minute and on the eve of my departure for the reunion?

Dr. Johnson ( I prefer Dr. D), who’d previously installed my implants, thankfully cleared a hole in his busy schedule. Within two hours I was plopped in that familiar chair with the brilliant light beaming down.

As I reclined, expecting the worst, the ingenious dentist went to work. First, the Novocaine injection I used to dread, especially in the front gum.

But time had taught me his gentle and automatically measured injections were virtually painless and nothing to fear.

After taking a quick impression of my gap, he used what tiny tooth fragment and root canal remained to begin methodically creating a false tooth that took shape with each progressive layer.

As he progressed, Dr. D and assistant Demi used dental bonding material and cured each incremental layer with a blue light to harden his handiwork.

Within 30 minutes he’d crafted an entire temporary replacement in my mouth that amazingly looked almost identical to the crown I’d lost.

After some scraping and polishing, he held up a hand mirror. I could hardly believe my reflection. Rather than the dreaded gap, I was looking at a shiny replica that he explained would hopefully hold up through the reunion before I needed to return to lay plans for a permanent partial.

I asked if he’d ever built a tooth from scratch like this one in his career. He said this was the first he recalled. My wish for valued readers is that each one have a dentist with such ability and concern.

Sure enough, just as he’d called it, the makeshift temporary lasted just long enough to avoid the “Deliverance” look in family photos.

And soon I was back in that same chair beneath the familiar light, making plans for the permanent replacement.

Next in this continuing saga of medical need, I was just as fortunate to have Branson Dermatology (just up the highway) along with its remarkable SRT-100 machine that enables those of us who contract skin cancers to be healed without the potentially disfiguring effects of Mohs surgery, especially on our faces.

I’ve written previously about the non-threatening and curative capacity of this portable superficial radiation machine made by Sensus Healthcare of Florida.

Unfortunately, Arkansas has very few such devices available for residents of our state who suffer with basal- and squamous-cell carcinomas.

That’s likely why about 40 percent of the patients who journey to this clinic come from Northwest Arkansas or elsewhere across our state.

My latest episode stemmed from a squamous-cell cancer that appeared and began rapidly growing on my right ear two months ago. Like basal cells, these ugly little carcinomas usually arise from excessive exposure to sunlight.

Opting not to have a third or so of my ear removed by surgery, I headed to the Branson clinic and radiation therapist Michelle Nelson.

After a dermatologist removed a basal cell from the tip of my nose with an SRT-100 while in Santa Fe several years back, I was familiar with how easy and effective it is to destroy such specific cancers using this method.

So I laid back on the clinic’s padded lounge as Michelle breezed in with a smile and red hair flashing to refresh me on the procedure.

Soon the SRT was attacking the potentially disfiguring carcinoma, the kind that frequently grow on our faces as wrinkles emerge and hair grays.

As a bullet-proof young man, I spent a lot of time in the sun with skin elasticity and an immune system that allowed me to get away with it. Sunburns meant nothing in my 20s and 30s, as long as I could get as tanned as my friends. It was that hormonally youthful ego thing you also may recall.

At 74, our priorities change. Sunscreen has become my friend. Yet these little crusty little scourges still crop up without warning.

The SRT treatment couldn’t be simpler. Put on a few protective aprons and such. The machine’s tan-colored arm is placed in perfect position. Michelle steps out of the room to flip a switch.

I lay quietly and listen as the machine begins softly whirring in the painless, non-invasive treatment that lasts fewer than 30 seconds.

After I make about 20 such visits to the SRT-100 with its 95 percent cure rate, the cancer “poof!” vanishes like magic.

Count me among those fortunate enough to have capable and caring professionals who can deal the medical and dental inevitabilities of life.

(And I didn’t even whine about the diabetes, prostate cancer or A-fib.)

It’s enough to make me wonder how the mature adults who live in Third World nations or who occupied America a century ago dealt with these same predictable problems.

They probably just said to heck with it, had their teeth pulled and let the inevitable skin cancers run hog wild.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet (including your dentist and dermatologist) exactly like you want them to treat you.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master’s journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected]

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