Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Scuba Diver Gets ID Tattoo On Tooth Implants (Just In Case)



Shark Encounter Has Diver Using The Word Of Mouth
(By STEPHEN WEIR, PUBLISHED IN DIVER MAGAZINE)

Backside of Stephen Weir's Dental Implant. Some numbers obscured for privacy

If you can see my social insurance number, it means you are my dentist, or I am dead. Eaten by a shark. Lost at sea. Or, maybe I was onboard an exploding airplane that somehow missed the crushed coral runway on a distant atoll.

Late last year I got my Toronto dentist to tattoo my social insurance number onto the backside of my new upper left implant. You can’t see it without a mirror and me opening my mouth wide.

It wasn’t cheap. But, as a diver who has had a few close calls underwater (all of them my fault), the tattoos give me peace of mind knowing that if my body washes up on a faraway beach, or if fishermen find my jaw in the gut of a shark, there is a good chance that I will be identified and my remains returned home for cremation.

I have had two encounters with sharks over the past decade – a large Tiger Shark in the Gulf of Mexico and a pair of small Great Whites that I accidentally got between while they were feeding on baby sea lions just off shore in the Galapagos Islands.  Both encounters left me shaken; concerned about my own mortality and the real fear my body (or what is left of it) will never be identified.

Dental outfits in the United States specializing in making ceramic and gold implants, crowns and bridges, know about this fear and are now able to put custom artwork in your mouth.  Here in Canada there aren’t many companies offering the service. My dentist, Toronto's  Dr Evelyne Bourrouilh was originally going to place an identification chip (similar to what pet owners use to tag their dogs and cats) on my implant but opted for the tattoo when she found a local lab willing to permanently mark the tongue side of soon-to-be-installed ceramic tooth. The picture you see above was taken just before the two-tooth tooth implant was screwed into my upper jaw.

“Our first request for a dental tattoo was by an airline stewardess in about 1990. She requested that her initials be engraved on her crown, so that her body could be easily identified if the plane crashed. We put her initials on her molar and she was thrilled,” says Tom Kowalkowski, the president of Westbrook Dental Studio in Chicago.  I contacted his company when I  first went looking for a tooth tat – however I decided to work with my dentist and a lab in my home city.

“Anyone can get a tooth tattoo on their crown, bridge, or dental implant,” he continues. “The tattoo stays on your tooth permanently if you want it to be there, but if you want to get rid of the tooth tattoo, your dentist can grind it off in a matter of minutes.”

There are a growing number of labs in the US that work with dentists to put the small tattoos on manufactured teeth.  Dentists and their patients choose suitable artwork  -- fraternity letters are popular and so are cartoon characters – or they can design their own.  The implants and crowns are delivered to the labs and the tats are put into the surface of the ceramic teeth and then returned to your dentist for insertion.

The cost in the US can run from $85 to $200 more per tooth.   The lab that my dentist found in Toronto charged about $300 to print my SIN number, like a stain, onto my porcelain implant. It was then covered in a clear porcelain and baked until it became part of the tooth.

When viewed in a mirror the SIN numbers are backward.  I probably should have had them done the other way! No worries I still have four more implants on the way. My next tat? My email address frontward and backwards and my website URL!


Brucie, the Shark (Jaws Ride at Universal Studio)
MY LATEST CLOSE ENCOUNTER

Tigers, Great Whites and the Galapagos Sharks have been known to attack divers.  They don’t necessarily intend to eat the neoprene wrapped human, but the simple act of tasting is usually fatal.  I survived my meetings intact but they left me with a deep concern that I might die diving and that my remains might not be found and identified for a long time.

In the case of the Tiger Shark, it was late summer in 2013 and I was diving with three experienced Fort Myers divers– a cop, a bondsman and female underwater archaeologist. We were three hours out into the Gulf of Mexico from Sanibel Island. It was hot, the seas were up and storm clouds were blowing through the area. We jumped into the sea, grabbed onto the anchor line and pulled ourselves downwards. The boat was empty, bouncing in the incoming waves. My companions were going to spearfish; I was going to photograph them catching their dinners.

There was an artificial reef made from long concrete pilings 60 feet down. Before we reached the bottom  we were surrounded by frenzied schooling fish madly swimming between our legs, over our arms and buzzing past our heads. 

Fish faces don’t usually show expression, but, these metre long fish looked frantic, and with good reason.  As we punched through the thrashing ring we could see through the gloom a large 8 ft tiger shark herding the fish. Behind the tiger were four smaller sharks, including a 6 ft bull shark. They were the next step down in the food chain – following the hunting tiger for bloody seconds.

We touched bottom and instinctively formed a circle, our backs touching and fronts facing the lazily circling sharks. I had a cop on one side and a huge bails bondman on the other. The young archeologist was gone, she had somehow gone missing.

The sharks continued to circle us in the gloomy warm turbid water, just within eyesight. Spear guns were put away and through pointing and sign language we decided to surface, hoping to find our companion on the boat.

Swimming upward we encountered a strong current. Breaking the surface we looked for the craft.  Rough seas had pushed us a mile away from the anchored dive boat.  It was so far away we could only see the boat when we bobbed on the crest of a wave and looked down at her in the trough of another wave.

With waves splashing hard into our faces, we had to continue to breath through our regulators as we started a long difficult swim against the current. It was a tough slog, made more difficult by the sharks that swam 2 or 3 feet directly below us. My companions disappeared under the waves several times to push at the pesky sharks with the butt ends of their guns.

It took 40-minutes to almost reach the stern of the boat. A few feet from safety I ran out of air.  I was dragged to the ladder by my buddy. Climbing into the boat I called down into the cabin for our fourth diver. No answer. She wasn’t there.

We all stood and searched the horizon for a dive safety sausage (a 10ft tall signaling device). North. South. East and West. Nothing. We were going to issue a May Day when suddenly we could hear her yelling far off the stern.

Our missing diver was coming home. She swam through the same sharks that had escorted us to the boat. She climbed exhausted aboard.  Smaller and lighter than we oversized men, the current blew her farther away from the boat as she surface.

It was a long, bumpy butt-busting ride back to Sanibel Island.  Three hours in 6 ft swells.  Time enough to plan my next dental visit.

POST TOOTH TATTOO

Shortly after completing this blog I decided that it was time that I slowed down a bit, and avoided life-threatening adventures.  So, in April, when I got permission from the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge to take part in one of only two yearly public visiting days, my wife and I flew off to tour the rain forest preserve on the slopes of Mona Kea (where the Canadian observatory is located) on the Big Island, Hawaii.  It was 4-wheel drive only invitation limited to about 80 people. We meet up with bird experts and photographers from across the State. We were assigned to a Hawaiian University bird expert and set out down the mountain to find and photograph endangered birds.

Our companions saw four of the seven endangered forest birds--the `akia pola`au, the Hawaii `akepa, the Hawaii creeper, and the `io-.  I didn’t see any. Too small. Too high in the canopy. 

Of course I didn’t spend much time looking, because we left the park early. I had climbed a small incline to look for an ‘akepa, I slipped and fell hard on my ankle. It was broken.

I suppose the other bird watchers got to see my tooth tat; my mouth was open wide when I yelled out in pain.  But they were probably too annoyed to look - I had scared off the birds with my yelp. I didn’t get any bird pictures. I didn’t get any sympathy.  I did get an air cast though and once it is off I am going back to shark diving. It is safer.


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