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, perhaps.
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 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!