I'm 32 and wear dentures because cancer and lupus destroyed my teeth – Insider


This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Stacey Barbera, a 32-year-old content creator from Pennsylvania, about her decision to get dentures. It has been edited for length and clarity. 
As a child, I had thin, brittle hair that refused to grow past my shoulders. When I was 9 years old, my grandmother sat me down and told me she thought I had a bad thyroid. She ended up being right. In 2013, when I was 23, I went to the doctor and got an official diagnosis of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system’s cells attack healthy tissue. I saw an endocrinologist for hormone therapy to regulate my thyroid, but things took a turn for the worse.
In 2015, I noticed an increase in symptoms. I was often dizzy, which lasted the whole day unless I took over-the-counter Dramamine to help. But it often gave me extreme headaches on top of the dizziness, so even when I took the medication, it took over 24 hours before I felt better.
My hair loss worsened, my skin was parched, and no matter how warm it was, I was constantly cold. Additionally, my nails were brittle, my hair wouldn’t grow, and the combination of anxiety with heart palpitations was hard to handle.
I saw six different doctors, and finally — in 2017, when I was 27 years old — I was diagnosed with another autoimmune disease: lupus. A year after my lupus diagnosis, I was five weeks pregnant with my seventh child. My obstetrician sent me to my general practitioner when I came in with symptoms of morning dizziness, increased heart palpitations, feeling weak all day, and muscle aches like those you’d get with the flu. The general practitioner discovered my thyroid was swollen and enlarged, and she sent me for an ultrasound. 
Since the presence of nodules doesn’t necessarily indicate cancer — they can be either benign or malignant — and I was also pregnant at the time, my medical team didn’t want to do any invasive procedures. The only way to get a real diagnosis was for them to do a fine-needle aspiration and a biopsy, but it would have to wait until after I gave birth. The doctors felt comfortable waiting because thyroid cancer usually develops relatively slowly.
We continued to do ultrasounds and there were small changes in tumor growth throughout my pregnancy; because they were continuing to grow, I opted to do the biopsy in January 2020, just five weeks after I gave birth. 
The doctor biopsied three of the larger modules, and all of those samples came back negative. We thought I was cancer-free, and I was so relieved. But about six months later, my throat continued to swell. I started to notice some hoarseness in my voice and began having trouble breathing. I was sent to a specialist who conducted more tests. 
The specialist decided it was a good idea to completely remove my thyroid because it was growing out of control, and we couldn’t figure out why. My thyroid was removed in January 2020, and my medical team found that I actually did have thyroid cancer. I’d had 12 to 15 nodules of different sizes growing in my thyroid, and they biopsied three of the larger ones, rather than some of the smaller ones. 
It turned out that my cancer was encapsulated in one of the smaller ones, which gave the biopsy a false-negative result; we might not have known had I not had an elective thyroidectomy. The doctor said thyroid cancer tends to grow at a slower rate than other cancers and is less invasive when it comes to symptoms, so it can remain undetected for a long time. 
About a year after I had my thyroid removed, I noticed my teeth were starting to become weak. The parathyroid hormone that’s produced by your thyroid is responsible for balancing your calcium, among other things. My calcium levels were really low, causing my teeth to break. They were literally just crumbling while I was eating soft foods; it was almost impossible to eat. My teeth were losing all of their dentin, crumbling from the inside out and becoming weaker and weaker. If I put any kind of force on them, they’d break, even though they weren’t rotten. 
I lost four teeth in a matter of two months. It was really scary. Thankfully, my back molars went first, so I was able to hide those by putting my hand over my face when I talked or smiled. It was incredibly embarrassing, but at least it was easy to conceal. 
Then a front tooth that I’d had a root canal on a few years earlier began to crack in the back. I went to the dentist and they told me that my tooth was indeed broken. My only option was to get that pulled and either get a partial denture or an implant. I was already missing several of my teeth at this point, so I did a lot of research into my options without anyone knowing — including my husband — because I was mortified.
I was looking up young people with dentures, trying to find answers to my most pressing questions: How much has their life changed? Are they happy? Are they living life to the fullest? Are they in a better place than I am right now? 
It took a long time to feel at peace with making the decision, because the dentist said I didn’t need full dentures. They wanted me to do a partial denture and fix the rest of my teeth. But that was incredibly expensive. To fix my teeth, it was going to cost $25,000. Pulling my teeth and getting dentures would cost $4,000. Considering the dentist told me that I was going to need full dentures within five to 10 years anyway, I decided to get them. 
At first, I was incredibly ashamed. I was even afraid to tell my husband, and we’d been together since we were 12 years old — that’s almost 20 years. He’s been through everything with me and seen me at my absolute worst. But I was still scared to have the conversation. 
True to form, he was the most supportive person I could’ve asked for. He reminded me that no matter what, I would be beautiful and that my teeth are not who I am as a person; he would be there for me. With that, I started the process in March 2021, and in April, all of my upper teeth were extracted.
At first, I was incredibly ashamed of the idea of having dentures at 30 years old, so I paid extra money to have top-of-the-line dentures because I didn’t want anyone to know my teeth were fake. I went in, was put to sleep, and I woke up with a new set of teeth. I also woke up with courage. 
Seeing some of my fellow denture-wearers doing TikToks gave me the courage to do them, too. Once I started making TikToks and being open about my journey with my teeth, I grew a little bit of a following. People told me they understood what I was going through — and that they were thankful I was posting, because they didn’t have anyone to talk to about it. 
The hardest part of this journey was feeling alone — like there was no one to relate to or open up to about having dentures young. To be able to give other people the peace, acceptance, and inspiration that I was missing was so important to me.
Viewers have said things like, “This is inspiring,” “This is what I needed,” “You gave me the push to go to the dentist,” and “You make me want to feel beautiful.” Hearing that feedback has given me the courage to keep making videos. 
My first viral video was in June 2021. I felt like I was on cloud nine. But when I do my makeup-transition videos like that one, I do get some vile comments. People have literally said they’d shoot me if they woke up next to me, and it must suck to be that ugly at the end of the day when all of it has to come off. 
I’ve done a lot of self-reflection over the past three years, and I’ve rebuilt myself from the inside out. The inner work I do, plus wearing makeup and clothes I like and getting the dentures have given me self-esteem. It’s given me power. I deserve to feel amazing no matter how upset that may make other people. 
Celebrities have false teeth, fake hair, and makeup artists airbrushing their faces to make them look flawless — and people admire them. But when an everyday woman who battled cancer, has multiple autoimmune diseases, and has eight children does those same things to take care of herself, I’m ridiculed and made fun of.
There are many reasons people have dentures, and my mission is to normalize, educate, and bring awareness to that. People lose a leg or an arm, and no one thinks twice about them having a prosthetic. Dentures are just like any other prosthetic, except in your mouth — and there’s nothing wrong with having them. 
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