WITH GALLERY: After a brutal assault, U-M dentists help man get his true smile back
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Sitting in a light blue dentist’s chair at the University of Michigan Dental School Thursday afternoon, 24-year-old Jean-Claude Soloman of Whitmore Lake sat patiently as doctors spread his jaw wide open to work on his teeth for about two hours.
As the doctors’ fingers and instruments stopped their buzz of activity, Soloman was finally able to release his fingers from their balled up position and relax his face.
Soloman casually spread his lips and examined his new smile — complete, with all of his front teeth neatly in a row — in a small mirror. He nodded quietly in approval.
For Soloman, the moment wasn’t a two-hour wait.
He's been waiting two years.
Walking alone on an October night in Ann Arbor in 2010, Soloman passed a man walking with a woman on Granger Avenue near Packard Street.
It was the night University of Michigan lost to Michigan State University in the annual rivalry game; the man said, “Go State” — to which Soloman replied, “Go Blue.”
After a short exchange of profanities, the men went their separate ways — or so Soloman thought.
"I heard something behind me, as I looked back he punched me (in the face)," Soloman said in an interview with AnnArbor.com in 2010.
The man then attacked Soloman, punching him and kicking him so severely Soloman had a broken septum, chipped and broken teeth, a concussion and injuries that resulted in more than 100 stitches to his mouth, lips and chin. He ended up driving himself to the hospital that night, covered in blood.
The case of Soloman’s attacker has not been solved.
Health insurance covered the reconstructive surgery to his nose, but when it came to the missing three front teeth that gave Soloman the smile of an eight-year-old, his plan was not going to foot the lengthy bill.
Outfitted with a “flipper” — a retainer-like piece of plastic that includes front teeth — Soloman tried to return to a normal life. Eating with the flipper was impossible, Soloman said.
At the time of the assault, Soloman was a 22-year-old senior accounting major at Eastern Michigan University. His first job out of college was at a bank, where he was face-to-face with strangers every day.
Soloman said he often wouldn’t smile or open his mouth very wide so people wouldn’t notice his front teeth. The cost of a permanent solution stretched towards $10,000 and out of Soloman's price range.
One of the bank’s patrons was more observant than others: Dr. Chady Elhage, a University of Michigan Dental School student. Elhage said he recognized the flipper in Soloman's mouth right away, and got Soloman’s number.
“He’s a young guy, going out, working — he shouldn’t have to deal with that,” Elhage said.
Elhage, 27, now in his second year of the three-year prosthodontics program at U-M and with a general dentistry practice of his own at 19928 Farmington Road in Livonia, did not forget Soloman.
Elhage took Soloman’s case to his supervisor, Dr. Mike Razzoog.
“Dr. Elhage met this young man and asked if there was something we can do,” Razzoog said, noting it has been rare for the clinic to do work free of charge.
Elhage called Soloman up and asked him if he wanted some teeth. It didn’t take long for Soloman to make an appointment. Since June, Soloman has had a temporary bridge of front teeth cemented to his jaw while specialty implants could be made.
He’s started a new job as a salesman at the Ford dealership in Brighton, where his face and his smile are more imperative than ever. Even with the temporary bridge, Soloman said he was still slightly embarrassed to give his clients a full smile.
The implant is designed to be permanent, and looks more than realistic.
A bar screwed to Soloman’s jaw fills in a space where there once was a gap from the loss of his jawbone in the assault. Elhage cemented porcelain teeth caps to posts on the bar.
After two hours of carefully fitting the implant and each of the caps, Elhage assured Soloman that his state-of-the-art teeth were ready to go.
Soloman smiled into the mirror — and then for about five more minutes as Elhage photographed his new teeth extensively to document his work.
“Don’t go chomping down on gobstoppers or hard, rock candy,” Elhage said. “Go home and enjoy those with your family.”
The implant will last a long time — Soloman will have to carefully clean the space between his gum and the implant, but he can floss the new teeth just as he does with his regular ones and even eat corn on the cob.
Elhage said he was happy to see Soloman with a complete smile that he could use just as a normal young man.
After several hours of dental work, an empty stomach and dry mouth, Soloman wasn’t headed home: His colleagues had demanded he come back to the dealership to show off his grin.
For the first time in two years, Soloman wasn’t embarrassed to oblige.