An Abergavenny dentist has helped former Wales rugby legend Graham Price get his new front teeth back in time for his Christmas dinner. Dr Nigel Jones, one of the UK’s leading implantologists, treated the British and Irish Lions prop Price to some dental implants at his Smiles Better dental practice in Baker Street. As a result, Price has kicked his dentures into touch for the first time in almost 40 years.
“Graham needed help with a filling, but I saw that he was missing multiple teeth as a result of his glorious sporting career,” said Dr Jones, “so I discussed dental implants as an option for him. I used to win a lot of money thanks to his exploits on the rugby field and it helped to partly fund my dental studies, so it was the least I could do!”
Price, 64, was in expert hands. Nigel Jones is a pioneering surgeon and expert in dental implants, and is lead tutor on the Royal College of Surgeons dental implant diploma course. Dental practices around the UK refer their dental implant patients to him. Part of this work sees him exclusively treat players and staff at Premier League football club Swansea City, and Guinness Pro12 Welsh rugby region Ospreys, sorting sporting-related oral problems with dental implants.
Price suffered many broken teeth during his illustrious career, in which he won 41 caps for Wales between 1975 and 1983, winning two Grand Slams in 1976 and 1978. The tight-head was also part of the famous Pontypool front row during the 1970s and 80s, which also became the Wales front three, and played in 12 successive Tests for the British Lions. Leaving the field with less teeth than you started with in those days was a regular occurrence for forwards, according to Price.
“None of the forwards wore gum shields as very few of them had any teeth to protect,” joked Price.
“There’s been a serious transformation in the way the scrum is nowadays, but back then it was like the wild west, the only law that applied was the law of the jungle and you had to look after yourself.”
The dark arts of the inner sanctum of the scrum came to light in graphic detail for Price, when his jaw was broken early in the second Test against Australia in 1978 in Sydney, following a punch from behind by Wallabies loose-head Steve Finnane.
"He caught me coming out of a scrum with my jaw at its most vulnerable - open and gasping for air,” said Price.
“The year before Aberavon scrum half Clive Shell lost two stone after breaking his jaw, so I was concerned I’d lose weight, which for a prop would have been a disaster. For six weeks I had liquidize all my food - three, three-course meals a day - and eat it through a gap in my teeth.”
The brutal goings on at the coal face of world rugby meant Price has had to wear dentures for nearly 40 years, until now.
“Graham was relying on dentures just to be able to eat and his smile had gaps where his dentures didn’t quite meet his natural teeth,” said Dr Jones, 57.
“The dentures also didn’t give him a particularly stable bite. One of the particular problems we faced was that Graham’s jaw bone had shrunk quite a lot following tooth loss, so we were limited in the size of the implants we were able to use. But we gave him enough implants to give him back teeth which he’d been missing.”
Price says adjusting to implants was strange at first, but he is loving life with his new teeth and is looking forward to tucking into his turkey dinner care free.
“I’m really grateful for Nigel’s generosity,” he said.
“It has made such a difference. For the first time in nearly 40 years I don’t have to take my dentures out to brush my teeth. I can enjoy meals without gum pain and I’m able to chew all types of food including hard foods such as carrots and apples. I also don’t have to worry about getting food stuck in my dentures.
“It’s taken a bit of getting used to, but it’s so much better and I’d recommend anyone with dentures or tooth loss to speak to Nigel.”