KENNEWICK - For many of us, eating a salad is that thing we do instead of biting into a juicy hamburger or gooey slice of pizza -- we don't really want it, but we know it's good for us.
But Linda Cochrane of Kennewick dreams of the day when she can sink her teeth into a crisp salad loaded with vegetables fresh from the garden.
Right now, Cochrane can't eat much of anything at all unless it's soft and doesn't require much chewing. Her gums are swollen from having all of her teeth pulled in preparation to get dentures.
And the new dentures she is wearing have a tendency to slip and slide, making chewing and even talking uncomfortable.
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But it's a situation more hopeful than the one Cochrane was experiencing when she was profiled in the Herald in March.
A few months ago, Cochrane was suffering chronic pain and infection in her mouth. Her teeth were rotting from years of using prescription pain medications after tripping and breaking her neck in 2002.
She has permanent spinal cord damage that cost her some mobility and has left her disabled for nine years.
Then she started losing teeth -- three in one day in February.
Cochrane applied to the state's Medicaid program and was approved to have it pay for dentures in 2009, but through twists and turns of circumstances, her paperwork fell through the cracks and her approval expired.
By the time she reapplied, the state stopped covering dental services for low-income adults. She waited months to hear whether her approval could be reinstated when the Herald wrote about her in March.
Because of the article, two local dental offices offered to do Cochrane's dental work for free. Dr. Greg Frodel at West Pasco Family Dental did her evaluation and tooth extractions, and denturist Joseph Vize of First Choice Denture Service made her dentures.
Cochrane said Frodel and Vize have been godsends.
"I recommend that dental office to everyone," she said of West Pasco Family Dental. "It was less pain than any dentist I've ever been to. (Frodel) was fantastic."
Kevin Hare, Cochrane's caregiver, said that Cochrane immediately saw improvements after being treated by Frodel.
"Her pain level improved right away," Hare said.
Frodel pulled her teeth in groups of three or four during a couple of months. Then Cochrane took a mold of her teeth that had been made when her dental problems began to Vize so that he could make dentures modeled on her own teeth.
Vize said when he met Cochrane, it was immediately apparent that her teeth couldn't be saved.
"Her teeth were so far gone, there was nothing to do to salvage them," he said. "She absolutely had to have an extraction and dentures."
His recommendation is that Cochrane get implants -- a set of screws permanently embedded in her jaw that can be used to snap her dentures into place to prevent the kind of slippage that can come with dentures held in place by adhesive.
"Implants would be best for her," Vize said. "The quality of life really is much better. ... I think most people in my field would agree it's the standard of care."
Hare said the implants also would allow Cochrane to eat a wider range of foods -- such as the salad she has been craving -- and wouldn't interfere with taste buds the way adhesive might.
Six implants would be optimal to hold the upper and lower dentures permanently in place.
But they cost $1,000 each, and Cochrane somehow has to raise or find the money to pay for the hardware.
Hare opened a donation account in Cochrane's name at Tri-Cities Federal Credit Union on Kennewick Avenue after a few Herald readers said they wanted to help.
He is hopeful community members will help Cochrane over this final hurdle toward once again having a healthy mouth.
"She's lost so much. If she could just get back the sensation of taste and being able to eat, it would do wonders for her," he said.