One Friday, July 1, I developed a rather painful toothache. It was possible to pinpoint the tooth causing the trouble, as it hurt if I pressed on it. My dentist at the time was a certain Dr. Arthur Broder, so I gave him a call. It turned out, though, that Dr. Broder was taking advantage of a four day July fourth weekend. I received a recorded message stating that he would not return to his office until Tuesday, July 5. The recording included the name and telephone number of a Dr. Wilson, who would cover for Dr. Broder in his absence. Note 1
So I called Dr. Wilson. I then discovered that Dr. Broder had not given Dr. Wilson's name and number specifically for coverage on this particular Fourth of July weekend. I knew this because my call was answered by Dr. Wilson's answering service, which informed me that Dr. Wilson was also away for the long weekend. The answering service, however, helpfully gave me the name of a Dr. Mathews, who covered for Dr. Wilson in his absence.
So I called Dr. Mathews. You can guess what happened. A recorded message said that Dr. Mathews was away for the long weekend, returning on Tuesday, July 5. The message referred me to a certain Dr. Garabedian.
I called Dr. Garabedian with very little hope that he would actually prove to be available. But surprise! he was working, and when I told his office that I had been referred by Dr. Mathews, they were willing to see me quickly on an emergency basis. I wondered if Dr. Garabedian might be the only dentist in the Boston area who was actually working over the four-day weekend.
With each call, the dentist covering got farther and farther away from my home town. By the time I reached Dr. Garabedian, his office had receded to Reading, Massachusetts (for some reason, each dentist seem to be a little bit farther to the northeast). Reading is only about a forty-minute drive from my home, but certainly farther than I usually traveled to see my dentist.
Upon arrival, I found Dr. Garabedian's office surprising. He had a truly massive number of files, ensconced in a wall of floor to ceiling sliding cabinets. I'd never before seen a dental office with that many files. Did he have tens of thousands of patients?
And when I was ushered into his office, it seemed even more unusual. The chair for his patients had straps on the armrests, apparently to hold down the patient's arms. The implements laid out in their sterilized packets included many pairs of pliers, various sorts of scalpels, and some other truly frightening dental instruments that I'd never seen before. Although I sat down in the chair, I carefully thought about how quickly I could get to the door in case he started to strap me down.
Dr. Garabedian came into the office, and I explained my problem. He took an x-ray of the painful tooth, and disappeared for a while to have it developed. When he returned, he told me that the tooth looked pretty good to him, and he didn't understand why I wanted to have it extracted. I replied, "Who said anything about an extraction?" Dr. Garabedian replied, "Well, I'm an oral surgeon. I assume Dr. Mathews referred you to me for an extraction."
I said, "I don't even know Dr. Mathews." I then explained to Dr. Garabedian the whole story of how I had come to be in his office. He thought this was very funny. He gave me a prescription for a painkiller to take over the weekend, and told me to see my regular dentist on Tuesday, July 5, if the problem persisted. I pulled out my checkbook as I got up to leave, but Dr. Garabedian said, "No charge."
I saw Dr. Broder, my regular dentist, the following Tuesday, and he explained what he thought was wrong with my tooth. He thought it had gotten traumatized, perhaps when I had bitten down on something hard (hint: chewing ice is a bad idea). This caused a swelling underneath the tooth, making it stick out further than it otherwise would. This meant that it repeatedly tapped against the opposing tooth, which continued to aggravate the inflammation. Dr. Broder had me bite down on a piece of carbon paper, to locate where the tooth was impacting its opposing tooth. He then ground down those areas very slightly, so they would no longer hit. This worked. Within a day or two, the pain disappeared.
Since I'm writing this blog largely for my descendents, I probably ought to mention a particular congenital dental problem that I had. When my adult teeth came in, my upper canines did not appear. X-rays showed them to be completely out of position in my upper palate. In fact, it turned out that my father never had these teeth at all. But in my case, they were there, just not where they belonged.
This provoked a surgical intervention. The teeth were rotated down through an incision in my upper palate, with the help, as I recall, of some actual hammering with a rubber mallet (I was awake for the whole procedure, done under Novocaine). After the surgery, the two teeth sprouted from the front center of my upper palate. Once it all healed, an orthodontist hooked an appliance around them, to tug them forward, which also made them protrude further. When they had emerged sufficiently, he was able to put an orthodontic band around them, to get a better grip. They were then wired to the upper front teeth, and the wires tightened periodically to move the teeth gradually towards the front of my mouth.
Since in a normal bite the upper canines are in front of the lower teeth, there came a point where they had to cross the lower arch from back to front. During that time, I had to wear a plastic bite block, so that I couldn't bite down all the way. I was able to dispense with that once the canines had crossed from the back to the front. The process was successful, and left me with normal dentition and a normal bite. However, apparently the blood flow to one of the teeth was sufficiently stressed by this process that the tooth died a few years later, and had to have a root canal. I still have it, though, almost 60 years later. Note 2
This problem, or a variant of it, appears in some other members of my family as well (I mentioned above that my father was lacking his canines altogether). It hasn't shown up in my daughters, so I hope that they've both escaped it. But I suppose it could exist as a recessive gene, so if it ever turns up in one of my grandchildren or beyond, you'll know whom to blame.
We're all programmed by evolution, of course, to try to pass on our genes. But like everyone else, I suppose, my genes have pros and cons.
Note 1: Although Dr. Broder's name is accurate, I confess I no longer remember any of the names of the other dentists involved. I've made up the names that I used in the story in order to be able to tell it easily.
Someone asked me what year this event took place. Looking back, July 4 was a Monday in 1977, 1983, 1988, 1994, 2005, and in fact the year I write this, 2011. I suspect this event took place in 1977, 1983, or 1988. If you'd like to learn more about how to calculate the day of the week for any given date, see my webpage, "Want to become an idiot savant?", on my "old" web pages. [return to text]
Update: In late 2015, this tooth finally cracked. A canine is, after all, a rather narrow tooth, and the root canal filling of gutta-percha had only a relatively thin shell around it. Repair was impossible, and over the next few months it was replaced by an implant. [return to text]