The Bartlett pear (called Williams pear in England) is one of the tastiest and juiciest fruit in North American supermarkets. It’s hard to believe that by chewing on this soft delicacy, much to my dismay, I managed to break the filling on one of my lower molars.
Dental problems started to appear about 10,000 years ago, when humans stopped roaming the land to settle in villages and towns. At that time, mankind’s eating habits changed as our ancestors began eating more sugar, a leading cause for cavities.
Could it be that toothaches are God’s curse on the children of Cain for adopting their father’s sedentary living?
|Cain was a farmer and his brother Abel was a nomad. Abel sacrificed the firstborns of his cattle to God who seemed to enjoy it. However, the zucchini, carrots and celery Cain offered up weren’t to the Almighty’s taste, maybe because Cain neglected to serve them with ranch dressing.|
In the Middle Ages, tooth pullers began exercising their trade in public squares, promising their clients painless relief. Of course they were lying through their teeth but it provided great entertainment for crowds who had neither TV nor Internet to kill time. Tooth pullers also removed calluses.
In those days, dentistry and pedicure drank at the same well.
When Renaissance arrived, hairdressers joined the dental trade bandwagon. Noble ladies of Florence could thus have tartar removed from their teeth while getting a perm or having their hair styled.
In the 18th century, Pierre Fauchard, the “father of modern dentistry,” published The Surgeon Dentist in which he recommended the use of heavy metals for tooth fillings. He also endorsed regular mouthwash with urine.
A man collected his own urine in a bottle to use as mouthwash. Beware of unproven personal hygiene advice: it might just be a fad... especially if it’s gross.
You can understand why I have always had mixed impressions about dental medicine. Should it be considered a science? An art? A technical trade?
With this in mind I began looking for a dentist. I chose a new dental office that had just opened in a strip mall close to where I lived, tucked between a video rental store, a pizza parlor and a realtor’s office.
Doctor Nguyen’s office was new, tidy, tastefully decorated and equipped with the latest technology. The good doctor was a pretty 30 year-old woman who had recently graduated from a Las Vegas dental school, a city that does not readily come to mind when you seek higher education.
I was told however that its dental schools have an excellent reputation.
After her examination, Doctor Nguyen told me that my decayed molar needed a crown but first I had to see a dental surgeon who would lower my gum, raise my jaw and perform root canal surgery. She would make the necessary arrangements for me.
Root canal surgery is a procedure in which the pulp of a damaged tooth is removed with files, reamers, drills and other precision instruments. Although this treatment sounds painful, the Polish surgeon I went to see possessed undeniable skills.
He first gave me a solid local anesthetic and then put on a blaring Johnny Cash CD to distract me from the abominations he was performing in my mouth using sharp objects.
I did not feel a thing.
When I saw Doctor Nguyen again, she worked for several minutes on my molar before saying: “This won’t do.”
She led me to her office. My mouth was numb from the anesthetic and I was still wearing the necessary bib that dentists tie around the neck of their patients while they intervene.
Doctor Nguyen turned on a giant screen on which I could see the digitized x-ray image of my mouth.
“You see, I can’t install a crown because your teeth are out of alignment, specifically here, here and here as well as on all this side of your mouth,” she said pointing at teeth with her laser pen.
“This is what I suggest: I will make a set of braces to adjust your teeth. You will wear it in your mouth for six to twelve months, long enough for your teeth to be redressed. This treatment will cost about $1,800. Your parents would have done well to take you to a dentist when you were a child.”
I refrained from telling her about my grandfather who lived the last 30 years of his life with only three teeth in his mouth and who saw a blacksmith when he had a toothache.
“Then I will install crowns on the teeth of your lower jaw which will no longer be aligned with those of the upper jaw. It’s about twelve crowns and it will cost $15,000 to $18,000. We can start the treatment next week.”
I asked Doctor Nguyen for a few days to think about it.
“You know, many people would not hesitate one moment to mortgage their house to receive such a treatment,” she said.
“Oh! I believe you!” I replied. “However, just to satisfy my curiosity, how much would it cost to have all my teeth pulled out to replace them with dentures?”
“About $10,000 but I wouldn’t recommend it,” she answered.
I thanked her, paid for the treatment I already had received and left her office, dizzy from novocaine and the astronomical amounts that she had quoted me for fixing my teeth.
A friend suggested I seek a second opinion and recommended a Swedish dentist for whom her sister worked as a dental assistant.
So I went to see Doctor Svensson, a middle-aged lady who looked in my mouth mumbling “I see, I see...”
Then she asked me:
“Is your dentist young? Her office and equipment, are they all computerized?”
“Yes! How did you know?”
“Dear sir, I think I can fit you with a crown. Would you prefer gold or porcelain? I believe a gold crown would look good on you. A gold crown costs $900, a porcelain crown, $1,200.”
“Gold would be nice,” I replied sheepishly promising myself to light a candle to Saint John Maynard Keynes who suggested the gold standard be replaced with the porcelain standard at the Bretton-Woods Conference in 1944.