When I was a child, there were two neighborhood dentists. One was named Caress and the other was named Yankowitz. My parents chose Nathan Caress, possibly for onomastic reasons, but they might have made a mistake; Nathan Caress should have been called Nathan Butcher. Dentistry sixty years ago was much inferior to dentistry today, especially in our dark corner of the universe. There was no anaesthetics, no novacaine. Baby teeth that developed cavities were summarily yankowitzed with a pair of what looked like industrial pliers. Adult teeth that needed repair were excavated with a low-speed mechanical drill, then sterilized with carbolic acid, and filled with a mercury compound that has over the years not doubt lowered my IQ by dozens or scores of points. Dentistry was painful. No, it wasn't painful, it was torture. Dr. Caress, whose office was in the living room of his house on Rugby Road, had a big black ugly mole on his left cheek. I studied that mole for many too many hours.
Sometime in my early teens I was sent to an orthodontist, Irving Pollack, who had a very official suite of rooms in a high-rise on Joralemon Street, a subway ride away. I am grateful to him because, although he made a miserable adolescence even more miserable, his "appliances" helped keep my mismatched, askew anthology of teeth in my head. In fact, I have all but one of them to this day.
No thanks to my next dentist, T. Gorfein of Cambridge, Massachusetts, a genuine criminal who asserted that I had twenty-two cavities and set out to fill them. I left him after a couple of weeks, not because I was wise enough to suspect that he was a cheat, but because while he was working on me, he called over his assistant and said -- genuine historical quote coming here -- "Would you look at that sucker bleed." At the university clinic, the dentist to whom I was assigned could find only two cavities, which she (my first female practitioner) painlessly filled. I must have had other dental experiences before Colorado's Amiot and Johnson, both of whom were competent but both of whom insisted on talking Republican nonsense to defenseless me while my mouth was filled with equipment and fat fingers. Johnson left a crown too high, causing enormous pain; searching for an alternative for his ham-handedness, I remembered that I had bus-commuted with a dental student who seemed intelligent. She became a dentista of high regard for many years until she took very early retirement from the trade -- I never knew why. She sold her practice to another competent woman who charges outrageous sky high prices for her services, but keeps me healthy.
So the score as we head into overtime: one fake tooth, two root canal jobs, a couple of tender spots, two unerupted wisdom teeth waiting to cause trouble, but unabated ability to eat and enjoy corn on the cob. Nevertheless, lots of residual Caress-caused nervousness every time I need to see someone in the tooth business.
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