For the Holidays, Pull a Tooth or Save a Life

Each holiday season, Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for the New York Times, writes a guide of “gifts with meaning.” These are gifts of charitable giving, rather than gifts that will “just clog a chest of drawers.”  His title of December 2: “For the Holidays, Pull a Tooth or Save a Life” and subtitle “Pull a tooth!” caught my attention. In the article, he describes an organization called “Remote Area Medical”, an aid group that holds health fairs for people needing help.


He writes that he was in Virginia when he watched a 30-year-old man have 18 teeth pulled. And adds “for those who have suffered an agonizing toothache for months or years, a dentist makes a life-changing difference – and since the doctors, dentists and nurses donate their time, it’s very cost-effective.” Some uninsured families camped out for days for the opportunity to see a doctor or dentist and showed gratitude to Stan Brock, the founder of the organization.


Yes, dentists can make a “life-changing difference.”  Changing people’s lives is what draws me to dentistry every single day.  Look at my before and after photos and testimonials and you will see what I mean! Happy Holidays and remember charitable giving.

I’m sure you never thought there could be a connection between Welch’s Grape Juice and Dentistry but here it is! The founder of Welch’s is Thomas B. Welch who graduated from the New York Central Medical College in Syracuse in 1852.  He practiced medicine for three years before entering into a dental apprenticeship under the tutelage of Dr. Foster, a practicing dentist in upstate New York.  Dr. Welch then moved to Minnesota where he practiced dentistry for a year before settling in New Jersey.  He had a thriving career in dentistry with offices in Vineland, NJ and Philadelphia, PA.  He also founded the Welsh’s Dental Supply Co. in Philadelphia.


Dr. Welch had early hoped to become a minister and had joined the Wesleyan Methodist Connexion, which opposed the use of alcohol.  The alcoholic wine used in communion presented a challenge to Welch.  By 1859 he had perfected a juice pasteurization process in his kitchen, and he began selling the unfermented, alcohol-free product to churches as “Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine.” Dr. Welch failed to develop a following for the product until several years later when he got the idea to market the alcohol-free drink beyond the church.  He brought Welch’s Grape Juice to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, where he offered free samples of the drink he called  a “health tonic with medicinal uses.”   Welch’s Grape Juice was a hit and its popularity has continued to grow. So there you have it: Welch’s Grape Juice and Dentistry!

The recent guidelines issued by the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services no longer mentions flossing. Apparently officials had not done research about the effectiveness of regular flossing before they had recommended for Americans to floss. Without the requisite research, the recommendation had to be dropped.  The American Academy of Periodontology agreed that current evidence was not adequate because researchers had not included enough participants nor had they examined gum health over a long enough period of time.

There is apparently no reliable evidence that flossing prevents tooth decay or severe periodontal disease.  There is some evidence that flossing reduces bloody gums and inflammation, or gingivitis. I have certainly seen both good and poor flossers in my office. To my mind, the problem is that people don’t know how to floss properly – they really don’t understand the purpose of flossing. The goal is to remove, or reduce, plaque in between the teeth. You need to floss carefully against the root of the tooth to bring the plaque to the surface. Once periodontitis develops, the pocket may be too deep for effective flossing. An interproximal brush, such as the Go-Between, is more effective. Despite the limitations, cleaning between the teeth is crucial.  How many people remember the old saying, “You don’t have to floss all your teeth, only the ones you want to keep.” I don’t know where that saying came from, whether from an advertisement or not, but it was a popular saying some 30 years ago!

I’ve written posts about Joe Biden’s teeth, so to be fair I thought it was time for me to write about Donald Trump’s teeth. I’ve been looking closely at his abundant images on the media and observing his teeth. Definitely expensive porcelain crowns, fair esthetics but dreadful color. Too white, making the teeth too prominent, too fake. 

Ciro Scotti in an August 21, 2015 blog post in The Daily Beast wrote about his encounter some 15 years ago with Trump and his teeth.  At that time, Scotti was at the office of a dentist he called “a fancy Upper East Side dental surgeon who specialized in cosmetic work.”

The dentist showed Scotti a set of teeth molds: “Do you know what these are?” he asked.  Then answered his own question:  “Donald Trump’s teeth.” The dentist said Trump would come to the office every six months or so complaining that his veneers weren’t white enough.  “I tell him that if they are too white, they won’t look real,” the dentist said,  “but he won’t listen. So he picks a shade, and I make them about one-quarter as white as the shade he selects, and he goes away happy.”

As they walked down the hall, the door to an examining room was open and Scotti could see the back of a famous head of hair in the dentist’s chair. 

I hope this dentist informed Trump that if he continued replacing his veneers every six months, he will soon have no tooth left to veneer – crowns, root canals, extractions, implants will be in his future, if the future is not already here.

The Pygmie people live near the equator in the African rain forest.  Teeth filing or sharpening is a painful custom of these Pygmies of the Congo Basin.  The practice began over 500 years ago in order to make the indigenous people less attractive to the slave traders, as they thought.  The sharpened teeth were also an aid in eating meat.  Some of their descendants continue the practice today as teeth sharpening has become an integral part of the Pygmy culture.  The procedure takes about 45 minutes and is performed on all six upper front teeth. The people use a knife or hammer to chisel away the tooth until they achieve the desired shape. The procedure is very painful.  At the same time, lacking sugar, these indigenous people did not have any tooth decay in the seventeenth century.

Sadly, in 1904 the American explorer Samuel Verner brought back several Pygmies to exhibit at the St. Louse World’s Fair.  One of the Pygmies, Ota Benga, was later exhibited at the Bronx Zoo.  The New York Times  reported on the exhibit with the headline “Bushman Shares Cage with Bronx Park Apes.”  Today the official website of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation describes this human exhibit as “misguided.” Certainly a better apology is needed for this horrific chapter of our history.

Well now I really have heard everything – this time it’s “do-it-yourself orthodontics.”  What next? Do your own fillings? Make your own crowns or dentures? Is the dentist and dental office a thing of the past? I first heard of “Straighter Teeth, by Mail” several weeks ago when I read an article in The New York Times about remote orthodontics.

By now most people have heard of Invisalign which can straighten teeth by use of successive clear plastic aligners instead of traditional metal orthodontic brackets and wires.  But Invisalign is not within everyone’s budget. So an enterprising dental entrepreneur decided that the dentist and orthodontist were superfluous. People could insert the aligners on their own, with online support. The at-home cost is considerably less than the in-office cost. The client simply purchases a kit to make the dental impressions at home. A how-to video shows the client how to mix the putty, put it in stock trays and take impressions of his teeth. The impressions get mailed to the “Do-it-Yourself” company and a series of clear aligners is made to correct crowded teeth or teeth that are too spread out. A customer representative guides the patient through the process.

This may sound easy and inexpensive – but beware of dental bargains. A thorough exam and xrays are essential before beginning tooth movement. The patient cannot self-diagnose gum disease or decay which must be treated before any tooth movement should begin. Sometimes the misalignment of the teeth is too severe for Invisalign and certainly too severe for do-it-yourself. There needs to be a careful diagnosis and treatment plan and continued supervision by a dental professional. The do-it-yourself program may seem like a bargain, but it could be nothing more than a waste of money.

The Food and Drug Administration considers aligners to be a prescription item. They have approved more than ten kinds. But the FDA does not regulate the practice of dentistry; it is up to the states and their dental boards to decide what is appropriate care.  Recently the American Association of Orthodontists warned people against tooth movement without an initial exam and continuing supervision by an orthodontist.  “Our concern is that patients who don’t see an orthodontist for regular checkups and/or for a complete diagnosis are more likely to be harmed,” said Dr. Rolf Behrents, a spokesman for the AAO.

02teeth2-tmagArticleDo no harm!

A long-time patient came into the office last week for his six-month exam and cleaning. He was concerned that his teeth were not as white as they once were. As we age, our teeth also age and become darker – more yellow or more grey. This is what had happened to John and he wanted his teeth lightened. He asked about banana peel teeth whitening. The banana peel teeth whitening?  What is that? I had never heard of this. He explained that he had heard from several sources that he could rub a banana peel over his teeth and they would lighten. Now (as they say) I have heard of everything!


I needed to check this out so went to the internet. There were over 3,000 results for the search “banana peel whitens teeth”!  From what I can gather, the fad began with a Pinterest pin in 2012- now removed. Glamour Health & Diet then reported on the Pinterest claim that to “whiten teeth with banana peel is very safe and healthy for teeth as banana peels are a wonderful source of minerals and vitamins. They do not have the abrasiveness that other natural whiteners have and best of all they are inexpensive. Brush your teeth as usual with a natural toothpaste or you can use the banana peel first and then brush. Take a piece of the inside of the banana peel and gently rub around on your teeth for about 2 minutes.”  The Glamour article goes on to say that a Colorado dentist tried the banana peel whitening system for himself and after 14 days his teeth looked the same as when he began.  The author also tried it without results.


I have to admit that I was curious, so I bought some bananas and also tried the treatment. My teeth could use some whitening but bananas did not do the job. Bananas are inexpensive and a healthy food, but I am sorry to say that they do not whiten teeth.  In our office we whiten teeth with professional whitening gel and custom take-home trays.



Yes, “Painless Parker” did exist.  “Painless” was a dentist who practiced in Brooklyn from 1897 until he moved to San Francisco in 1912 where he continued to practice for several more years. Parker was born in New Brunswick, Canada and attended Temple University dental school. He may not have been the best dentist, but he was a pro at advertising. The outside of the Flatbush Avenue building that housed his dental office blazed with the alliterative: “Proclaimed by Public, Press and Pulpit”; “Painless Parker Is Positively Perfect”; “Pains and Pangs Positively Prevented.” The dental association was not amused by his false claims. Born Edgar Rudolph Randolph Parker, he legally changed his name to “Painless” in 1915 because of complaints of false advertising.


Parker was the quintessential snake-oil salesman with goatee, top hat and cutaway coat.  Early in his career he hired a former manager for P.T. Barnum and traveled through Canada and Alaska with dancing girls and a tent show.


He established the first and, hopefully, last sidewalk dental show. He employed a brass band, bespangled women and contortionists who would perform a sideshow to drum up patients. Dr. Parker would be on-hand to speak out on the horrors of tooth decay and then he would ask for volunteers to come forth to sit in his portable dental chair. One of his assistants would volunteer, and the doctor would pretend to extract a tooth without causing pain. He would afterwards display a palmed tooth to the astonished audience.  But back in his office when Dr. Parker pulled a real tooth, he would tap his foot to signal to the band to play and thereby drown out the screams of the unlucky patient.


Parker founded a dental chain, owned a yacht and made and lost several fortunes in what he called “the noble tooth-plumbing profession.” His life was an inspiration for the character of Painless Potter, the frontier dentist played by Bob Hope in “The Paleface.”  Parker died in 1952 when dental advertising was still illegal. Today advertising by professionals is legal. Lets hope that dentists today employ truth-in-advertising.



It’s a cliche: the British have really bad teeth. A reference to British teeth always gets a laugh from the American audience. I’ve checked out the situation and maybe yes, maybe no. Are British teeth really in worse shape than other people’s? Probably not. But in 2012 the New Republic raised a ruckus when it placed a photo-shopped portrait of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge with rotting teeth. The picture is on the cover of the July 8, 2012 edition of the magazine and it is meant to be a sign of the decay of Britain, the featured story. This special issue of the magazine ran with the title ‘Something’s Rotten. The Last Days of Britain’ next to the picture. The photo really is a shocker and shows how ugly teeth can spoil a lovely face.

The British newspaper, The Daily Mail, voiced outrage at the lack of respect for British royalty. Then other media and social media weighed in on the appropriateness of altering the royal image and whether the cover photo showed disrespect for the British royalty.
I always thought Kate had a beautiful smile and I wasn’t sure if she had had any cosmetic dentistry done. So I went on an internet hunt and searched for clues. According to the British periodical, Mail Online: “Last year the pearly white Duchess spent thousands of pounds having her teeth polished and turned to give her the perfect smile.” A French dentist used a “hidden brace to make Kate’s teeth appear a little out of line, un-American and therefore beautifully natural. ‘He did some little micro-rotations on Kate,’ the dentist Bernard Touati revealed. ‘That’s why they look so good – because they are not perfectly aligned. The problem in the United States is they have very artificial vision. But what we like is a natural healthy smile, but not artificial.'”  Yes, I do agree with him that natural is best and that is what I strive for. The dentist also whitens teeth and has an office in London’s Wimpole Street as well as in Paris and Geneva.

Here is Kate’s naturally beautiful smile, before any cosmetics were done:



Kate’s husband, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge has his mother, Princess Diana’s teeth – incisors too large and a narrow buccal corridor. Maybe he had his premolars removed for orthodontic treatment? I think his mother, the late Princess Diana almost certainly did. His younger brother, Prince Henry of Wales, could use braces to close the spaces between his front teeth. The boys’ father, Prince Charles, has scraggly, yellow teeth.  Just look below at a cartoon of Prince Charles, complete with bad teeth, which appeared several years ago on the cartoon series The Simpsons:



And look at how a royal fan weighs in:


I started writing this blog in 2006 and have kept at it two or three times a month. I now have over 260 blog posts. So why do I write? I really like to write and as my friends know, I love to read. Maybe I am a frustrated writer and vent my frustrations on this blog. I write about all kinds of things, but usually connect the entry to dentistry because, after all, the blog is a dental health blog and it appears on my dental website. So I write funny stories about things that happen in the office and I write about cases I have done and I write about dental topics that I hope people want to learn more about.

People who read my blog, send me messages. It is a dialogue with my readers and patients. It is an excellent tool for me to get known and, yes, to market my dental practice. Read what Julie Roehm has to say about the art of storytelling: “its history, impact, and the importance for brand and marketers to understand and master the art.”