In the ten years I have lived here in Cape Town I have often been asked to do things that other people spend ten years in medical school learning how to do. Ok, ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration; I mean, I have never performed brain surgery or anything major like that. But I have removed thousands of stitches, dressed tons of wounds, “diagnosed” everything from STD’s to the common cold, and pulled out hundreds of teeth.
In the early years I was most famed for my stitch removal and teeth pulling; removing stitches from the kids on the streets and pulling the teeth of the kids who lived in the children’s home I worked for at that time. I had pretty much mastered both, but I had a very special trick with the teeth pulling. The kids were often scared to have their teeth pulled, and I am talking about baby teeth here, not rotten permanent ones. I had to develop a special tooth pulling strategy. And once I became renowned as the local tooth puller, all the kids were sent to me.
I always used the same tactics. The kid would nervously open his mouth and I would say, “I just want to feel if it is ready to pull. I don’t think it’s even ready yet.” Then I would take a piece of tissue, dry off the tooth, and yank it out before the kid even knew what hit him. That maneuver was always followed with a bloody smile of relief and usually a comment like, “Is that my tooth?!” Easy as stealing candy from a baby, which, on a side note, would probably lead to less rotten teeth if I did in fact steal more candy from more babies. But let me not get too side-tracked here.
I had some kids over this weekend and the one kid Kevin kept getting food stuck in a hole in his one tooth. It was really bothering him. He asked me to get the food out so I folded up a piece of paper, making an impromptu toothpick, and tried to dig the shrapnel of food out of the tooth. The paper just got soggy, becoming totally useless. That plan failed. I them remembered a military doctor’s kit a friend gave me (as a joke when he heard about my street doctor exploits). I went and dug it out of my junk drawer and amazingly it had one of those cool hook-dentist-tool-thingy’s.
Kevin laid back on the couch and I successfully dug out all the food stuck in the tooth; let me just add there was much more in there than I ever could have imagined. After witnessing my seemingly incredible dental skills, with the proper tools and all, Broetjie (who just turned ten last Friday) asked me to pull out two of his teeth that were loose. Like any good dentist would, I took my hook instrument over and poked around in Broetjie’s mouth, making dentist-like comments. “Mmmmm, yes. I see.”
The one tooth was a rotted lower first premolar, and though it was indeed very loose, it was a permanent tooth and not a baby tooth; I wasn’t going to go near it. The other one was a small tooth in the front; the lower canine to be exact. It was not as loose as the molar and I realized my “I just want to feel if it is ready” trick was not going to work. I diagnosed Broetjie with a premature-pull-attempt and perscribed an immediate “wiggle-the-rest-of-the-night-whilst-watching-the-Jackie-Chan-movie” treatment. Broetjie took his treatment seriously and vigorously wiggled his tooth as Jackie Chan beat everybody up.
After a while he called me back over, as he thought it was ready to come out. I went over to inspect and though the tooth was a bit looser, it looked a bit bigger this time around. I looked at the rest of his teeth, all looking pretty permanent to me. I saw a gap on the other side of his mouth, where the matching lower canine had once dwelled. I inquired about it and he said it also became loose and he “pulled it and it was very sore, and it never grew back”. It was at that moment I realized this very loose tooth was most likely not a baby tooth at all, and maybe, if not most definitely a permanent one. I rediagnosed the tooth as a loose permanent tooth, prescribed an immediate “no touching or wiggling of the tooth”, and suggested he go for a second opinion, of the educated type. And THAT is why people study for ten years to become medical practitioners!