William "the Refrigerator" Perry, who played on the Chicago Bears' 1985 Super Bowl team, was famous for his gap-toothed smile. Apparently, over time, his smile was getting more gaps because he wasn't too fond of going to the dentist. Recently a dental practice in the Chicago area offered to replace his famous missing tooth and any other teeth he needed with dental implants, as long as he would agree to be a spokesperson for the procedure. So now he has $60,000 worth of implants and a brand new smile, which he is showing off around town.
I mentioned this to my 86 year old aunt out East who allowed as how she has all her teeth except one. Wait a minute -- all your teeth? Yep. Did you brush five times a day or something? Nope.
I guess she had cavities like everyone else. Perhaps even more. Back during WWII all the dentists were packed off to the Army so regular dental care wasn't possible, because the drill docs were all overseas. When the war was over and they came home, she found out she had nineteen cavities.
Here's where my aunt thinks a key decision was made. The dentist she went to filled the cavities with gold instead of silver. Back then gold didn't cost an arm and a leg like it does now. Gold was and still is a better option for teeth because it's a softer metal and tends to go with the flow. Over time, gold won't develop the cracks and fizzures that the more rigid silver fillings do. In fact, I don't think they use "silver" anymore.
Of course, I'm never sure what the dentist is doing in my mouth these days, ever since he and his assistant started dressing in Hazmat suits and giving me goggles to wear.
I did the math and realized that my aunt has fillings that are sixty years old and still counting. She even remembered her dentist's name -- Dr. Raffle. Wait a minute, he was my dentist too when I was a kid.
In fact, until ten years ago when I opted for porcelain crowns in my back teeth, I had several silver fillings in my molars that had also been around since the early fifties. When they started to crack and break, crowns were the recommended replacement option. I remember my current dentist commenting on how lucky I was that they lasted so long. Almost fifty years. I can only imagine how much mercury vapor I inhaled over those five decades.
On reflection, I think the key to my aunt keeping her teeth was Dr. Raffle. Arnold Raffle. It might have been Raffel. I remember he had a Howdy Doody grin and tried to make a day in his chair as painless as possible for a kid who didn't want to be there.
I wonder if dental societies keep track of things like who has the oldest known gold fillings in active use. Like a Hall of Fame for Fillings.
In the end I think the real reason my aunt has kept all her teeth for such a long time, no matter what kind of fillings she got, is that Dr. Raffle was a damn good dentist.
It didn't hurt that gold was cheap.