Green Dentistry 


I never cared much for teeth professionally. I like mine, but I’d sooner not mess
with them myself. Unsplash photo. Photographer in title. 

You surrender a few rights when you voluntarily sign over your soul to Uncle Sam. Your time is no longer your own, any semblance of privacy is gone and scary folks tell you how to wear your hair, manage your clothing and make your bed. At least there’s free medical and dental care. 

It’s not like Uncle Sam actually cares. Poor dentition could adversely affect your military mission. As a result, there is this massive infrastructure focused on meeting the medical and dental needs of our boys and girls in military uniform. Sometimes, however, you get what you pay for. 

My buddy was a young enlisted soldier gutting his way through jump school at Fort Benning. About halfway through he twisted his ankle and had to be recycled. The First Sergeant grew weary of his hobbling around the barracks cluttering up the place and directed him to go to the nearby military dentist to see if he needed any dental work. It seemed a responsible use of time. 
The GI dentist was a full Colonel, an O-6 in military parlance. Compared to an E-1 Private, an O-6 hobnobs with the angelic hosts and walks on water. My young Private friend was going to do exactly as this senior officer directed. 

The dental professional poked around his mouth and announced that he did indeed seem to be in possession of a full complement of superfluous wisdom teeth. This would be a great opportunity to donate those rascals to science. In addition, this was the Private’s lucky day. The Colonel had devised a fresh new method of removing wisdom teeth, and my Private buddy would get the privilege of having it tested on him. This should have been the first red flag. 

I’ve never removed a tooth from a live human, but I’m told the tool looks sort of like a pair of pliers and has some kind of grabber component on the end. The grabby bit latches onto the molar in question, and then a little rotational leverage just drags that sucker right out. The down side is that sometimes the grabby bit can slip off the tooth at an inopportune time. This wizened Army dentist had an idea for a better mousetrap. 

Most dental professionals are indeed compassionate, competent and skilled.
At least one of them, however, is an utter nutjob. Unsplash photo. Photographer in title. 

He had actually constructed the tool in his basement. One end consisted of some kind of T-handle. At the opposite end there was a simple L-shaped bend and a steel peg. His plan was to numb the tooth, drill a transverse hole to accept the peg, and rotate the tooth out in the conventional manner. Cue the ominous music… 

In the civilian world you might have some say in whether or not you wanted to participate in such cutting edge dental research. As a gimpy Army Private however, not so much. My buddy just slacked his jaw and went with it. 

The numbing and drilling went as advertised. The dentist then tapped his contraption in place and gave the handle a mighty twist. At that point the fickle dicta of physics intervened. 

I was a mechanical engineer the first of my five careers, and right angles do not well lend themselves to structural strength. The little homebuilt tool sheared at the elbow and careened about the inside of my buddy’s mouth. Before the dentist could regain control the jagged end of the thing had punched through the roof of my buddy’s mouth, transited his hard palate, and entered his maxillary sinus. 

At this point in the story I asked my pal what that felt like. He retorted about having a sharpened steel pencil jammed through the roof of his mouth. There resulted quite a lot of chaos and bleeding. 

The dentist snatched his diabolical contrivance out of my buddy’s sinuses and packed everything vigorously to staunch the hemorrhage. About the time my buddy regained his wits he had the horrible realization that there was still a piece of steel hammered transversely through his wisdom tooth. The dentist broke the tooth into pieces and removed it manually. It seems my friend remains to this day comfortable, having simply retained the other three wisdom teeth unmolested. 

The dentist did not so much apologize as simply explain that apparently the old way of molar removal was indeed better. Had this occurred in the civilian world my buddy would have been rewarded with the deed to the dental clinic. As it was he was simply remanded back to the jump school to complete his training. Airborne all the way! 

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