Noe Valley Voice May 2004

Florence's Family Album

The Smile--A Story with Teeth in It

Reminiscences by Florence Holub

Columnist emeritus Florence Holub, 85, originally wrote and published this column about her dental adventures in the May 1992 Voice. Now, 18 years later, she regularly visits Dr. Kinney on 24th Street, and as far as the new teeth go, "I've still got 'em," she says.

One day last month, I paid a visit to our friendly Security Pacific Bank [now Washington Mutual] at the corner of Noe and 24th streets. Finishing my business, I smiled at the helpful person behind the desk, and she responded by complimenting me on my teeth. I told her that Dr. Barry Kinney, just down the block, deserved the credit. And since no one was waiting for her attention, I proceeded to relate my remarkable dental history, which began in the early 1930s.

I entered my teens with perfect teeth, except for one slightly out-of-line lower incisor. Then one day, as I was taking a drink of water at Aptos Middle School's playground fountain, a mischievous friend, meaning to douse my face, instead banged my front tooth against the metal spigot. The next morning my mouth was swollen and throbbing. I had an abscessed tooth.

My mother immediately took me to an old-fashioned dentist on Market Street, who told us that the tooth had to be pulled. Unwilling to accept this dreadful diagnosis, and hoping for a more optimistic second opinion, my mother then consulted a young dentist schooled in the very newest methods, who was located at 29th and Mission. His name was Dr. George Arvonen (the great uncle of Noe Valley dentist Coragene Savio), and we were thrilled when he assured us he could save the tooth. Dr. Arvonen drained, disinfected, and filled the root canal, and his handiwork has survived, more or less, to this day.

With time, the tooth darkened slightly, so Dr. Arvonen bleached it with many agents, even Clorox. When it was beyond bleaching, he fitted it with a porcelain cap, which looked wonderful but was prone to cracking whenever it connected with something hard--like the rock candy egg that a gentleman friend gave me one Easter Sunday. The egg had a tiny pastoral scene inside that you could peek into, and an edible but hard shell. Meaning to nibble off just a little of the decoration, I bit daintily into my gift. I was filled with alarm when my tooth split in half, and there went the porcelain cap.

For the rest of that Sunday in the park, beneath my flowery Easter bonnet, I was left with a ridiculously damaged smile. And after that, my dentist had to replace a number of porcelains, until more durable plastic became available.

When it was time to sprout wisdom teeth, X-rays revealed that both of my lower ones were headed in the wrong direction. Instead of standing upright, they were coming in sideways, emerging from my jawbone like a couple of subterranean bulldozers, pushing all of my lower teeth forward and squeezing the already misaligned incisor even further out. The bad incisor, in chewing, hit the corresponding upper incisor with every bite I took, forcing it forward too. So in time I had two instead of one protruding tooth, a misdirected bite, and a covert smile.

When my husband Leo and I moved to Grass Valley for a few years, I visited the orthodontist to see if he could fix my mouth. To my dismay, he explained that it had become possible to straighten teeth by grinding each individual tooth until the teeth themselves would do the moving, instead of the braces. He also told me, much to my relief, that in my case this procedure was counterindicated because, dentally speaking, I was "an old woman" at the age of 26.

When we moved back to Noe Valley in the '50s, Dr. Kinney became our family dentist. I often asked him to pull out that troublesome bad tooth, but he would always retort, "There are no bad teeth!" When the two adjoining incisors had almost grown together behind the protruding "bad" one, however, and when I could no longer bite properly, or dare to smile, Dr. Kinney agreed to consult an orthodontist friend, Dr. Michael Horii.

Together they collaborated on a corrective process that would take only eight months. And while they were at it, I ordered a new cap for my dead tooth, and another for the adjoining live incisor, which was worn and chipped almost down to the dentin after 40 years of chewing.

Dr. Kinney pulled the bad tooth, and Dr. Horii wired my remaining lowers with braces designed to close up the empty space. As I sat in his waiting room with all of the kiddies there to have their bands tightened, I could not help thinking (at 67 years of age) that I must undoubtedly be his oldest patient. But Dr. Horii treated me the same as everyone else, giving me a little portable collapsible toothbrush, as well as a T-shirt decorated with the word "Braces" in Chinese, English, Spanish, German, and French.

Friends and family found great humor in my incongruous combination of gray hair, bifocals, and (ho, ho, ho) braces!

Finally, the happy day arrived when the braces were taken off to reveal, for the first time, perfectly aligned lower teeth. Next, Dr. Kinney cemented the new crowns he had made for my two front teeth, and when he brought out the mirror, we both beamed with satisfaction.

Now everyone admires them. One of my friends told me that she wishes she had spent her money on her teeth instead of a trip to China. Another friend did have her front teeth capped, but unfortunately they didn't last, because her gums and roots weren't strong enough.

In my case, the end result is that I enjoy and show off my teeth a lot. Perhaps that is why the woman in the bank noticed.

As I got up to leave her, a lady sitting at the next desk remarked, "I was listening in. Would you show me your teeth?"

Happily I complied, then headed for the door, past another lady sitting on a chair who said, "Can I see too?"

So I gave her my widest display of ivories. In fact, I smiled all the way home. m