When I was a lad, I had a lot of trouble with my teeth. I had cavities in my baby teeth, and my upper teeth protruded so that I resembled Bugs Bunny (my ears were normal, however).

Once my primary teeth were gone, it was decided by my mother that I should have my teeth straightened. The orthodontist of choice was Dr. Florence Lilly, who had an office in the Pittsfield Building in the Loop. I took the el to her office every two weeks on Saturday mornings from the time I was 11 until I was 14. The treatment was successful, and I believed that my dental problems were finished. 

I was wrong.

Even though I brushed after meals and abstained from sweets, the cavities kept coming. I believe I was our dentist’s best patient because I had to visit him 3-4 times a year, and each time I went, he had to fill at least two cavities. I think my family put his kids through summer camp each year.

The cavities were bad enough. Then I faced the wisdom teeth. The first one came in at an angle, so Dr. Wirth, our Oak Park dentist, sent me to an oral surgeon, who made the extraction, but I developed an infection. I returned to him three times, and I was on an antibiotic for two weeks. The next three were removed by Dr. Wirth without incident.

I went along pretty well for a few years with one or two cavities. However, my luck ran out on Memorial Day 1959, when I bit into a hamburger and hit gristle. There was instant pain. I called Dr. Wirth’s office the next day and was able to get an appointment that same day. 

He examined the damage and told me I needed a root canal done immediately. I didn’t know what a root canal was, but I soon found out. The first thing Dr. Wirth did was run a test to see if the nerve was dead. It wasn’t, and I almost flew out of the chair when he tested the tooth. He said the test was the worst part of the procedure. He may have believed that, but there was one more step that I considered worse because it lasted longer.

Dr. Wirth soon came at me with a syringe full of Novocaine with a needle that could have been used on a horse. He told me it would pinch a little. He inserted the needle into my gum and soon the so-called pinching part disappeared, and I felt that the needle would go through my gum and into my cheek. It seemed as though the needle was in my mouth for an eternity, but soon the Novocaine took over and I was aware only of the drilling. When he was done with the drilling and filling, he declared the procedure a success.

I’ve had two more root canals and a dozen or so cavities filled over the past 55 years and except for the loss of the third molars, I still have all of my teeth. I have dutifully followed the advice given to me by Dr. Wirth: 

“Be true to your teeth or they will be false to you.”

John Stanger is a lifelong resident of Oak Park, a 1957 graduate of OPRF High School, married with three grown children and five grandchildren, and a retired English professor  (Elmhurst College). Living two miles from where he grew up, he hasn’t gotten far in 74 years.

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