I would like to talk about a teacher. There are many I could riff on. I will choose Dr. Byron Kern because I just saw in the Pennsylvania Dental Journal that he passed away recently. He was 94.
Dr. Kern was one of those many practicing dentists who (as I have done) gave of his time to teach part-time in a dental school or residency, for little or no compensation. He had the knowledge and patience to teach full dentures exclusively. This is a very subjective and demanding art; it was expecially so in the days before implant support made firm anchorage possible.Dr. Kern taught me that humor was an excellent addition to all the science, art, and human relations we must know so much about in order to treat our patients successfully.
When I was delivering my very first completed full denture to a patient, it fit ideally. This had a lot more to do with Dr. Kern's guidance than with my skills at that point. He had taken me to the end result with all the thrashing at the beginning, which as many of you know is the best way to go on any project. My patient was pleased, I was pleased, and Dr. Kern said, "It's a Frisbee!" This, from a man who was hitting seventy! I was tickled denture-base pink with the idea of calling dental restorations that fit ideally with no adjustment "Frisbees."
To this day, in our office, Frisbee is the word we use for things that fit without adjustment.
After that time, a new patient was scheduled with me who had an unusual request. She was an Eastern European woman who wanted a gold-based denture. This is a denture with a cast gold alloy internal portion that fits against the gum tissues. Up from that comes the pink acrylic and then the artificial teeth. They are very accurate, these gold-based dentures, just rare to make because of the added expense. Mind you, the gold is to be very thin, and it's an alloy, but still: expensive.
So we got the base back from the lab as a first step and someone there had lost their mind. The gold base we recieved was massive. It must have contained an entire one of those ingots that you always saw referred to in 60's sitcoms and Bugs Bunny cartoons along with a reference to Fort Knox, an entity that many young people today are probably completely unaware of. In any event, this denture base could have been a buttressing member for the Market Street El, it was so big and heavy.
I showed it to Dr. Kern with marked trepidation. He took one look at it and then uttered those immortal words: "Rick, if we made her a denture with this base and she went swimming, she'd sink and drown."
And with that hilarious comment we sent it back and had it remade- too small the second time. Finally, on the third try, the lab techs solved this gnarly variation on The Goldilocks Problem (dentures and porridge!) and we were off to make the best-fitting denture made at Penn Dental that year. Yes, I am convinced of it.
Dr. Byron Kern was a gentleman and a gentle man. He knew the science and the art that forms the foundation of our field, and understood the art of dealing with human beings in a respectful and goal-oriented manner. He also knew the value of laughter- how it healed, how it helped get a patient through a complex course of treatment. I thank Dr. Kern for teaching me the value of striving to create something that fits exceptionally well. I thank him for all the things he taught me.
And for the Frisbees.