Yesterday I headed off to the dentist for my regular six-month cleaning appointment – thankfully someone in the family has dental insurance - but all was not routine: "Hmmm", said the hygienist, grubbing somewhere at the back with an explorer, "it seems a bit soft under that crown".
This afternoon the crown was removed, two root canals reamed out, treated and filled with gutta percha and "consolidated" with a hot tool, and a remaining piece of broken root levered out of my jaw with some force. Functional reconstruction will follow on Monday, with impressions and preparation for a new crown.
Normally I detach myself from these difficult dental experiences by organizing a kind of mental slide-show of happier moments, often of summer sailing days; today however, I pretended to be a chair.
Well, not exactly; but as the drilling and scraping and reaming continued, I did reflect on the similarities between dentistry and furniture repair. Leaving aside the remunerative disparity, they seemed to have a lot in common. (I should add that I once had (briefly) a job as a dental assistant in Queen Charlotte City, for which I had no conceivable qualifications. Apart from passing tools, fitting rubber dams and polishing teeth, I was much in demand as a repairer of broken dentures, as I had developed an effective technique for reinforcing the repaired breaks in plates with short lengths of paper-clips.)
Take, for example, the unassuming late Victorian dining chair which came into the shop last week. The right front leg had broken off, leaving an ugly mess of softish wood, with a bit of the rail tenon still visible in the broken stump. Several newish Robertson headed screws had been driven at odd angles into the joints in a vain effort to stave of decay and collapse. The chair had an upholstered seat, with coil springs , webbing and some sort of foam padding, ancient enough to have turned to a dirty yellowish powder, which the chair's owner thought indicated woodworm. (The technical name for this dust, produced by the furniture beetle's activity, is "frass" -probably from the German "fressen", to devour).
This looks like a job for the furniture dentist. First remove the rotten and weak wood, then build up what remains with new material, as far as possible imitating the original. Chair legs are important functionally - like molars, so any restoration must be functional as well as cosmetic, and may even involve steel pins embedded in the wood.
I suppose this is what led me to muse, supine, while the #15 reamer was wiggling its way into the second root, on how dentistry seems to occupy an uneasy middle ground in the medical hierarchy. Dentists are definitely not doctors, tho' they do doctorish things on occasion. For the great majority of their practice, however, they, like the furniture restorer, are craftspeople; every act my dentist was performing on my lower left molar was an act of craft, to which on Monday will be added the crafts of taking an impression and mould making, followed by the lab's casting of a gold tooth to be carefully fitted and glued into place.