It was around this same time in the Spring of 1971 that I experienced the only throbbing, intense toothache pain that I had ever had in my life. After moving out of my parents’ apartment in 1965, I had only been to see a dentist a few times between 1965 and 1971. Not being able to afford any dental care health insurance coverage during these years, I felt that spending the money I needed to pay my rent and buy food or paperback books on paying large amounts of money for regular dental check-ups, when nothing was bothering in my mouth with my teeth, was a middle-class, bourgeois luxury I couldn’t personally afford during these years.
I had vaguely remembered reading in college once that a revolutionary’s teeth were usually the first part of his or her body to break down; and that “you can tell who a professional revolutionary was by just looking at his or her teeth, since most revolutionaries couldn’t afford to go to dentists during most of their lives.” So I was not surprised that by my early 20’s my teeth were apparently starting to rot and to give me problems, despite my having gone to the dentist regularly during my pre-1965 childhood and teenage years, when my parents used to pay for my dental care.
The toothache pain in the Spring of 1971 was so intense, however, that, despite being nearly out of cash, I felt forced to make an appointment with some dentist in order to ease the pain. So I looked in the Bronx yellow pages telephone directory and called a dentist whose office was about 30 blocks south of where I lived near Fordham Road.
After getting an emergency appointment with the dentist later that day, I walked the 30 blocks south to his office, since, by that time, I couldn’t afford to take subways anymore. The dentist was a friendly white man in his late 50s whose son had decided to follow in his footsteps and also become a dentist; and who had recently graduated from dental school. After examining my teeth, the friendly dentist in his late 50s eased my pain by pulling the tooth, after I indicated that I neither had any dental insurance coverage or any pocket money to ever pay for the dental work that saving the tooth would have required.
Being sensitive to my financial situation, the dentist did not charge me anything for pulling my tooth; and he even filled a few cavities for free that he had spotted in my mouth, even without taking any x-rays. In addition, he also was even willing to set me up for a free appointment with his son, who had recently started working as a dentist in his father’s office after recently graduating from dental school, for the following week, to have my teeth cleaned.
But, ironically, when I returned the following week for my free cleaning with the newly-trained dentist’s son, the dentist’s son looked at the free work his father had done on my cavities the previous week and, in an embarrassed way, decided it was necessary to correct the dental work his father had done by refilling the cavities again before giving my teeth a cleaning.
Although I felt grateful to both the dentist and the dentist’s son for both getting rid of my toothache and providing me with some needed dental work for free when I had become nearly destitute economically, by the time I had finally found a job a few times in the 1980s that provided me with some health insurance that included dental treatment coverage, I no longer lived in the Bronx; and no longer could even remember the name or address of the dentists who had given me the free treatment in 1971. And probably, by the late 1980s, the dentist who was in his late 50’s in 1971 was probably retired; and his son was probably, by then, practicing in an office in either Manhattan, Westchester, Long Island or New Jersey, I suppose.