Cutting my teeth

So there I am, rushing down the passage in the base to sort out the latest niggle, when one of the support crew stops me and asks for superglue.  “For what?” I enquire. “This broke,” sooth he, “when I stepped on it.”I examine the proffered dentures, wondering idly how they travelled from oral cavity to pedal plantar position.  They are badly broken, with all the front teeth separated from the plate, and a section of the moulding broken loose.  However, the metal retainer is still intact and appears unscathed.  I give him the summary:

“The bad news is that superglue won’t hold that for long,” says I, “but the good news is that I have a secret weapon… the Van Rensburg factor!  Give them to me for a day, and I’ll see what I can do”

Left with the traumatised teeth, I muse on the likelihood that there is anyone with training to repair damaged dentures within a few thousand chemicals.  Yet, thanks to the foresight of one Dr Charles van Rensburg, that person is… well, me.  Dr Van Rensburg is the head of the dental unit at the Institute of Maritime Medicine in Simonstown – the home of the SA Navy.  He was my mentor through my rapid dental training prior to the expedition, and while brainstorming one day about problems I might encounter he suggested I learn to repair dentures.  This I did, using a demo plate that he broke twice.  Furthermore, the dear gentleman even provided me with extra materials to bring to SANAE IV.

Once in the clinic I was met with a setback – the acrylic used for manufacture and repair comes in powder form, and is mixed with a catalyst.  However, in transit from South Africa the catalyst had gradually dissolved it’s bottle.  Thwarted, I thought.  Yet again, the Van Rensburg factor saved the day.  A quick call to the good doctor’s cell phone in SA found him enjoying a Friday afternoon lunch by the seaside.  After chatting for a while, he explained that normal cyanoacrylate superglue could fulfil the role of the catalyst when mixed with the powder.  I quickly returned to the hospital and set to work.

Repairing dentures is particularly pleasant work, much like building a model.  The first step is to get the pieces in position and then fix them temporarily with fast-setting droplets of wax.  Once that is done, special rubber putty is used to create a mould to hold the pieces in position.  The wax is then removed, and the old broken edges drilled away until there is a large surface area to ensure adhesion.  With the pieces in the mould, the new acrylic (pink with tiny fibres to mimic normal tissue) is poured in and allowed to set hard.  Next, a large drill head (on a dental drill, not your new Bosch) is used to work the new acrylic down to it’s original size and shape.  Finally, the acrylic must be polished to smooth perfection with a different set of drill heads.

The work completed, I fitted the dentures to the patient.  After a few minor adjustments, the only feedback I needed was a big smile.

Polishing the new acrylic on a pair of repaired dentures

One Response to “Cutting my teeth”

  1. Robynn Says:

    Amazing. Talk about boer maak a plan . . . .

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