Dendrites, Axons, and G.V. Black

Dendrites, Axons, and G.V. Black

William E. Stein, D.D.S.*:
We’ve had a really mild winter. All through December and most of January, and into February, I have been able to keep up my practice of sitting with Tilly, “the World’s Cutest Puppy”, on my lap on  the bench overlooking Terry’s fish pond, which is still gurgling and open due to the little waterfall and the stock tank heater. 
 
Tilly sits with me placidly - which is a miracle in itself - as we contemplate the mysteries of life in general and for me, dentistry in particular. I assume Tilly contemplates the passing deer and  squirrels, although she may be anticipating her evening ration of Dentastix, the wonderful dental canine snack/prophylaxis agent. (Note, I have no fi nancial interest in Dentastix, but they seem to  work well. Tilly’s teeth are pristine, and if a ten-pound bag of Dentastix were to miraculously appear at my doorstep, that would be really amazing.) 
 
As we contemplate the beauty of the evening, the moon lights the bare branches of the many huge trees that surround us. Lately a Snowy Owl has come to join us, sitting on the Japanese gate  overlooking the pond. 
 
In my contemplation, I thought of the shapes of these bare trees. They reminded me of something. They reminded me of those tedious days in dental school when I was studying anatomy, histology,  and most of all neurology. They reminded me of all the hours I spent peering through a microscope at the nerve tissues that are the God-made electrical system of our bodies. The fi rst scientists  who observed nerves saw the obvious resemblance to trees and called the nerve root, the stalk if you will, the “axon”, or trunk or vine, and the many branches of the nerve fiber they called  “dendrites”, which means tree. Now nerves are arranged in a way that completes the electrical circuits that run our bodies. Dendrites take the electrical pulses in and pass them down the axon,  which passes them on to the next nerve cell’s dendrites, and so goes the circuit. 
 
Some scientists point to the stars and planets, perfect spheres for the most part, as proof that the Universe happened by chance, just shaped by the power of gravity, but they can’t explain where  the matter that makes up the planets came from. But just look at the trees around us and the neurons that run our bodies. Gravity could not make a tree. Many years ago Joyce Kilmer was right on  when he wrote his famous poem Trees. (Yep, he was a he; his first name was actually Alfred.) He wrote:
 
I THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
 
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s fl owing breast;
 
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
 
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
 
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
 
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
 
Trees, they’re a good thing. So is dentistry.
 
In this issue we have a very good scientific article from Dr. Tom Larson. Dr. Tom, our resident Operative Dentistry guru, presents the latest thoughts on “Extension for Prevention”, one of the axioms  of the “iconic” Dr. G.V. Black, universally recognized as the “Father of Modern Dentistry”. 
 
In 1973, the first person who crossed the door of my soon-to-be-opened dental office was Doc Eggers. Doc lived in the nursing home wing of the Aitkin Hospital just across the street from my office.  Doc was a real old timer; he had chronic emphysema from years of smoking unfiltered Camels. He walked on crutches. He was one of the original dentists in Aitkin, and he had attended dental school  at Northwestern when G.V. Black was the Dean. For a wet-behind-the-ears pup like me, it was like meeting someone who knew Lincoln. 
 
Doc and I hit it off; he enjoyed his tour of my then state-of-the-art office. He wryly observed my nitrous oxide set up: “I used to use nitrous too! We didn’t give oxygen with it. The patients got pretty blue, but they always woke up.”
 
Doc told me about his arrival in Aitkin in 1916, and how he had to step over all the drunken lumberjacks littering the stairs of the Willard Hotel just to get to his room. Doc confided that he wasn’t too  good at fixing teeth, but he sure could pull them! I don’t know if he practiced “self dentistry”, “self dentistry”, but he didn’t have any teeth of his own, so I made him a set, which he enjoyed  crossing the street to adjust in my dental lab. We maintained our intergenerational friendship until one night Doc expired in a blast of profanity worthy of that other famous dental curmudgeon, A.B.  Hall.
 
For we dentists of a certain age, Dr. Larson’s article is an eye opening scientific study that will perhaps change your way of doing operative dentistry or perhaps confirm the changes you have  made in your operative preparations due to personal experience and continuing education with modern restorative materials; thank you, Dr. Larson, for your good work. 
 
What fun it is to practice dentistry today. What with digital x-rays, paperless charting, lasers, super-fast curing lights, one-step adhesives, digital scanning impressions, and digital crown milling, we  are able to solve so many problems of the past and have fun doing it! 
 
Therefore and tout suite, be not afraid, but get thee to the Star of the North Meeting, and go for it! 
 
*Dr. Stein is Executive Editor of Northwest Dentistry. He is a general dentist in private practice in Aitkin, Minnesota, AitkinDent@AOL.com