My Life in the Times

Boy’s Pain Is Orthodontist’s Pleasure

The X-rays and photos show beyond any doubt that one orthodontist’s recently found treasure spells financial tragedy for a local family.

GREENBROOK, Ill., May 4, 1979—Local orthodontist Dr. Ernst K. Zubriggen announced today that he’d found his permanent meal ticket.

“The boy’s name is John Warner, and his teeth are magnificent,” Dr. Zubriggen declared at his afternoon news conference. “He will be coming to me for a long time, and he will need lots and lots of work.”

Mr. Warner is nine years old, and to date, the youngest known patient in need of orthodontia.

Dr. Zubriggen’s “magnificent” appellation appears to be in the eye of the beholder, though. A layperson may look at young Mr. Warner’s mouth and say, “unbelievably gnarly.”

Mr. Warner was first referred to Dr. Zubriggen by Mr. Warner’s dentist, Dr. Preston Paul, who knew the youngster’s needs went beyond a regular dentist’s arsenal. “I can clean. I can fill cavities. I can even extract, but I can’t make this boy whole,” Dr. Paul said.

Dr. Zubriggen rubbed his hands with glee as he expanded upon the state of Mr. Warner’s oral cavity.

“The teeth are both crowded and crooked, and several of them we can’t even find,” the orthodontist told a hushed crowd of reporters as he projected several photos and X-rays of Mr. Warner’s mouth onto his waiting room’s wall. “As you can see, one of the front teeth is sideways, and the other protrudes out from his mouth. Look how he cannot even close his mouth properly—the tooth sticks out like a tiny rabbit from its hole.”

Mr. Warner’s snaggleteeth can be traced back to a skateboard accident two years ago. Unable to balance while standing, he would kneel on the board and push with his free leg. When the front wheels of the board met a sidewalk crack, Mr. Warner’s teeth met pavement.

“He’s kind of a tard,” Mr. Warner’s older brother, Michael Warner, commented, remembering the incident.

“The forces of torsion will need to be tremendous in order to reposition the teeth. He will experience pain for a long, long time.” Mr. Warner’s parents wept quietly in the corner during the press conference. They refused comment, but sources close to the family say that prior to the news of their son’s extreme dental difficulties, they were thinking about purchasing a new car. “Now they’re looking at dipping into the college fund just to get Phase 1 under way,” the source indicated.

Phase 1 (of at least four), according to Dr. Zubriggen, will commence as soon as Mr. Warner’s back teeth are solid enough to tolerate the anchoring braces. “The forces of torsion will need to be tremendous in order to reposition the teeth. He will experience pain for a long, long time, but this does not concern me, because I am Swiss and teeth should be straight.”

Mr. Warner wasn’t commenting either, but sources close to him on the playground indicated that Mr. Warner was attempting to use the impending installation to look older and mocked classmates who said that they might never need braces.

Several of Mr. Warner’s classmates reportedly went home, asking for braces themselves.

Children are stupid.

Other experts in the dental field initially questioned Dr. Zubriggen’s desire to move forward with installing hardware on a child so young. “At first, I doubted the ability of a nine-year-old to take care of braces,” said Dr. James Baerson, a professor at Northwestern University School of Dentistry. “Have you ever seen a kid eat an orange, the juice and the pulp everywhere? I hate to think about some kid trying it with a face full of metal.”

Still, in looking over Mr. Warner’s X-rays, Dr. Baerson conceded the wisdom of the move. “Frankly, this child probably needed intervention sooner. I saw mouths like this back in dental school when we did free clinics for Appalachian hill people, but never on a child raised in American suburbia.”

Today’s press conference ended with Dr. Zubriggen’s display of the architectural plans for the new wing on his home and indicated that he and his family will be breaking ground on their in-ground pool within the week. “It is shaped like a bicuspid in tribute to this beautiful boy, you see?”


TMN contributing writer John Warner’s first novel, The Funny Man was recently published by Soho Press. He teaches at the College of Charleston and is co-color commentator for The Morning News Tournament of Books. More by John Warner