The king and his dentist
SUMMARY: Discover how an American dentist helped Cambodian King Noradom?, who suffered from toothaches. The cause of the rotting? Find out here.
Posted: January 21, 2014
In 1901, Dr. Paul Carrington was a 25-year-old graduate from the University of California Dental College when he took a steamboat over to Cambodia to meet with King Noradom. The king had been suffering from intense tooth aches caused by rotting molars.
Upon arrival, Carrington found the Cambodian king in a state of irritability, which had left all the master's servants, more than 800 wives and 56 children fearful of his wrath (his bad breath brought on by rotting probably didn't help, either). Before Carrington, a Chinese and a French dentist had visited the king to try and ease his dental troubles. The other specialists had only palliated the symptoms without dealing with the king's underlying problems - sometimes using unusual items like imitation spring teeth and dentures made of ivory from elephant tusks.
Carrington immediately extracted the king's aching teeth. The rest were drilled and filled with gold. For the vacant spots, the king was given two sets of false molars and incisors. Fascinatingly enough, Noradom wore the white dentures when he was around white people and put in the black ones among fellow natives.
There was a reason behind the king's dental ailment. Cambodian people, along with natives of Asia, the South Pacific and parts of East Africa, chew the betel nut, a type of mild stimulant and a national addiction of the time - similar to cigarettes in Western culture. Today, betel nut practice is still in use, though it has been on a steady decline in urban areas due to rising health warnings. Betel juice has been said to help with halitosis, but don't believe it. Over time, the nut, a type of seed that originates from the areca palm, dyes the teeth black, kills gums and triggers oral cancer. There's so much black coating from betel nuts that you'll be in the market for some teeth whitening after chewing it.
Carrington remained in the king's palace for two months, and by the end of his stay, the king was entirely cured of his pain. Noradom threw a banquet in the dentist's honor.
The California graduate had paved the way for American dentists to serve foreign royalty. These included Dr. John Henry Evans, who consulted the Portugal and Brazil king, and Dr. H.V. Wallison who serviced Czar Nicholas II of Russia.
Nowadays, betel juice continues to jeopardize Cambodians' teeth and oral health. In fact, roughly 10 percent of the world's population still chews the drug, a highly addictive substance that, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, has resulted in hundreds of deaths across Asia and been linked to even more diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease and oral cancer.
The distinction between the black and white dentures that King Noradom wore reminds us how teeth, besides their natural function of breaking down food, play an esthetic role in culture, subjective to the customs of the day.
Yet, it should be noted that what's considered a smile en vogue doesn't just scratch the culture's definition of beauty - it also goes hand-in-hand with oral health. Teeth blackened by betel nuts erode dental enamel and destroys gums, hence dentists recommend whiter teeth - usually an indicator of lack of dental plaque - for healthy grins. If you are looking to freshen up, teeth whitening in addition to daily brushing and flossing might be a royal order.