Aground breaking practice in its early days, ”tooth jumping” was once a common toothache remedy. It was the extraction of a tooth by holding a chisel at an angle against it and striking it with a hammer for the tooth to jump out. In contrast, entirely without meaning, first mentioned centuries ago and intended to suggest infinity, ”abracadabra” is a word believed to be a charm with the power to cure toothaches, fevers, and other ills. Undoubtedly, many people would have chosen the second remedy had it had any truth to it.

The issue popped up as I sat for a chat with a childhood friend in a café. We had met earlier at a supermarket while he was buying some apples. We started conversing as I took words right out of his mouth, as he did to me, as we chalked up the virtues of apples.

The list started with the saying, ”an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” It took me a while as I struggled to explain to my friend to size the comparison between apples and oranges, as the latter is considered to have more Vitamin C, thus better contributing to immune defence.

As my friend removed his face mask to sip his coffee, I noticed an indentation on his teeth, bringing vivid images of some achy memory. My friend has always been a picture of health, a model of well-being, with complimentary nicknames describing his strength in our childhood football team. Moreover, his artisanal skill was exceptional.

I remember he had his own cobbler's tools like an awl, a knife, a cutter, spare leather, and thread. Yet, they were never complete in his unusually big pocket. Therefore, he unravelled hold-ups to urgent duties caused by the absences of the tools by using his teeth. He was a kid wonder as we marvelled at the strength of his teeth, coupled with the speed with which he used to open the cap of bottled soft drinks.

After a while, some of his molar teeth started to get wobbly with indescribable pain and discomfort. He needed help, a proper health practitioner, which did not come in as handy as these days.

In a HuffPostarticle, “Thinking Inside the Box,” Eliezer Sobel, author, recommends that healthcare services are better sought from people thinking inside the box.

“When seeking professional help,” he wrote, “find people inside the box. Especially dentists. Things outside that box can get really scary.”

As we reminiscence, my friend was never able to find people ”inside the box.” The “dentists” he used to frequent, some of the traditional practitioners, had only built a profession in pulling people’s teeth, whatever the ailment. I asked him if he remembered whether he had help from a certified dentist. He never found any back then.

I told my friend about the dentist I met three decades ago. I was lucky to “find a man inside the box.” After identifying damage that most likely happened from opening a bottle cap of a soft drink, using my teeth as an opener, as my childhood friend most of the time did, he was able to fix it relatively quickly.

But he also combined some out of the box thinking once he mastered the profession. He told me how as a student, he himself used to be shown how to handle toothbrushes. He also added that his patients' observation was people abusing their teeth either wrongly applying what they were told to do or just not following any medical advice.

The idea of thinking outside of the box seems enticing. But it is often the case that people that venture too far from the box are people that do not know what they are doing. The best adventurers, in contrast, are those that have spent a great deal of time in the box and understand exactly why they are venturing out now.

PUBLISHED ON Nov 27,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1126]

Tadesse Tsegaye (, a polyglot with experience in multicultural-cum-institutional settings in resources management.

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