The tortured tale of Rep. Dennis Kucinich and his olive pit

Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich. (AP)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 29, 2011; 4:39 PM

Heard the tale of the vegan and the olive pit?

A man bites into a sandwich wrap and his tooth splits in half, below the crown and to the bone. An unpitted olive did the damage. The tooth becomes infected; the man has an adverse reaction to his antibiotics, and emergency medical intervention is ordered.

Six replacement teeth later, the man sues the sandwich maker for $150,000 in pain, suffering and "loss of enjoyment" - the American way.

Here's the twist: the man is the most famous vegan on Capitol Hill, two-time presidential candidate Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio). And the sandwich maker is the basement cafeteria of the Longworth House Office Building.

Kucinich's three-year journey to the olive pit-oral surgery abyss and back ended Friday afternoon with one of the more bizarre letters to campaign supporters in modern American politics.

The subject line: "Regarding Settlement of Dental Injury Law Suit."

Kucinich wrote that after filing a lawsuit this month over the April 2008 incident, he had settled with the cafeteria operator, Restaurant Associates, for the out-of-pocket expenses of his surgeries (there were three). He said the terms are confidential.

That's about the only part of this story that the 64-year-old congressman and onetime Cleveland mayor kept confidential.

"When I bit into the olive pit, [unbeknown to me at the time], upon impact the tooth split in half, vertically through the crown and the tooth, below the level of the bone," Kucinich wrote in his e-mail to supporters. "Externally there was no evidence of a break. This was not about aesthetics. The internal structure of the tooth was rendered nonrestorable. Although the pain was excruciating, I shook it off and I went right back to work.

"This tooth is a key tooth which anchored my upper bridgework. The injured tooth and the bone above it became infected. I took a course of antibiotics for the infection, had an adverse reaction to the antibiotics which caused me to have an intestinal obstruction and emergency medical intervention."

Kucinich kept going: "Later, my dentist referred me to a specialist who informed me that the damaged tooth had to be removed. A third dentist removed the tooth and I was fitted for a temporary partial. I waited for the bone to heal."

And going: "An implant was placed, but it failed. Many months later still a second implant succeeded. My bridgework had to be completely reconfigured, a new partial was designed, so this injury did not affect only one tooth, but rather involved six (6) replacement teeth as well. A new crown with a new precision attachment was engineered and put in place."

And going: "To clarify, no dental expenses were covered by any health plan, nor did I have dental insurance that covered the injury, which, until it was resolved, affected my ability to chew food properly."

Kucinich - whom his official Web site refers to as "America's Most Courageous Congressman" - ended his 534-word diary entry to supporters not with a plea for campaign donations but with a simple quip.

"I don't want to have to make another dental visit for a very long time," he wrote, "and will be making no further comment on this matter.

"Thank you very much," he signed it. "Dennis."

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