Kucinich's dental misfortunes laid bare

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 30, 2011

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 suit 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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