Student Writes Epic Ode to Dentistry and the Human Spirit

Karim Elmorshedy

Karim Elmorshedy finds poetry in enamel and pulp, dental fissures and occlusion. He transformed it into an epic verse entitled, “Be Like a Tooth, My Friend,” which equates a tooth’s strength and weaknesses to challenges in life that must be overcome.

The extended metaphor, which spans 28 lines,  is both an acknowledgement of dental vulnerability and toughness. The threat of decay and trauma is present, but teeth, like people, have the power to regenerate and realign themselves. The poem struck a chord with fellow students and faculty, who have been raving about it since he shared it with them.

“I deal with teeth every day, and it just came through in my writing,” he explains. “I sat down and started writing it and finished it in one night. It just flowed.”

Elmorshedy, a third-year student, was inspired to write “Be Like a Tooth” after reading “Be Like Water,” a quote from martial arts star Bruce Lee that is often presented as a sort of prose poem. “You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle,” wrote Lee.

Elmorshedy’s poem combines advice on remaining resilient with the sometimes technical language of dental anatomy and dentistry, including “fossae” (depressions in the tooth) and “pontic”  (an artificial tooth that surrounds natural teeth in a dental bridge).

A writer since his teens, Elmorshedy double-majored n French Literature and Biology as an undergrad at Rutgers-New Brunswick. “After being so involved in science, I needed that balance,” he says.

He decided to enter dentistry because of his interest in science and the opportunity it offered to work independently with patients. “It’s vey rewarding,” he adds.

In the meantime, he continues to write, logging weekly entries in his journal and experimenting with short stories, non-fiction and poetry. Despite the demands of dental school, he continues to develop his literary side and remains a dedicated bookworm. “I read as much as I can,” he says.

Here’s his poem below:

Be Like a Tooth, My Friend

Be like a tooth, my friend,

Tough like enamel

Soft-hearted like pulp.

Form tight contacts with your fellow men

Yet, keep enough embrasures to cleanse yourself.

Take good care of your health,

Lest decay creep into your body.

The road of life won’t be straight

There will be pits, fissures and fossae,

But also cusps, ridges and heights of contour

With your comrades, you can crush and grind any obstacle.

Yet, remember you are still unique

And no pontic can fully perform your functions.

Sometimes you will be injured and traumatized.

You may even feel out of occlusion with the world.

But you have the power to regenerate, to remineralize;

For your bones are deep-rooted in the house of humanity.

And your close friends, your abutments,

Will support you and gladly share the load with you.

Don’t forget trauma can strengthen your ligaments,

And one day, you will realign yourself ,

And reoccupy your space in the arch of life.

Never give up or surrender to toxins,

For, I’m afraid, extraction will be your only option,

This premature death that grieves your closest friends,

Who will shift, erupt in tears, and tip over your grave

To mourn the loss of a friend they couldn’t save.

Be like a tooth, my friend!