Positively San Diego: Holocaust survivor gets new smile

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Two La Jolla dentists donate their time and talent to return a smile to an 82 year old Holocaust survivor after a lifetime of hiding his teeth.

Ben Gurfinkel said he can't remember ever having a full set of teeth. He said his Mother was malnourished while pregnant with him which may have contributed to his teeth coming in under developed.

Then, as a young child in Warsaw, Poland, he suffered direct malnutrition as he and his Mother were forced to hide in a cellar for more than a year during the Nazi Occupation.

Ben recalls being so desperately hungry at one point he ate dirt scraped off the cellar walls. Ben feels the experience further impacted the development of his teeth.

"Well, I don't want to say bad, but they looked like Frankenstein." Said Ben, who learned early on not to show his smile. "I had the notion that the people see me opening my mouth and they had already a kind of a rejection."

But the dental condition Ben feared for so many years caused people to turn away, finally lead to him to be embraced by a couple of dentists in La Jolla.

"One day I got a phone call from the Jewish Family Services," Said Doctor Jaime Breziner, " And they ask me if i can take care of a couple of holocaust survivors that were in need." Dr. Breziner approached his associate, Doctor Paul Fern, who specializes in implant procedures, to provide Ben with a complete restorative procedure.

"You know, he's been a survivor all his life." Said Dr. Fern, "And I thought in our small way maybe we can make him a participant in life in all the things that we take for granted."

One of the biggest challenges, said Fern, was having to start from scratch since Ben had no healthy tooth structure.

"Trying to get a tooth size and shape and smile line from somebody that's never had one before." Dr. Fern says some of the work was trial and error.

But after 12 months, a stunning transformation. "I stepped back and I really was shocked. I saw a completely different individual." "Say 'F', -'F'... 'Frank,' -"Frank..." Dr. Breziner helps Ben with pronunciation as he's learning to speak with his new teeth.

His diction improving. He's also eating better and the chronic -sometimes debilitating tooth pain- is gone. Ben's also learning to express himself in a whole new way.

"When I expressed myself it was always with a closed mouth. Now, I'm learning to express myself and if I have something to smile about, I smile about it." Ben said, with a big smile spread across his face.

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