—by Angus Lorenzen
The Japanese concentrated American and Allied civilians in the three camps on Luzon during WWII, not realizing that by doing so they had created a pool of exceptional people and forced them to use their ingenuity to be creative beyond anything that they would have accomplished had their lives remained normal. The camps held engineers, technicians, business leaders, artists, and others with unexplored talents. The harsh conditions meant that they could not acquire what they needed as they had before the war, and so they became creative.
The prisoners put their minds and hands to work to fill their needs. They created governments to administer the every day activities and programs for health, entertainment and sports, building and maintenance, arts and crafts, food farming, and built clandestine radios. There was no way anyone could run down to the local store to buy needed materials or parts, so they had to make them from what was available - bamboo, odd pieces of metal, and wire from disassembled appliances.
One of the more challenging projects was accomplished in Camp Holmes in Baguio. Fabian Ream and his family were held in the camp, and with the course of time, he lost so much weight that his denture would no longer fit his mouth. Aluminum had been used by the American Expeditionary Force dentists in France during WWI to quickly make replacement dentures for troops in the field. When an aluminum pot fell into his possession, Fabian set out to make his own replacement denture with the assistance of a dentist in the camp.
He made an impression of his mouth using the wax from a candle. He needed to make a heatproof mold from this impression, and to do this he heated some old discarded gypsum wallboard to dry it and used the powdered gypsum to make plaster of Paris that he formed into the mold. He melted the aluminum pot in an old blacksmith’s forge, and then poured it into the mold, which he had placed in the bottom of a bucket. In order to fill all of the cavities in the mold, he swung the bucket around his head, using centrifugal force to push the molten aluminum into the mold. After a couple of tries, he got a decent casting, and finished it with a penknife.
Fabian wore his denture throughout the rest of his time as a Japanese prisoner, though at first he had a problem with the thermal conductivity when he drank hot liquids. He continued to wear it after liberation until his family convinced him to see a dentist and get rid of his metallic smile. After his death, the aluminum denture lived on as a family icon until it was donated to the Samuel D. Harris Museum of Dentistry in 1999.
The story of this amazing feat is described in The “Amex” Cast Aluminum Denture of World War I By John M. Hyson, Jr. DDS, MS, MA & Joseph W A. Whitehorne, AB, MA, LHD,
Fabian Ream made this denture for himself out of an aluminum cooking pot in Camp Holmes.
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