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The $24,000 Partial
Who is Derek Cudlipp? If you know, then you are already aware of the story behind Mr. Cudlipp and his world-famous $24,000 partial denture. If not, read on because these particular partials have often been referred to as the “teeth that saved the world.”
As Nigel Cudlipp, Derek’s son, recalls, his father was a quiet, shy man devoted to his profession as a dental technician. Derek Cudlipp was employed by Sir Wilfred Fish, CBE, a British dentist who was one of the most highly regarded dental surgeons of his time. The two dental professionals worked closely together for many years and from all accounts had great respect for each other’s clinical and technical expertise.
One of their patients’ insistent demands put the combined expertise of the duo to the ultimate test. Sir Winston Churchill had battled problems with his teeth from early childhood and also suffered from a speech impediment that caused him to lisp when he tried to pronounce the “s” sound. Anxiety over the lisp in his early years eventually gave way to considering the impediment a distinctive speech pattern that he wanted to preserve. So when it came to creating a partial denture that ensured the preservation of that famous lisp and slushy speech, Fish and Cudlipp designed a prosthesis that fit loosely rather than tightly against the roof of the mouth.
Described in Barry K.B. Berkovitz’s book Nothing But the Tooth: A Dental Odyssey, the partial denture relied on clasps on the back teeth for retention but “…had an imperfect seal at the back of the denture where it contacted the palate.” This design kept the gold palate and front porcelain teeth free from the soft tissue of the upper jaw, which allowed Churchill his characteristic speech imperfections. However, the design put great stress on the clasps, which required long hours in the dental chair and at the bench to tweak to the right tightness or to replace on those occasions when the impatient and frustrated Prime Minister used them as a projectile upon hearing about setbacks in the war. Cudlipp was kept so busy making and remaking the partials that when he was served his draft papers to enter the fight, Churchill tore them up, claiming his wartime commission would be better served in London.
Cudlipp always had three pair of partial dentures at the ready should anything go wrong. The one set Churchill wore and the second set he always carried with him. One set now resides in the Hunterian Museum, the medical museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, in London. The second set is with Churchill at his resting place, and the third … well, that is the set Cudlipp’s son Nigel found tucked away in his father’s belongings and auctioned in July 2010. Hear Nigel tell the story of his father for the Fox Business series Strange Inheritance at insidedentaltech.com/idt879. That’s where I recently heard this story and began digging to learn more. Never has so much attention been paid by so many for so few teeth.