From Baghdad to Memphis, Mack Provides Dental Aid

By Don Wade

A toothache doesn’t stop just because a soldier has been deployed to Iraq. And a brigade dentist in the U.S. Army with the 82nd Airborne Division in Baghdad sometimes has to moonlight as a field medic.

“As a dentist, because you know anatomy, they let you triage folks,” said Dr. Edward Mack, who since 2007 has worked as an endodontist – a root canal specialist – with his own practice in East Memphis. “That’s really beyond my expertise, but they didn’t have anyone else. The life of a wounded solider is in your hands. You had to prioritize who would be treated first, who would be treated last.”

Mack, 40, received the Combat Medical Badge as well as the Army Commendation Medal. He spent seven months in Iraq, but might never have gone if another dentist had not broken his leg during a parachute jump.

Dr. Edward Mack stands outside his East Memphis dental clinic.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

In those seven months, he treated close to 1,000 of the division’s 3,500 soldiers.

“Some of it was extraction and some of it was routine,” Mack said of the dental work. “Some of it was palliative. We were in combat situations. I had to work out of a backpack.”

A lot of people dislike going to the dentist, maybe even fear it. This, Mack discovered, includes young soldiers in harm’s way.

“I encountered soldiers who hated the dentist like anyone else,” Mack said. “Oftentimes, I ended up dealing with the psychology of the soldier. I’d just listen to them tell their stories and that would ease their minds.”

That experience serves Mack well.

“Talking with people really does ease their fears,” he said. “Even how loud I sound (can have an impact). I’ve learned to speak softly.”

Mack says that when he set off to South Carolina State University he believed he wanted to be an engineer. But he soon shifted to dentistry and then decided to specialize and become an endodontist; he believes he is the only African-American endodontist in West Tennessee.

Mack met his wife, LaCanas Mack, while attending Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry. She’s a general dentist. They have three daughters.

Across the country, there are 4,000 active endodontists, according to the American Association of Endodontists. A recent survey by the American Dental Association indicated endodontists perform more than 4.2 million root canals annually.

“A lot of it is caused from tooth decay that’s gotten too deep into the nerve and the nerve becomes inflamed, and then the nerve dies,” Mack said. “Once it starts hurting, you’re probably too late and you’ve got to come see me. The best way to stay away from me is to see your general dentist on a regular basis.”

That’s good advice for the masses, but not exactly great for his business plan.

His business is doing well, too. He sees about 800 patients annually. None of them in combat situations.

“If no one’s shooting at me and I can come to the office and treat patients,” Mack said, “that’s a good day.”