‘It put chills down my spine’: Previous patient of suspended Bedford dentist haunted by painful memories | Local | News
When Scott Wolfe saw the photo of his dentist from 30 years ago circulating on social media, he was overwhelmed by a flood of emotions.
“It put chills down my spine,” he said.
The photo is of Errol Gaum, a long-time practising pediatric dentist in HRM, whose clinic is now in Bedford. It was shared on a Facebook group alongside numerous accounts from patients and parents who came forward to accuse Gaum of using excessive force and doing procedures without consent.
Wolfe, who is 39 years old now, hadn’t been to Gaum’s practice once or twice. Gaum was his dentist for three years and every visit was filled with pain. Wolfe remembers being pinned down by the dentist and his assistant as he sat in the chair. He recalls having allergies as a little boy and being threatened for breathing through his mouth, instead of his stuffed-up nose.
“They’d become incredibly rude and very disrespectful,” he said. “(They) told me that I’d be in a lot of trouble if I if I didn’t start breathing through my nose because I was steaming up their dental mirror.”
Wolfe would beg his mom every time not to go to the dentist.
Wolfe’s mom, Florence Wolfe, was never allowed in the room with him. Sitting in the waiting room, she would hear him crying.
“You just want to automatically run to them,” she said.
One memory Florence has is of Gaum giving her son a denture. When she asked what the denture was for, she was told it was to “correct her son’s speech.”
Two weeks later, Scott lost his denture, and his mother called the dentist to have it replaced but was told it wasn’t necessary. Florence still wonders why it was suddenly OK for her son to go without the denture when it was essential only a couple of weeks ago.
Despite all the strange occurrences and her son’s reluctance to go to the dentist, Florence didn’t think there was something wrong at the time.
“(I) chalked it up to just being a nervous child at the dentist. Because I never dreamt of what was going on in there. I had no idea what was going on in there.”
Wolfe, who has a two-year old daughter, said he thinks the reason Gaum’s alleged misconduct wasn’t exposed till now is the idea that children don’t like to go to the dentist. But he said parents shouldn’t blame themselves or feel guilty for sending their children to Gaum because they couldn’t have known.
“Those feelings are for sure natural … and I wouldn’t expect you not to feel that way,” he said.
“But you’re trusting a professional, just like you would trust a doctor. … And you’re trusting your child in their hands to get … good medical help. And you think even though it’s a bad experience, or they’re having a tough time with it, it’s for the greater good.”
It’s not the parents’ fault that Gaum failed their trust, he said.
People of all ages have moments when it feels like we’re on the edge of recalling something but can’t quite do it—where we parked our car or left our phone, for example, or what name goes with that familiar face. It’s extremely frustrating in the moment, but for most of us, we can usually remember if we try. For patients with Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and many other dementia-causing diseases, however, memory loss is much more profound.
Given the steady rise in the numbers of Alzheimer’s patients, in particular, the research community and pharmaceutical companies agree that the development of treatment strategies is critical, now more than ever. Yet despite decades of research, we are still trying to understand why these patients can’t remember—and trying to find some way we might be able to help.
But we may be closer to an answer.
A well-known feature of early Alzheimer’s is a difficulty remembering recent events. We’ve always assumed that there are two possible explanations: one is that these patients can’t store new information properly in the brain; the other is that their ability to recall stored information has been weakened. But maybe there’s another way to think about it. Consider a public library in which each book represents a memory. If the library doesn’t have the book you want, you’re out of luck. This would be like asking Alzheimer’s patients to remember something that hasn’t been stored in their brain in the first place.
Even if the library has the book, though, you still need several pieces of information to locate it—what floor it’s on, what rack, what row on the rack. If you were missing some of that information, you wouldn’t find it either. That corresponds to the second assumption about why people with Alzheimer’s can’t remember. Although most research has focused on ways of improving memory storage in Alzheimer’s, this has not led to led to treatments capable of improving recall.
On the other hand, scientific evidence in support of the “weakened memory recall” idea in Alzheimer’s has been difficult to obtain, which is why this possibility has received considerably less attention. But in a Nature paper published in 2016, our team investigated both memory storage and memory recall processes in an animal model of early Alzheimer’s disease. In clinical research, there is no simple method to distinguish between memory storage versus recall deficits in Alzheimer’s patients, because standard cognitive tests rely on the patient’s ability to verbally describe previous events.
To circumvent this issue, I developed an approach that allowed us to activate the neurons that store memory information, referred to as memory engrams, through optogenetics—that is, introducing a gene that is light sensitive into the memory engram cells of “Alzheimer’s” mice, then delivering blue light pulses to activate them—and measuring memory recall strength directly. To our surprise, we found comparable numbers of engram cells in normal healthy animals and Alzheimer’s animals, suggesting that the initial memory storage process is intact. Targeting the recall process in Alzheimer’s animals led