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Monday, 10 November 2014

Old Dentistry – The Way It Was

By Old Bill Weatherstone who blogs at The Diesel Gypsy

When I was a young hellion (so they told me) in public school, grade 5, I was having a bad time with tooth aches.

In Toronto, the school system had a dentist on duty at Earl Grey public school for those who could not afford one. I was at that time going to Bruce public school about 10 blocks away.

My time there was always at 1:00PM and when finished, I was allowed to go home directly, cutting off two-and-a-half hours of class time. That was my only incentive to go to the infamous torture chamber.

The first session was a mind killer. I was told to sit in the chair, lean back, open wide and hang on.

The guy then picked up the drill (powered by small ropes and pulleys) and went directly to work on me. No pain killers of any kind just started drilling with chips and smoke flying out of my mouth.

After I grabbed his hand and let out a blood curdling yell, he stopped for a moment and in a gruff, browned-off voice told me that I could not feel it and then carried on.

It was only a few years after the war and I can only now assume that he was straight out of the army dentist corps. No experience required.

After a number of sessions with this butcher, I was glad to stay in class. The two-and-a-half hour free time was not worth it. Besides, he damaged most of my teeth in the process.

They were in bad shape and all I could do when attacked with a tooth ache would be to get it pulled.

In 1950, there was a specialist, Dr. Liggett, in Toronto who ran a tooth pulling enterprise.

His office was on the second floor of a building on the corner of Broadview and Gerrard across from the infamous Don Jail where the local hangings took place when required giving one the thought of which would be the most painless?

I used to transfer from one street car to another and with transfer in hand would climb the stairs to his office. Approaching the reception desk, I passed a row of plain hard chairs along the wall with patients waiting their turn.

When I asked what the charge would be, she answered $3 per tooth or 2 for $5. Extractions were their only service.

The line moved along at an extremely fast pace and my turn was only a few moments away.

Ushered through a small door, I was placed in a small cubical, one of three. It was like a men’s washroom from the 1890s with dark brown tongue and groove wood walls, only wide enough for the chair and a tank of medical gas.

The dentist would step in, put the gas over your face for a few seconds to just stun you, then grab the tooth and pull it out before moving to the next stall and repeating the procedure. You were only stunned enough that you could not fight back.

One of the nurses would guide me out to the exit which when you got to the bottom of the stairs, found yourself in the back alley spitting blood. You then used your street car transfer and carried on without missing a beat.

Compared with today’s dentistry, I am sort of glad it is all behind me.

With the super technology, x-rays, sonar scanners, form-fitting chairs, soft music plus three rooms of unknown gizmos, it is now a painless experience. So I’ve been told.

It just leaves me to wonder if these new modern dentists have been trained in resuscitation. After receiving the bill for work done, I can only assume a heart attack would follow.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


What a great story.

I can sort of relate to some parts especially at the end.

Wow, what grim memories.It's no wonder that you remember the horror of it with such clarity.

Thanks for the very well-written story, Bill.

I remember. My former father in-law was from that school, with a hand tremor to boot. An of course, he was my dentist because I got my service for free. Poor me.

This should really be read by young people today who are used to all the gentle treatment by dentists. I remember my aunt told me that she got her tonsils taken out by the dentist, no anesthesia offered. It's no wonder dentists had such a bad reputation when I was growing up.

Forgive me, but I laughed and laughed at your wonderful writing because at 83, I have not-good memories of a dentist myself.

Good Lord, that old drill was awful and seemed to take forever, didn't it?

Still, I love to laugh, and I thank you for the opportunity, painful memory or not!

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