Dental Memories: Times Pasts


© irene waters 2016

Last night we watched Intolerable Cruelty yet again. It’s a good film if you haven’t seen it. In it George Clooney plays a divorce attorney. His smile (and the good teeth he exposes in the smiling) are something that is hard to forget. It also gave me the prompt for this months Times Past. I have written a fictional dental piece  (Part 1 , Part 2, Part 3) but dentists are something that still make me shudder when I think of the dentist despite knowing that times have changed. I am anticipating that the further back in generations we go the more we will shudder with the newer generations not knowing that a trip to the dentist should fill you with fear. I am also anticipating that geographical location will make a difference to our experiences. I am looking forward to hearing your dental tales either in the comments or in a separate post. For guidelines  but all you have to do is advise of your location at the time of the experience (country city or rural) and what generation you belong to.

Silent Generation Australia city

In my mother’s day only a few families could afford to go to the dentist and it was avoided where possible. Holes went untreated and teeth blackened and died. There was definitely no orthodontics. People held on until they were in their late teens, early twenties and then had the lot removed (healthy as well as rotten teeth), replacing them with the false teeth that were then, quite fashionable.

Baby Boomer Australia country

We had quite a healthy diet as children and had less fillings than were normal when I was a child. We hated going to the dentist even though we rarely needed anything done. One of our early appointments must have required a filling and I can still hear the high pitch whirring of the electric drill and set up every visit afterwards to be filled with fear. It did make us fairly consistent with our teeth cleaning. When I was around eight the dentist informed my parents that my teeth were too big for my mouth. Something had to be done. I wasn’t privvy to the alternative forms of treatment that could be performed and a decision was made that eight teeth would be removed to make room for the new ones to come through, giving me a bite that would be straight. At the time I would have been happy to have crooked teeth, they would have given me personality. Instead every few week I’d be dragged to the dentist. The needles would come out and pushed into my gums, separating flesh from bone and gristle. I would need holding down as I would kick out, my mother threatening punishment if I didn’t sit still. Then with my jaw prised wide apart the drill would loosen the tooth and the pliers would grip it, the dentist pulling the tooth leaving a bloody socket which my tongue then had to continually explore. I grew to hate the dentist, a feeling I have not quite overcome today despite finding that the only pain the dentist causes now is the hole he leaves in my pocket.

Baby Boomer Australia city

Baby Boomer USA

Dental Agony

Looking forward to hearing about your dental experiences.

About Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

I began my working career as a reluctant potato peeler whilst waiting to commence my training as a student nurse. On completion I worked mainly in intensive care/coronary care; finishing my hospital career as clinical nurse educator in intensive care. A life changing period as a resort owner/manager on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu was followed by recovery time as a farmer at Bucca Wauka. Having discovered I was no farmer and vowing never again to own an animal bigger than myself I took on the Barrington General Store. Here we also ran a five star restaurant. Working the shop of a day 7am - 6pm followed by the restaurant until late was surprisingly more stressful than Tanna. On the sale we decided to retire and renovate our house with the help of a builder friend. Now believing we knew everything about building we set to constructing our own house. Just finished a coal mine decided to set up in our backyard. Definitely time to retire we moved to Queensland. I had been writing a manuscript for some time. In the desire to complete this I enrolled in a post grad certificate in creative Industries which I completed 2013. I followed this by doing a Master of Arts by research graduating in 2017. Now I live to write and write to live.
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24 Responses to Dental Memories: Times Pasts

  1. Pingback: Dental Agony – Espiritu en Fuego/A Fiery Spirit

  2. Irene, Here is my blog post on Dental Agony in the USA!! LOL!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have been blessed about dentistry.
    Things didn’t start out well. While a child we lived in a rural area with no choice. I had early problems that led to trauma (by age 5 they gave me tranquilizers to visit the dentist).
    When I was six or so my mom learned about a dentist in Burien who only treated children. His name was Dr. Frank Tanaka. The sign at the entrance said “leave your mothers and your gun belts in the waiting room”.
    Believe it or not, Mrs Tanaka would hold your hand during treatments if you were scared!. And I certainly was; the sound, vibration and smell from the drill as they prep for a filling still causes my stomach to clench.
    Over time I over came my fears, and stayed with Dr Tanaka until he was rude enough to die (I was 28 at that time, and my son was one. My son only had one tooth, but the doctor gave it due respect that last time I saw him, he cleaned my teeth himself. I learned that he died not long after that from leukemia.
    When Vashon Island had no dentist Dr. Tanaka started seeing my parents and he was our family dentist, through thick and thin for several years.
    His practice was taken over by our current dentist, Dr. Richard Nomura, who is gentle and careful and caring. After all our years together they feel almost like family (his wife manages the office.)
    I am so thankful that my parents cared enough to take me to Dr. Tanaka, instead of making me tough it out and see the local guy.
    It is surprising how warm my memories are about dentists.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is such a heart warming dentistry tale. The Tanaka family sounds so caring I think if we all had dentists like that more of us would have a warm feeling when they think of dentists. Thank you for sharing.
      I had never heard of Vashon Island so I looked it up. What a wonderful place to grow up. It is now on my list of places to go if I ever get to the USA.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Times Past: Dental Memories | Musings of a Retiring Person

  5. macmsue says:

    I certainly found it stressful when my dentist retired and I had to get used to a new one. You were certainly lucky to have the dentist experiences you did as a child.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. colinmathers says:

    The dentist we saw as children in Casino used to have patients in two chairs and run between them doing stuff. I was sitting in the chair one day and he came in dangling a bloody growth between his fingers that he had removed from the other patient, and very excitedly showed me it. I had a big dental phobia from that plus the pain of the injections and old slow drills. So I didn’t go to the dentist for quite a few years when I left home, and suffered as a result later. The father of a friend was a dentist who used laughing gas. He overdosed me and it completely eliminated my dental phobia, and has not been a problem since. Who knew you could have so much fun at the dentist. At one point, he realized I was overdosing (laughing uncontrollably while teeth being worked on) and he turned down the flow. I could feel myself come down, so after that, I did my best to control the laughter and groan occasionally so he would turn up the flow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t remember that he used to work on two people at once but now have a vague memory of being left for the injection to work…. I’m glad I didn’t see the bloody thing. I only had laughing gas once (for a wisdom tooth) and also found it was a most enjoyable experience. I think it is banned now but I might be wrong. I think (and this could be wrong also) that too much can cause heart problems and some dentists were dosing and then taking liberties with their female patients (or was that a movie I saw)….


  7. Baby boomer here.

    I’m always aghast at adults who expect young children to sit through or watch or tolerate any frightening or painful experience without screaming and thrashing. Have they lost their common sense or only their decency?

    The dentist – traumatic memories for me, many self-imposed.
    Despite that my father was a physician, my mother was a terribly superstitious person whose life style was as archaic as if from the Middle Ages. I rarely brushed my teeth, maybe once a week with a brush I probably used for six years. No surprise that by about age 7, I had a mouth full of decayed teeth.

    So about once a week for what seemed like twenty years, I walked up the street to the dentist who sat me in his chair and drilled into every molar in my head and filled it with pain – oh, sorry, I meant he filled it with lead or whatever they were using back then. The ache in my mouth would just about be fading when it would be time to walk back for another miserable appointment.

    When I was 11 or so, after we’d moved from New Jersey, home of the dentist down the street, to the paradise of Hawaii, and Irene, you know the myth of paradise, my parents decided I needed braces to corral the jaggedy mess of the lead-filled teeth in my mouth. The orthodontist decided my mouth was too small to accommodate all of my teeth. (Every dentist who has every worked on me as an adult confirms that my mouth is very small – I always ask if they will record their statement so I can play it back for my husband.) Anyway, back to the orthodontics. Ortho then clasped every tooth in a thick metal band, then attached a thick wire along outside of each row, top and bottom. Each week I went to see him, he tightened the wires. Think Medieval torture racks. Yes, Igor, turn the screw again – is she still screaming? Ah, good. Another week of headaches and mushy food.

    Nearly 2 years of painful, head-achey, hard-to-brush metal-encrusted teeth, and my family decided to move back to the mainland. Thing was, the teeth weren’t quite ready to break out of the braces. So the ortho did one final tightening of the metal clasps, sending me into an hour of wrenching pain. But he made a mistake and broke the last metal wire that ran all across the bottom row of teeth. Now the wire was not only useless in terms of keeping my teeth together, it kept poking into my cheek and making it bleed. I was supposed to go back one more time and he was going to replace the broken wire before sending me on to another orthodontist in California.

    Only of course we forget the appointment. My mom was by herself now, my dad having moved to California about a year before, setting up a new medical practice and buying a home to bring us to, and deciding if he and mom were going to divorce or stick out a miserable marriage. She had to pack everything herself and she’d been very ill for months before the move. You know humid islands, right? Petri dishes for sicknesses that everyone shares again and again. She’d suffered an awful infection that left her temporarily crippled. Who had time to think about me and my crooked teeth with the wire digging into my cheek?

    Now in California, no one looked at me twice. I was so unimportant, what with my parents’ worries over money, the marriage, the cost of everything, the house my mom hated, the new medical practice, and new schools for 3 kids who had all had awful experiences in Hawaii’s schools. (Not a single public school anywhere on the islands was accredited, which sent everyone who had an extra nickel in their pocket to find a private school for their kids or forgo any chance of college for them.) My bloody cheeks did not register on anyone’s radar. Not even mine.

    Until one day my parents looked at me and realized those damned wires and braces, neglected now for more than a year, were not going to come off by themselves. So they sent me to an ortho here in California. Who decided we had to start all over with a new set of braces.
    So, three years digging out the decay in my teeth and filling my cavities filling with ugly lead; two years of first removing about 8 teeth and then binding the remains in silver bands and wires; a year of the broken wire ripping the inside of my cheeks into mash; and two more years of a new set of braces. You think I like the dentist?

    When I got the damned things off for good, I was done with the whole process and I threw the plastic retainer I was supposed to wear for the next 18 months into the ocean. It’s the thing that’s supposed to make sure your naughty misaligned teeth don’t go back to their raggedy ways. I just wasn’t going for it. I had finally learned to brush my teeth properly and often by then.

    So guess what? My teeth stretched apart from each other – I can slide a popsicle stick between my two front teeth. The spaces between my teeth guarantee a gapey smile even if the bloody ivories are sorta in a straight row. Guess what I want for Christmas – another front tooth to fill the gap.

    My current dentist, who has replaced all of the ugly lead in my mouth with white porcelain fillings, just told me I must really brush well because my teeth and gums are in great shape. But he didn’t even give me a lollypop for such a good report. He also said that it isn’t that I don’t have the ability to smile with my lips parted, (I’d rather put a barrel over my face than smile with my lips parted) but that I am ashamed of the way my teeth look – ya think?

    When my kids were born I gave them tiny, soft brushes as soon as they could stand, just so they understood that it was fun to put a toothbrush into their mouths. I made sure they had new toothbrushes on a regular basis, I brushed for them until they were old enough to do it themselves, I made sure they flossed and rinsed with mouthwash. My kids had almost no cavities – I think one son had one small cavity.

    Unfortunately, I so hated the braces episodes that I neglected to get them for my son, and now I am angry with myself. The new ortho techniques are much gentler and more effective and work more quickly. I’ve offered to pay for orthodontics for him now, but he thinks there are better uses for money than his teeth. My sons both see that their children take good care of their teeth.
    Generation by generation, we have improved our dental routines. Thank heaven for miracles made or found.

    Sorry this is so long. It brought back memories, that’s for sure. No need to post it on your blog, Irene.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Charli Mills says:

    In the US, dentistry is underinsured making it unaffordable to many. Having celebrity-perfect teeth is a show of wealth. Few dentists have programs for those who can’t afford it, and the VA only covers the teeth of veterans of they can prove that combat damaged their teeth. It was more affordable to families when I was a kid and an unfortunate incident led to many dentist visits. This will be an interesting prompt!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Pingback: Weekend Coffee Share: 11th March 2017 Happy Birthday to me. | Reflections and Nightmares- Irene A Waters (writer and memoirist)

  10. Annecdotist says:

    I cringed when I saw that dentistry was this month’s prompt but having read of your childhood experiences I think I’ve been very lucky. That’s a six-month-of-therapy level trauma!
    I don’t remember having fillings in my (baby boomer) childhood, which was always the fear, and an extraction entailed a dose of “laughing gas” which took away most of the pain but did leave me groggy.
    In Britain it took a long time for orthodontics to catch on and I consider myself lucky to have missed out on the ever tightening railtrack braces – I think teens have enough to cope with without that constant (albeit low-level) pain. And now the fashion for whitening treatments can also be painful, especially when people try it at home.
    I recall my grandmother (G I generation, smalltown UK) having all her teeth removed (I’m vague about how old she was but under 60) and having to wait several weeks or months for the gums to settle before she could be fitted for false teeth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You were lucky you don’t remember having fillings in your childhood. Your parents must have been ahead of their time with dental care. I had laughing gas in the eighties and I loved it. The dentist could have done anything and I wouldn’t have cared. It doesn’t seem to be used these days or else I just haven’t been offered it.
      I agree you were lucky to have missed out on the bands (as was I). I didn’t realise that whitening is a painful procedure. I have to say I am glad that I didn’t live in your Grandmother’s time (or even my mother’s). Dentistry seems to be quite painless these days and not the long drawn out procedures it once was.
      Thanks for commenting Anne despite your cringing.


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