Some of our visitors to the Museum share their memories of dental practice and treatment:
Working as a dental nurse after the war
In 1947 I was demobbed - during the war I had been a Red Cross nurse. I reported to County Hall, Westminster to be given work that was a priority i.e. with children. These jobs were in the immunisation clinics, day nurseries and the dental clinics.
The surgery at Clapham Park was situated in a nice area. Two council flats on the ground floor were converted to a clinic, consisting of a minor ailments unit, chiropody for the elderly, a rheumatic clinic for children and a dental surgery.
To the staff the clinic many local private practices helped cover sessions: Dr. Cove-Smith, Mr. Everett, Mr. Nesbitt, Dr. Garrett, Mr. Brimmer plus many others from Scotland, Italy, Poland and Australia. I was the one dental assistant. My duties were...holding keys, ordering the equipment e.g. British Oxygen and having the cylinders for the anaesthetic machine, book keeping, appointments, correspondence, sterilization and cleaning. Later I did x-ray film development for our own surgery and other surgeries as at first there was only one x-ray machine in the area.
When dentists were absent the assistants were sent to other surgeries right across London, mostly towards the East End. There used to be trouble with bogus buyers trying to obtain the waste amalgam that was in the clinic.
After over 20 years with the public there were many stories amusing, sad and amazing. It was so rewarding to work with such pleasant and educated people who taught me a great deal. And after the hardships of the war on one ration book, Clapham Park Cinic with a British Restaurant nearby in an old Victorian house was a harbour after a storm.
Memories of orthodontic treatment in the 1950s
I was born in Cheshire in 1946 and I have lived in London as a small child, Saffron Waldon and then aged seven moved to Edinburgh. Eventually my parents found a wonderful Edinburgh dentist. I still have many of his fillings today (2009). I do not have many fillings but my sister (two years younger) has many more - she passed the sweet shop to school - I did not.
Edinburgh also has soft water. I remember the black mask as I had to have teeth extracted before orthodontic treatment at the dental hospital in Edinburgh in the late 1950s. I can well remember the students taking the impressions and then having my brace fitted. Every so often I had to have the brace tightened - rather unpleasant!
My mother made sure we visited the dentist often and when I came down to London I would always have my checkups at home.
Visiting the dentist has never been a problem. My mother aged 87 (2009) has her own teeth. My children - daughter aged 36 has one small filling - my son aged 33 has no fillings - when they were small we had no sweets and no fizzy drinks.
Perhaps I should add at this time my husband was a dental student and then became a dentist with his own practice.
Has this made a difference?! I like to think not! I have been brought up to go to the dentist at regular intervals and to be careful what I eat. I want to keep my teeth for the rest of my life.
Having milk teeth extracted
I remember my dentist as a little girl, his name was Dr Cutler, a ruddy faced bearded man, very gentle. I was never afraid of the dentist as a child, in fact, believe it or not I always pestered my mother to take me!
When the six months from my last appointment was up I would always remind my mother that my appointment was due.
My dentist was opposite my class on Brockley Road and you could wave to your classmates from the waiting room. The reason why I had no fear of the dentist was because of my mother. She had terrible teeth (what was left of them!).
By the time I was born in 1966 she hadn’t been to the dentist since the early 1950s; she was terrified. It must have been very brave of her to have to sit in with me on my visit. She would have tears in her eyes and come out shaking.
The only bad memory that I have of the dentist is when I was about four years old. I had to have four milk teeth out. I’ve no idea why my milk teeth were in so bad a state (well four of them anyway) as my mother never gave me or my brother sweets.
Even as we grew older it was a luxury that she could not afford. Back to the horror!... these four milk teeth that had to come out!
I remember the black rubber mask, the dentist glaring at me and my mother holding me down as I would NOT GO UNDER. I screamed and kicked like a mule!
It took three visits to get those teeth out. My mother was so embarrassed; the dentist on one occasion told my mother to take me away.
I mean, how much trouble can a fouryear old be?... anyway we got there in the end and I still have no fear of the dentist. I still go every six months.
Contrasting experiences as a child and adult
Some time in about 1953 my school, Fortescue Road, Colliers Wood, South London, was visited by dentists from the local school clinic and our teeth were all examined.
It was found that I needed to have a tooth extracted and an appointment was made for me in a few weeks' time at the Western Road clinic in Mitcham.
Dreadful stories were put about by the other children as to how bad the experience was going to be for me and I became very frightened about my forthcoming "ordeal".
On the day of the appointment my mother (who had the most dreadful blackened teeth) took me to the clinic and as we waited I felt that I knew what a prisoner in the condemned cell would feel like. I eventually was called in, my mother stayed in the waiting room and no explanation was given to me as to what the procedure was or what to do.
They were using gas then and the rubber mask was put on my face and because I actually really did think I was going to die I just held my breath. After what seemed an eternity I seemed to feel that I was spinning round and then I emerged from my unconscious state.
Some years later when I was about 16 I had very bad toothache and my father arranged for a private extraction to be done.
This time the dentist was much more considerate explained the procedure and as the mask went on I gratefully inhaled the anaesthetic knowing that when I woke the raging toothache would be over.
I found the contrast in the two experiences amazing - the school clinic dentists came across to me as being very cruel and uncaring, they must have sensed my fear but did nothing about it.
I threw my shoes at the dentist!
I remember visiting the dentist with my mum until I was about four when I had to go and sit in the chair by myself for a check up.
I decided not to want to let the dentist look in my mouth so instead took off my shoes and threw them at him - to his credit he didn't yell and was still my dentist till he retired.
My mum was horrified though!
I can't understand a word you say
I was born in 1944. I hated visits to the dentists and as my parents knowledge of dental health education was zero.
The many sweet foods/drinks I consumed meant my dental visits were frequent and unpleasant. In 1955 I had four teeth extracted under general anaesthetic and as I came round from the anaesthetic upper and lower orthodontic appliances were inserted.
For weeks no-one could understand any verbal communication I made! The end of my attempts to wear both appliances came one school day when I put my hand up to answer the history teacher's question: "And you can put your hand down" she snarled unpleasantly, "I can't understand a word you say".
I never wore the upper appliance again and only infrequently wore the lower one. I remember her to this day. A nasty piece of work.
This unfortunate episode did not prevent me from a 40+ year career in dentistry both clinically and in teaching - despite having malaligned teeth which to this day I wish were straight!
Getting the giggles
In 1945 I was taken to a clinic in Newport, Monmouthshire to have some baby teeth taken out. I was 5 years old. I remember the long sink down the middle of the room and I had the giggles afterwards - everyone else was crying.
Amazed by false teeth
In the 1930s I remember one of the street market stalls. The only things on one stall was second hand glasses and second hand false teeth. As a child it was fascinating to watch people trying sets of teeth for size, if they did not fit they put them back on the stall and tried another set.