Seen on a tee shirt while browsing souvenir shops in Thailand, this put me in mind of an article I had read about local dentists in an old edition of the County Down Spectator. Those of us who have had the advantage of NHS dentistry may be grateful that we are not of an older generation.
Having said that, I have dreadful memories of the school dentist at Carlisle Circus in Belfast and coming round from a rubber scented anaesthetic to find myself spitting up blood into a bath with six other pale faced kids arrayed in plastic capes and hats. I now have odontophobia, big time. President George Washington was lucky, reputedly fitted with wooden gnashers. He could go to the local carpenter and the only oral hygiene worry was woodworm.
In the old days Bangorians were well served, if a report in the Spectator is to be believed. In August 1917 it was reported that a free sideshow was provided at the Post Office in Ballymagee Street. Its window displayed abnormal teeth extracted by local dentist, Mr Chapman, and the Spectator was in no doubt of the interest value of this gory exhibition. Its readers were informed that:
“One specimen is of a second molar and wisdom joined together, extracted on Friday night at 11.30, August 10, 1917, in his Lisburn surgery. It is not a pleasant but a very interesting sight. We think our readers will give Mr Chapman credit for being a skilful and competent operator after examining the above.”
It was also noted that, before his recent move to Bangor, Mr Chapman had extracted over 30,000 teeth in Lisburn. Perhaps he had exhausted his market. A full set of dentures cost £2, although you might do better than this with Mr Curran who only charged one guinea, but didn’t supply his biography.
An additional enticement was offered to country dwellers who travelled to Mr Curran’s Belfast surgery; their fare would be deducted from the bill. I assume that both men were formally qualified providers of dental treatment as it was only in 1921 that the practice of dentistry was limited to those with professional qualifications!
In the 18th century, barbers conducted tooth-drawing as well as blood-letting and shaving. Hygiene was non-existent and you risked having your offending molar bashed into bits before they were yanked out. Tools were basic, anaesthesia might be a dose of alcohol, or curare, an arrow poison used by Native Americans.
For me now, its plaque to the future, looking forward to two crowns, aaaarrrrgghh! Hope Jonathon has the laughing gas ready.