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Tuesday, March 26, 2013



Katrina, an expectant mom (#10) and worlds best blog commenter recently posted on a dental situation for her very young son.

Sara at “Confessions of a Redheaded Mama” also had an excellent post on today’s dentistry and young children.

Both of these posts reminded me of going to the dentist when I was five years old.  I don’t remember much from this age, but I will never forget my dentist.  At five years old I always seemed to have four or five cavities which needed filling.  I never had a toothache, and half of these teeth were due to fall out in a reasonably short time, yet they had to be drilled and filled.

These cavities were never located by x-ray.  I don’t remember a dentist using x-rays until many years later.  The dentist poked around with a scary looking pick and any tooth irregularity became a cavity.  Looking back I wonder if in fact I had all these cavities, or were they really just natural dents in my teeth.  Whatever, they were deemed drillable.  Here is where the truly memorable part of visiting the dentist comes in.

In 1951, the dentist did not have a high speed drill which simultaneously squirted water to keep the drill bit cool.  No, the dentists then had a big old machine which when started up did not make the high whining whir of the drills today, this machine sounded like the putt-putt of an outboard motor in idle.  The drill may as well have been operated by a foot pedal. 

Drilling was done without benefit of Novocain.  This was either because it was not yet accepted procedure, or because mom didn’t want to spend the extra money.  I suspect since there was no insurance coverage it was the later.

That friggin drill just about fit in my mouth and it was s-l-o-w.  When the dentist pressed on the tooth, the drill slowed down even more.  It sounded like a car trying to start on a cold morning. 

It hurt.  Criminently it hurt, and there was no stopping it.  Apparently when a dentist asks if it hurts and a five year old with two pounds of tool in his mouth says, “Oompth math urghnts ooo munch” the answer sounds just like, “That’s ok Doc keep drilling.”

I clearly remember my dentist’s chair side manner.  As he leaned his weight on me so I couldn’t move, and he ignored my plea to “Pleeph opit it hurpes o murnch, he played a game of kill the cavity.

“There’s one right behind the couch (like my mouth was a room in a house) “Varoom, putt-putt” smoke actually poured from my mouth and I could smell the smell of burning teeth.  Yes, burning teeth have a smell, and it is not pretty.  The sound of that low speed torture machine of a drill, the smell of smoke and teeth and the dentist’s playful demeanor will be forever etched in my mind.

As a five year old it was all I knew about the dentist, just something you had to go through, something everyone went through.  If I had to face the same procedure today, I would pass, let the tooth rot, and yank it when it hurt. 

Extraction could not be nearly as bad as that slow-speed drill on my wide awake un-medicated five year old tooth.


  1. Thanks a lot, ya ol' crank.
    That's an experience I had all but forgotten.
    Now I'm gonna have those nightmares again.

  2. Yikes! I remember the same sort of torture....and the smell. It all left me with fear of the dentist for many, many years.

  3. Wow, I'll echo what Skip and Jeanie said. The burning tooth smell, erg!

  4. sorry, but i had to scan this one. couldn't stand it! eek!

  5. Back in the Dark Ages I was an assistant to a children's dentist--I know whereof you speak!!

  6. Ack! You took me back. The smell -- oh God, the smell!

    I dreaded the dentist as a child...


  7. I don't remember a smell, but I rememeber having to be held down...

    In Jan, when the Dentist suggested I go without being numbed, the fear shot back through my very early memory and the look in my eyes was enough answer for him.

  8. Jeez....I don't remember any of that. My experiences at the dentist were pretty tame. I never could understand why so many people hated to visit the dentist. If your experience was the norm, I don't blame them.


  9. nauseating. Mix it up with an actively alcoholic dentist and ya really got something there. Z-

  10. In remembering this I also recall there was not question but that we would climb meekly in the chair and submit. Crying was unacceptable, and a fit probably would have resulted in the death sentence. Or, the really slow drill.

  11. Oh my gosh....I would have died. Well not really, but yeah, I would have died. Such torture. No numbing shots? That's awful. You don't have nightmares? I think I would have nightmares....

    Kids these days have it so nice. They have tv monitors hanging above their heads where they can either watch a DVD or they can play video games while their teether are being worked on. My kids LIKE going to the dentist, and they couldn't care less what procedure they are there for: a cleaning? Great! A cavity? Even better, because it takes longer and that's more time in "the chair" .... and getting a tooth pulled is an added bonus, I guess, because on top of all the fun in "the chair" they get to take the tooth home and cash in with a tooth fairy visit.

    Now that I think about it, perhaps they would brush their teeth better if a trip to the dentist to fill a cavity actually HURT and wasn't so darn entertaining!

  12. I know a lot of people of our age who are very fearful and at the least.. resistant to dental appointments for the very things you described. Myself among them. Ugh.. you brought back uncomfy memories.

  13. I HATE the smell of burning teeth in the afternoon. When I was a kid, the big draw of my dentist's office was a koi pond. Promises of looking at the giant goldfish through the glass doors of the exam room got us there without much complaining. One quick look, then we got THE CHAIR.

  14. aannnnd... my anxiety and fear of the dentist is officially back (as though it ever left)

  15. Thanks for that Joe - I have an appointment tomorrow to have the roots of my undeveloped wisdom tooth 'lifted' which is just another way of saying taken out - doubly looking forward to it now ;)