A precocious child

Sometimes it pays to keep your mouth shut at the dental surgery.

In the 1950s and early ’60s, our family dentist was a kindly German Jewish refugee called Dr Samuels. In those days, I learned later while I was studying dentistry, sugar used to be an ingredient of toothpaste made for use by children. I doubt that my mother provided us with children’s toothpaste, which she would have regarded as being gimmicky.

Dr Samuels had a very upmarket practice in London’s St John’s Wood. His waiting room floor was covered with thick pile oriental carpets and the reading matter was glossy journals such as Country Life.

The surgery, where Dr Samuels performed his dentistry, was old-fashioned. Instruments were kept on display in glass fronted metal cabinets. His x-ray machine looked antiquated even to my young, inexperienced eyes. So, did most of his other equipment, much of it made by the German Siemens company. One of my uncles, also a patient of Dr Samuels, once asked him if a museum might be interested in displaying this historic looking dental equipment. Samuels answer was that it was not quite old enough for a museum.

Dr Samuels drilled teeth with a cord driven dental handpiece. He told us that he had an air driven high speed dental drill, but he did not like it because it cut too fast in his opinion. So, having fillings in his surgery was quite a noisy and bumpy experience.

Dr Samuels was a gentle, kindly man, like a benevolent grandfather. He never frightened me.

At the end of an appointment, he used to reward me with a boiled sweet. I looked forward to receiving these. However, one day when I was about 8 or 9 years old and he offered me the sweet, I said to Dr Samuels: “No thank you. Sweets are filled with sugar and bad for my teeth.”

The price I paid for my precociousness was that he never again offered me a sweet at the end of my appointments with him. I should have kept my mouth shut and graciously accepted his kind but unhealthy gift.

If he were a dog…

dog

‘D’ had terrible teeth. Not only were they broken, but they were also worn down in such a way that they looked like an aged rodent’s teeth.

He had worked for many years in a place where there were high levels of atomic radiation. Naturally, he was concerned about how much radiation he had been exposed to over the years.  On one of his many visits, he asked me somewhat irritably: “How many more x-ray pictures do you need to take?”

I replied: “I have enough pictures to take out your bad teeth, but not enough to save them.”

D seemed reasonably satisfied with my answer. At least, he never raised the subject again.

Some weeks later, D’s wife, who was also one of my patients, asked me why her husband had to make such an enormous number of visits to my surgery. I explained that the repair work was extensive and complicated, each tooth requiring several appointments. She replied quickly:

“If he were a dog with so many problems, I’d have had him put down ages ago.”