Tuesday, 15 March 2016

The Good Old Days?

I think that it was the late Gore Vidal who advised a one-word response if faced with anyone nostalgically harping on about the good old days: 'dentistry'.

I write with some feeling on the subject: having suffered with terrible teeth for as long as I can remember I have frequently had good reason to offer heartfelt thanks for the advances made in medical science. But our good fortune to live in a time of effective anaesthetics was never made clearer to me than after stumbling across a truly fearful advertisement in the 10 May 1834 edition of the Royal Gazette of British Guiana (a riveting read: I'll explain some other time). Headed simply 'The Teeth', the piece acquainted the public with the news that surgeon-dentist Mr C. F. Koth had arranged for the importation to the colony of a large consignment of natural and artificial teeth, together with a newly invented cement for filling cavities. These conveniences had duly arrived and their benefits could be enjoyed by patients courtesy of  Mr Koth's 'Easy Chair' (a contrivance 'of the most approved construction' apparently), and 'an immense number of Instruments for rendering his operations as little painful ... as possible'. Mr Koth also helpfully provided a price-list for scaling, 'plugging' and extracting, and generously offered gratis treatment to those in indigent circumstances (what ever did happen to dentistry on the NHS by the way? I seem to pay a fortune these days).

I really did shudder whilst reading this bland and complacent account with its implied terrors. It is all too easy when one dwells on the numerous minor miseries and indignities that modern life inflicts on us - let alone contemplating the unending nightmare of current geo-politics - to conclude that things really were better before, but think of Mr Koth and his hapless patients and remember this - at least we have the means to make a simple visit to the dentist a tolerable experience.

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