Prevention is better than cure

Eve Martin looks at the changing face of dentistry since she was girl in the 1950s

Apparently in 1956, when I was born, the done thing when faced with a screaming baby, was to dip its dummy into jam, the more frequently the better.

I suspect it was my mother alone who, in desperation, invented this baby-calming method. The end result of months and years of sucking on jammy dummies were two rows of completely rotten upper and lower milk teeth. I can only just remember possessing the black crumbly broken little teeth, but there are stronger memories of general disapproval, particularly by those more conscientious, or less desperate, parents of other babies and toddlers born in the 1950s.

It has to be said, especially by me, that I was quite a pretty tot, lots of dark curly hair and lovingly handmade dresses, but I was always told to smile with my mouth closed. Unfortunately I didn’t always take any notice.

Luckily my second teeth came through without any obvious evidence of any jam damage. However, growing up in the 1970s brought traumatic visits to various different dentists, who were nothing short of vicious, and obsessed with ‘drilling and filling’. It seems, in retrospect, that there was a constant drive to fill as many teeth with as much metal as possible. I cannot say I remember any offered pain relief, and if there was any it was woefully ineffective.

Those days, in the 1970s dentistry-for-the-masses, was always ‘on the NHS’ and I certainly accepted, even expected, whatever pain the dentist inflicted on me, and the less-than-attractive cosmetic results.

As it turned out, I had some damage done to my jaw during a particular series of appointments in the middle1970s, and the seemingly endless ugly fillings. I suffered months of jaw pain and developed a fear of returning to a dentist that lasted until the next decade.

All-change in the 1980s, then. I had two daughters and, from the word ‘go’ was determined to treat their teeth with more respect than my mother had treated mine.

I found a dentist – let’s call him Mr ZC – who, over the years, restored my confidence and gave me, and my girls, the consistent care that I needed and they deserved.

To my girls, he was known as ‘OJT’, (‘Open just a tarch’ he would say). For the first time I felt as if I could have a say in what was going on, and ZC would give me the option of halting any treatment that was hurting.

Best of all, ZC offered preventive treatments for my girls, which were affordable and, over the years, they had fissure sealants, and fluoride treatments. I put a lot of effort into cleaning their teeth, and getting them to clean their teeth when they were old enough to do it themselves.

It was never an option for them, always compulsory. I avoided giving them sugary drinks and foods. They did have sweets or chocolate after their dinner, every day, just before the bedtime routine of bath and brushing teeth.

My daughters this year will be 28 and 24 years old and neither of them have a filling.

I now work for social services. Most of the people I see every day have missing teeth and the ones they have got are rotten.

In my 40s and 50s – in never-ending attempts to delay the signs of ageing – I have had my teeth bleached twice, once in the UK and once in New York City.

I floss with a variety of flossers, I clean relentlessly with electric toothbrushes and use whitening

Having my teeth whitened in New York was cheaper – and to be honest – a better experience than in the UK. In NY, there were reclining leather bed-chairs, with optional blankets for comfort, and a choice of overhead televisions or earphones with a choice of music.

‘Before’ and ‘after’ treatment photographs are taken which are presented to you when you leave. The staff is friendly, chatty and very UK-customer friendly.

In the UK, I sat on a stool, had to keep my head tilted backwards and got to stare at a dirty ceiling for the duration. No one spoke to me apart from to ask me for the money at the end.

I have recently had two back teeth excavated and repaired by my very charming South African dentist. I chose to ignore the intricate details of the procedures, and it cost me around £800. My decision to have the work done was driven by fear rather than vanity.

I am scared to have any more teeth removed in case my face caves in and I look even more decrepit than my 52 years.

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