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Agony at the Dentists October 7, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback

Beachcombing went to the dentist this morning and had the inside of one of his teeth removed: apparently too many peanut, honey and banana sandwiches are bad for you… But, in the inevitable passing-the-time-of-day conversation between scoops of tooth, something interesting came up – pain control.

Beach had noticed in his last trips that dentists increasingly suggest trying operations without anaesthetic: offering to inject if things get nasty along the way. His dentist confirmed this, laughing at what a funny lot her patients are. Some always want anaesthetic even for an aggressive scraping: others don’t want anaesthetic even when a tooth is to be yanked out.

After this conversation Beachcombing spent an aimless hour or two looking at how great men and women got by in the dentist chair in the days before novocaine. Perhaps there is a very short monograph to be written on famous individuals suffering at the dentists on the level playing field of oral pain. After all, in most ages of the world having a man with pliers messing around in your mouth would have been the single most agonising experience of your life, trumping even childbirth. And unsurprisingly the vast majority of our ancestors turned out to be ‘cowards’.

Lincoln had his jaw bone broken in 1841 when a dentist removed a tooth without anaesthetic and was thereafter – with excellent reason – scared of the white-coated ones. ‘In 1862 Lincoln developed a severe toothache and consulted Dr. G. S. Wolf, who had an office near the White House. As Wolf prepared to pull the tooth, Lincoln asked him to wait. Lincoln ‘‘took a container of chloroform from his pocket, inhaled it deeply, and sleepily gave the signal for the dentist to proceed’’.

In his early readings in Third Reich history Beach once stumbled on some nonsense about Hitler refusing to be anaesthetised when he had teeth removed and entering a blissful trance state, doubtless fantasising about Lebensraum. Seemingly though this is a bad case of cobblers for a 2009 book on Dentist of the Devil documented Hitler’s dislike of the dentist chair. The Fuhrer refused a single session for root control but turned up on nine different days to get the work done slowly. Sensible but hardly Aryan hero stuff.

Talking of Hitler, his nineteenth century predecessor, the Emperor Bonaparte, whohas Beach’s eternal enmity for the destruction of the Venetian Republic – ‘once she did hold the gorgeous East in fee’ – also had difficulties with dentists. On St Helena: ‘[General Bonaparte] recently lost a tooth (wisdom tooth). It was his very first surgical operation, and under such circumstances, his behaviour was far from brave. In order to be able to extract his bad tooth, Doctor O’Meara was forced to make him be held on the ground’.

Betsy Balcombe, Napoleon’s young English friend on the island, who used to call the Emperor ‘Boney’, berated Napoleon. ‘You are complaining about the pain caused by an operation of such little importance! You, who assisted at countless battles, and escaped a shower of bullets, you, who got injured so many times! I am ashamed of you.’

By the way if you wish to purchase this tooth

However, there are also those men and women who rose above dental extraction with unnatural reserve. Uber Catholic Mrs B reliably states that Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei would go to the dentist without anaesthetic. The dentist, indeed, begged his patient: ‘Monsignore, say something, tell me if I’m hurting you’. ‘Carry on, carry on’, responded Escriva, ‘do whatever you have to. Don’t worry about me, I’m just a priest!’

Hoping that Mrs B will never read this, Beach should also note, in a hushed voice, that JE used to flagellate himself till the blood from his back ended on the ceiling tiles. For all we know he ‘enjoyed’ the challenge of the dentist’s chair too.

Beach’s experience of dentistry has been kinder. He was certainly struck that, even though the dentist yesterday scooped out about eighty percent of a tooth without anaesthetic, there was virtually no pain. Only at the bottom of the tooth as the drill came close to the nerve did things get dicey.

But nor is Beachcombing going to kid himself: if that tooth had had to be extracted by a blacksmith in the fifteenth century or if a man in a white coat in the 1930s had had to put in some root work he would be gibbering in a corner today.

Any other famous dentistry ordeals from the past?  drbeachcombingATyahooDOTcom And, two that got away. Beach remembers a reference to an escaped criminal on a cruise liner who posed as a dentist and managed to remove a millionaire’s tooth without any pain during a twelve-hour operation. Any ideas? Naturally, some or all of these details will be incorrect. Also isn’t there a story about a man tying a piece of string to a bullet and his tooth and then firing the bullet?

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14 Oct 2011: SY writes: ‘Hitler really hated dentists. He famously said: ‘I would rather spend two hours in the dentist’s chair than have another meeting with him’ Thanks SY