The Great Barber-Surgeon-Dentist!
“His pole, with pewter basins hung,
Black, rotten teeth in order strung,
Rang’d cups that in the window stood,
Lin’d with red rags, to look like blood,
Did well his threefold trade explain,
Who shav’d, drew teeth, and breath’d a vein.”
-The Goat without a Beard, by John Gay.
From the Middle Ages to the late eighteenth century when folks had a bad toothache and many other surgical conditions, they went down to the barbershop. The Surgeon Barber's were the practical surgeons of the Middle Ages and looked after many surgical conditions as well as the grooming of their patients.
Dental extractions were one of the commoner procedures of the barber surgeons or of a family member good with pliers, but in those pre-anesthetic days people often pulled out their own teeth using everything from a string tied around the tooth and the other end around the door handle. A good slug of gin, then slam the door and voila - the tooth is out.
The point of all of the above is that before I cut to the chase, I wanted you to know that in 1902 a dental extraction was 25c. Now let's carry on with the story!
My wife developed a toothache and a loose tooth recently. She went to her dentist. The dentist confirmed the loose tooth and decided it should be extracted. The dentist referred her to a specialist which mildly surprised me, since in my day, dental extraction was the bread and butter dental procedure. (see the published tariff above in 1902 the procedure cost twenty-five cents).
The appointment date rolled around pretty quickly and I drove my wife to the dental appointment. Initially, I thought the appointment was to have the tooth pulled. Perish that thought! The appointment was to have the tooth that was to be extracted assessed, the 'surgery' to be planned for a later date. We went into the waiting room, where my wife was given a five page medical history form to complete that I filled in for her. (The print was too small for her failing vision so I guess if I wasn't there they would have had to find someone to do it for her.) Apart from the basic medical history required, the document appeared to be put together mainly to indemnify the dentist in case anything went wrong.
The waiting area was comfortable enough and dominated by a large OLED television screen with one of the best pictures I have seen - at least that's what I think it was. A colorful collage of ocean creatures displayed their magnificently spectacular, spectral antics in a manner that suggested that even for fish and other sea creatures the virtual life superseded reality. A real tank could not host the drama as magnificently. It was obvious that this was going to be one expensive piece of dental surgery. I was enjoying the show when the assistant came to take my wife into the dentist. Since this was the tail-end of Covid (one visitor in the office at a time!) I waited outside, which I was more than happy to do as I had become engrossed in Oceanography.
"Everything okay?" I asked.
She nodded, "Oh yes, I'm going to have it out on Thursday. I hope you don't have an appointment for that time ?" she asked anxiously.
(Now that we are both octogenarians we have so many maintenance appointments from head to foot that we have to be careful that they don't conflict.)
"Did it hurt when he wiggled the tooth to see how loose it is?" I asked.
"No" she shook her head as we both struggled to get our seat belts done up.
"Well," I said impatiently, "What did he say when he looked in your mouth and probed it?"
"He didn't look in my mouth at all," she said, struggling to get the seat belt off."
My wife doesn't hear as well as she used to. I increased my normally loud vocal volume up a notch. "I asked what he said when he looked in your mouth," I shouted. She has the best teeth I've ever seen in a person of our age, and in sixty years this old General Practitioner spent a lot of time looking in mouths.
"Oh, he didn't look in my mouth at all," she said.
"He didn't ask you to open your mouth at all?" I asked
"No! He just put my head in a big thing and took some sort of x ray. I think it was some sort of MRI thing "
Now I know I am old, very old. So old in fact that way back in the days of CB radio, (remember that?) my moniker was "The Dinosaur"!
A week later we arrived at the dentist's office at 1.25pm, for our 1.45 appointment. I was relieved that the same oceanography program was still on.
In no time at all my wife appeared back in the waiting room, biting on a large bloody gauze square with a prescription for an antibiotic, an analgesic, a box of gauze squares as well as a prescription for a mouthwash that dentists prefer.
The price had gone up considerably since the 1902 rates published at the top of this blog, but then so has everything else!
We've come a long way since the tooth fairy used to visit me!!