When I was a young hellion (or so they told me) in public school, I was having a tough time with toothaches. In Toronto, the school system had a dentist on duty at Earl Grey public school for those who could not afford one. At that time, I was going to Bruce Public School about 10 blocks away.
My dentist’s appointment time was always at 1:00 pm, and when finished, I was allowed to go directly home. Cutting off 2 ½ hours of class time, which, other than the pain, was my only
incentive to go to that infamous torture chamber.
The first session was a mind-killer. I was told to sit in the chair, lean back, open wide and hang on. The guy then picked up the drill (powered by small ropes and pulleys) and went directly
to work on me. No pain killers of any kind, he just started drilling with chips and smoke flying out of my mouth. After I grabbed his hand and let out a blood-curdling yell, he stopped for a moment, and in a gruff browned off voice, told me that I could not feel it and then carried on.
That was only a few years after the war, and looking back, I can only now assume that he was straight out of the army dentist corp where no experience was required.
After several sessions with this butcher, I was glad to stay in class. The 2 ½ hours free time was not worth it, besides he damaged most of my teeth in the process.
My teeth were still in bad shape, so my only other option, when attacked with a toothache, was to get it pulled. In 1950 there was a specialist, Dr. Liggett, in Toronto who ran a tooth pulling enterprise. His office was on the second floor of a building on the corner of Broadview & Gerrard right across from the infamous Don Jail, where the local hangings took place, giving one the thought of, which would be the most painless?
I used to transfer from one streetcar to another and with a transfer in hand, would climb the stairs to his office. Approaching the reception desk, I passed a row of plain hard chairs along
the wall with patients waiting for their turn. Asking what the charge would be, the lady answered $3 per tooth or 2 for $5. Extractions were their only service.
The line moved along at an extremely fast pace, and my turn was only a few moments away. Ushered through a small door, I was set in one of three small cubicles. It was like a men’s washroom from the 1890s, with dark brown tongue and groove wood walls, only wide enough for the chair and a tank of medical gas. The dentist would step in, put the gas mask over your face for a few seconds, just enough to stun you, and then grab the tooth and pull it out. He would then move to the next stall and repeat the procedure. It seemed that using the gas was only to stun you enough that you could not fight back.
One of the nurses would then guide you out to the back stairs leading to the exit. When you got to the bottom of the stairs, you found yourself in the back ally, spitting blood. I would then use
my street car transfer and carry on without missing a beat.
Compared with today’s dentistry, I am sort of glad it is all behind me. With the super technology, x-rays, sonar scanners, form-fitting chairs, soft music plus 3 rooms of unknown gismos,
it is now a painless experience - or so I’ve been told. It just leaves me to wonder if these new modern dentists have been trained in resuscitation. After receiving the bill for work done, I
can only assume a heart attack would follow.