Did you know the electric chair was invented by a dentist? That might not be so shocking to those of us who have long held the view that a visit to the dentist is a fate worse than death. My old dentist in Melville Place used to inject me with anaesthetic then send me to the waiting room to give the drugs time to work. “Don’t run away,” he would add as he sat me down.
Remember when people used to have actual face-to-face conversations in the pub instead of sitting in a circle looking at their smartphones? One of our favourite subjects was swapping dental horror stories. My pal Raymie told me a belter about getting his wisdom teeth out. He’d heard the procedure could be a tad nippy so he asked for a general anaesthetic. The trouble was they didn’t give him enough. He woke up gasping and flailing in mid-op, feeling as if there was a huge weight pressing down on him. There was. A six foot six dental student was kneeling on Raymie’s shoulders, howking at his wisdom teeth with a pair of industrial pliers.
Those early dentists didn’t have much of a bedside manner; “drilling, filling and billing” was their game. Patient comfort came a poor second. Mind you, we only had ourselves to blame. We ate sweets all day, every day. Penny Chews, Soor Plooms and “Hokey-Pokey penny a lump, the more you eat, the more you pump”. It was only when we got a toothache that we dragged ourselves to the surgery. By then, it was often too late and in those days it was the rule rather than the exception for Scottish men and women to have all their teeth removed and false ones made instead. You’ll have to read the next sentence twice to be sure – and then double-check it on Google: in 1972 an amazing 44 per cent of Scots over 16 had NO teeth at all. My Papa and Grandma and most of my aunties and uncles entertained us kids at family knees-ups by taking their teeth out and gurning at us, one after another. We thought it was hilarious.
Slowly, our teeth and our dental care have improved. The big soft drinks companies have been forced by public outcry and George Osborne’s Sugar Tax to manufacture no-sugar alternatives to their enamel-melting concoctions. AG Barr have just announced the birth of Irn-Bru Extra which promises “extra taste but no sugar”. Let’s hope they take the dye out too. When Kirkcaldy comedian Daniel Sloss was first talent-scouted by the BBC they had to give his mouth a makeover. They loved his jokes about being addicted to Irn-Bru. But they didn’t like the way it had turned his gnashers orange - so they spent several hundred quid having them whitened before they would let him anywhere near a camera.
The whole field of cosmetic surgery is opening up now and Eastern Europe is particularly good value. My missus begged me to go to Hungary to get my gap-toothed grin straightened out before the wedding. I wasn’t keen so in the end she fixed my teeth the cheapest way possible – by retouching the photos on her computer.