Funny business, dentistry. Admitting you’re a dentist provokes a variety of reactions. Some people laugh and say that you must enjoy spending your days looking down in the mouth. Ha ha, very original. Others think you must be rolling in money. Others think you’re a sadist, that you enjoy inflicting pain on others. Doctors don’t seem to get quite the same amount of flak as dentists.
Really it’s a job like any other. Okay, it’s better paid than sweeping the streets, but it’s a responsibility running your own business and employing staff. It’s a constant juggling act dealing with all the paperwork and NHS bureaucracy.
I hadn’t planned on becoming a dentist. Granted, I did well at school, and was privileged to go on to university. Not so many did in those days. I was studying engineering, and had hopes of designing cars. Cars were my passion. Then Hitler started rampaging about, and I got drafted into the war effort. Life took on a new slant after those grim years were done, and I decided on a change. Dentists were in short supply, so I went down that route instead. And by the end of my years of study I not only had a new career but a wife and two children.
I bought into a practice in a small market town in Dorset, and we left the post-war chaos of Liverpool. We were fortunate to rent a house with a garden, a vast improvement on our upstairs flat in Liverpool. The house was quite run down and shabby, but Emily set to work on it. Meanwhile I had the task of dragging the dental practice into the twentieth century. My colleague, Dr Andrews, was nearing retirement and his equipment and methods were archaic to say the least. Fortunately he let me have the upper hand, and I borrowed a daunting sum of money for renovations and new equipment. Emily was anxious, but after a year or so the business started to turn around. And when Dr Andrews retired I came into my own.
Dentistry in the country was rather different from my brief experience at the dental hospital in Liverpool. A lot of country people had a totally different mindset. The first time a father brought his daughter to me and insisted I remove every tooth in her mouth I was dumbstruck.
‘But there’s nothing wrong with her teeth!’ I protested.
‘She’s getting married, sir. I don’t want her husband to have the worry of dental bills.’
His idea of presenting his daughter with a fine set of false teeth to her husband-to-be was certainly not unusual, for numerous times through those early years I met with the same request.
Then there were patients who had no money, but paid me with goods to the value of their treatment. Who could turn down the offer of a side of beef or a whole salmon? But best not to ask where they’d come from.
Of course I had my bad days. Children could be difficult, and some were inclined to bite. I had to insist that the mother of one little girl find another dentist, for the child bit and scratched like a demon whenever I tried to look in her mouth. I suggested to the mother that the girl should perhaps eat fewer sweets in order to avoid tooth decay, but that of course fell on deaf ears.
The 1950s were exciting years. It was a time of rebirth following the deprivations of war, and Britain took its lead from America, where everything was big and shiny and new. With my bank loan under control and my business doing well I was in a fortunate position to be able to borrow more money to buy a house and enough shiny, new things to keep my wife and children happy. There was a certain amount of muttering about it being all right for folks with plenty of money, but as Emily and I were newcomers to the area we were viewed with suspicion anyway. People didn’t really bother with us, but we were riding on a wave of success and happiness and secure in our small family unit. Any in any case, over the years many of the locals let down their prejudices and became our friends.
Life has been good to me. Who can say whether it may have been more satisfying if I’d followed my original ambition of designing cars? Oddly enough, our daughter seems to be heading in that direction, and I enjoy our lively discussions as she progresses through her engineering degree. And she loves to drive my Alfa Romeo. I’ve told her that if she passes with first class honours I’ll buy her one of her own.
Last Modified on: 05-11-2015