I’ve been reading Life, the fascinating autobiography of the Rolling Stones guitarist, Keith Richards. He gives a wonderfully chilling yet funny account of his early dental experiences in Great Britain. Here is the quote in its entirety:
“I should have a badge for surviving the early National Service dentists. The appointments were I think two a year – they had school inspections – and my mum had to drag me screaming to them. She’d have to spend some hard-earned money to buy me something afterwards, because every time I went there was sheer hell. No mercy. ‘Shut up, kid.’ The red rubber apron, like an Edgar Allan Poe horror. They had those very rickety machines in those days, ’49, ’50, belt-drive drills, electric-chair straps to hold you down.
“The dentist was an ex-army bloke. My teeth got ruined by it. I developed a fear of going to the dentist with, by the mid-’70s, visible consequences – a mouthful of blackened teeth. Gas is expensive, so you’d just get a whiff. And also they got more for an extraction than for a filling. So everything came out. They would just yank it out, with the smallest whiff of gas, and you’d wake up halfway through an extraction; seeing that red rubber hose, that mask, you felt like you were a bomber pilot, except you had no bomber. The red rubber mask and the man looming over you like Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man. It was the only time I saw the devil, as I imagined. I was dreaming, and I saw the three-pronged fork and he was laughing away, and I wake up and he’s going, ‘Stop squawking, boy. I’ve got another twenty to do today.’ And all I got out of it was a dinky toy, a plastic gun.” (Life, pages 28-29)
A terrific description of how it used to be, but thankfully is rare today. Richards is a powerful writer.