I was 17, almost 18, when I started my dental training in October 1949. In our first year, like the medical students, we studied Anatomy, Physiology and Biochemistry with, for us, the addition of Dental Anatomy – the structure and function of the teeth and jaws. The second year was spent learning to make and fit Partial and Full dentures (Prosthetics). We spent our two final years in the Conservation Department learning how to do fillings, gold inlays and bridges and how to pull teeth either in the General Anaesthetics room (always called the Gas Room because we used nitrous oxide gas as an anaesthetic) or under Local Anaesthetic injection in the Locals Room. We also carried out some minor oral surgery like removing redundant gum flaps or trimming the gum around the teeth – Gingivectomy – and learned how to Scale and Polish teeth – these were the days before this was delegated to Oral Hygienists.
We learned how to remove decay (caries), trim the cavity so a filling would hold – in those days often mercury amalgam – and also how to cast and fit gold fillings when they were more suitable.
All this was carried out using a Phantom Head – not a Virtual Head (hardly even dreamt of in 1951) – but a solid one made of metal with a jaw that opened and closed.
Teeth that weren’t too broken down – perhaps had been removed for overcrowding or because they were loose – were collected in the extraction rooms and stored in antiseptic solution. Our first task when we joined the Conservation Department was to fish out a set of 28 teeth – 4 upper and 4 lower incisors; 4 upper and lower premolars and 4 upper and lower molars. We didn’t bother with third molars – wisdom teeth – not everybody had them anyhow.
I developed enough skill to get a Distinction in my Dental Surgery Finals but for me it was always a question of thinking ‘right a bit’ and ‘left a bit’. I wasn’t a natural and had to plan very carefully how to go about any task, though I learned to be competent.
But during our course we had lectures on Medicine, Surgery and Pathology and I fell in love with the whodunit of Pathology – but that’s another story.
I thank all those lovely people who wrote to say they had read and enjoyed my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat.’
‘Woman in White Coat – the memoir of girl growing up the East End making good.
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