Tag Archives: Dental School

THE PHANTOM HEAD – OR HOW I BECAME A DENTIST

As a student in 1951, removing decay in a tooth embedded in a Phantom Head

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.

Buy it on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

Woman in a White Coat paperback

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

Gray’s Anatomy revisited

Gray's Anatomy for Students 3rd edition
Gray’s Anatomy for Students 3rd edition

Hard to believe my grand-daughter is old enough to go to Uni. She is going to study physiotherapy and will be taking Anatomy with the medical students.

I started Anatomy when I was not quite 18 in 1949. We used a version of the original Gray’s Anatomy written by Henry Gray and illustrated by Henry Vandyke Carter. First published in 1859,  it was extremely heavy – even heavier that this students’ edition – with beautiful hand-coloured drawings. This version is bang up-to-date with illustrations of the value of knowing your anatomy with X-rays and MRI scans. You can see by the turned-up bottom right corner of the cover that I’ve been looking things up for my memoir.

Extract from my memoir Woman in a White Coat

I was not quite 18 when term began at St Margaret’s Dental School in October 1949. We’d had our first lecture on the anatomy of the thorax and we were about to start on the dissection of the human body.
Wearing our new white coats and clutching our rolls of dissecting instruments, we waited in the subdued light of the basement corridor, nervous and excited. The portholes of the locked double doors of the dissecting room were filled with opaque wired glass. As we tried to peep through the gap between them, a cadaverous man in a brown laboratory coat came out of an adjoining room.
‘I’m George, the technician in charge,’ he said. ‘If you want anything, you have to go through me. Remember: no smoking, no fooling around and show respect.’ Continue reading Gray’s Anatomy revisited