Fang this(

Homes end up with all sorts of mementos. They are usually relics of a past trip or given out as a mark of a significant event. It was commonplace for the government to produce medallions and we had several of those. We also had dog eared postcards sent to us from places someone once visited. After a single Brass Razoo the strangest thing we had was much weirder than that.

In the back of the oddments draw where these things finished up we had a miniature plate with two or three baby teeth on it. We were told this was once worn by dad. All these years later I have no idea what became of them. I also have no idea why someone thought my father needed such a thing even as a baby.

I just accepted he had worn them because rotten teeth were very common in children years ago. Many children half rotten teeth even when they started school. A grin of black teeth filled with holes meant lots of kids kept their mouths closed for school photos. It is hard to imagine the pain some of these children lived with even before they grew their permanent teeth.

Permanent teeth. Permanent at that time was not what one might accept today. In the first instance just as the kids were beginning to understand the loss of that wobbly tooth would mean a visit from the tooth fairy, they were just as likely to chip a tooth at sport. Many kids banged their teeth on the school monkey bars. It was only some months later when the tooth started to turn black the parents realised they had killed the nerve in it.

In my case I had appointments with Dr Sinclair. (To protect his reputation perhaps it was the man before he arrived) He removed several of my permanent teeth because my mouth was too crowded. Having a tooth removed was painful but after a day or so I forgot about that and the only reminder was to put my tongue into the gap where a tooth once stood. The day I hated was the day he checked my mouth and dictated to his assistant the teeth in need of repair because he easily found holes. On those days (too many of them) he decided he would fill one or two of them that first appointment. The remaining holes were considered too big and he would fill them over the coming weeks.

After sitting in the surgical (smelling) waiting room it was awful to be escorted into the surgery. In there he had an enormous enamel couch. He could lie you down on it and then pull the search light toward you until it burned your face. Then he would pedal the treadle that wound the thin leather strap around the room, that turned the drill he held in his hand. The leather went around and around. If you weren’t careful it could mesmerise you as you looked for the metal join that linked the leather into a band.

As the hand piece buzzed he manipulated the pointy end into your mouth and it ground out the edges of the holes in the tooth. Bits flew off and landed on your tongue. The buzzing hand-piece made my head vibrate. After some hours of this ( perhaps I exaggerate) he would sit the chair up and say you can take a sip on this green water and flush out your mouth. He would resume his work and when the hole was big enough to need barrows full of amalgam he would cement it all into place. Pounds of cost later our parents would send another child to him for dental attention.

Kids whose parents were not as giving in childhood, or adolescence, would save up and before their daughter (I only remember this happening to girls) married they would pay for a set of false teeth as a twenty-first birthday gift. Many girls who had not smiled for years had wonderful wide smiles when they reached maturity. (It was only when their gums shrunk and their teeth wobbled it was obvious their smile was false.)

Fortunately dental practice improved. Drills became water jets. Holes were also less common. At least they were in our children. The Colac Shire started a program offering free fluoride pills for children, as science showed fluoride use reduced the incidence of tooth decay. If children took a pill each day for a year the likelihood of caries was reduced, so they advertised. As both of us had had childhood experiences best forgotten we decided our children would benefit if we gave them 365 pills. The youngest was too young to have them when we lived there. By the time he needed them it was added to the local water supply in Ballarat. Sometimes he drank the water supply but for an equal period we lived on rain water. His teeth were the only teeth to develop a hole. (Only one filling was required before he reached maturity.)

The benefits of fluoride are argued every time a local water supply is treated with it. Many people argue, my cattle don’t need it. Some say, my vegetables don’t have teeth. Or something else. The argument is always fierce. It seems only a little is needed for dental care and some even argue just using fluoride toothpaste will do the job. On a one family example it seemed to us one experiment worth taking. Dental health requires people regularly clean their teeth. As In loco parentis I have had to oversee lots of children take time each day to brush their teeth. Many kids unused to the discipline thought the practice strange but their teeth differed from their neighbours.

What doesn’t differ enough is the choice of toothpaste brands. In supermarkets and in dental practices one major brand collects nearly all sales. I have preferred a German brand for some time but I was pleased to find MacLeans, the brand the fourteen year old Oliver Newton John advertised as a teenager, is still on the supermarket shelf despite the monopoly of the other brand.

Dental health remains a major health burden in our country. A visit to a dentist is easy in major cities, if you can afford it, outside those cities only 20% of the register dentists work. In remote regional areas less than 1% of all 12,200 dental practices exist. This is a major problem there but it is a real problem everywhere. The first hurdle is the cost because not all health insurance policies cover this item. Secondly people needing assistance from government services find they are almost non existent. Years ago a government dental van made regular visits to schools. They would repair the worst damage on the spot but they also gave instructive lessons to children. This is gone and so has the health of the nation. Without good dental care people’s health suffers in other parts of the body. It may cost billions to fix but dental health is of primary importance in all people. And it is cheaper than not doing it.

As dental health has improved (was it fluoride in the water?) the work performed by dentists has become specialised. Tooth straightening is now a modern thing. It wasn’t. (If you don’t believe me check out the teeth of Queen Elisabeth. Her family had no monetary reason not to straighten her teeth. It just wasn’t once a common thing to do.) Another very new thing to do is to whiten teeth.

Straight white teeth are more noticeable than false teeth today. Not that people need a mouth full of teeth on a plate anymore they can spend a few tens of thousands of dollars and have them permanently attached to their jaw.

So common is it now at least one health insurance company will cover people who elect to have their dental work done outside Australia. Thailand seems to be the place people go for treatment in what is now a new form of tourism, the medical holiday.

These old fangs of mine are still where Dr Sinclair left them. Long in the tooth but still sound. Thanks to the early intervention of my parents, my genes, and my long term use of a tooth brush they still stand proudly, but discoloured from tea drinking.

A week or so after my post I add this reference. It tells Australians are also heading overseas for medical treatment. The warning is some of it is risky, and worse some of it is possibly unethical.

Australians heading overseas for ‘transplant tourism’ could help organ traffickers, experts say