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The Tale of a Sadistic Dentist
It Started with Tooth Pain
This is a little story from the 1950s about a dentist who was a sadist. This is a true story. It took place in my small hometown when I was eight years old.
I remember, in those years, that a front tooth had been hurting every time I took a drink of cold water or tried to eat ice cream.
When my mother took a look, she could see a cavity near the gum line on one of my eye teeth.
My small home town had no fluoridated water, which might have been the reason for my dental problems then and for all my life. But, Mom and Dad didn’t have good teeth either, so it’s hard to say if the cause of my dental woes began with genetics or with public water. Nonetheless, there it was, an ugly early cavity.
Dental Care Was Affordable in the 1950s Economy
In those days, a visit to the dentist cost about five US dollars. For that, you got a check-up. If you had decay in a tooth, that would be five dollars, too, a cost that was affordable in that 50s economy where fuel for your car was about 20 cents per gallon and a loaf of bread cost about the same. That was a sound economic system…dollars paid for work done. No gouging by dental insurance providers (there weren’t any), and the dentist, like the doctor, charged what the patient could pay. At that time, my mother was earning 65 US dollars per week. Enough to put food on the table, put a little away for savings, meet our needs for clothing and shelter, and pay the dentist.
I don’t remember the dentist’s name. What I do remember is that my mother made an appointment for the afternoon so that I could walk to his office directly from school, and that she gave me a five-dollar bill to pay for the filling. I guess I’d seen the dentist before for a check-up, because I knew how to get to his office by myself. But what happened during that cavity filling appointment destroyed any memory of having been there before.
The Visit to the Dentist
When I arrived at the office that day, with the five-dollar bill in hand, the good dentist took a look at my tooth, and started drilling. He gave no warning about pain.
At that time, both Novocaine (an injectable local anesthetic commonly known by that name) and nitrous oxide (introduced into dental procedures in 1868 and also called “laughing gas”) were common pain relief medications for filling a cavity, but this sadist said nothing about them; he just started drilling. He tortured my tooth and my psyche, and he paved the future of my dental care with fear.
As some of you know, there is nothing more horrible than the pain of a tooth’s nerve exposed and hammered at. Even today, I can feel the pain as he drilled that tooth with no anesthesia. I remember crying and screaming. I don’t know why I didn’t sock him in his groin, except that I was a “good girl”, one who wouldn’t make that much of a fuss. And I also don’t know why I didn’t wet my pants. Or maybe I did but don’t remember.
The Dentist - A Comedian?
At the end of the session, the drilling and filling done, my face streaked with tears (I can only imagine I looked white as a sheet), Dr. Jolly softly and quickly walked his fingers across my forehead, from one side to the other, and then back again. Tap-tap-tap-tap, smiling at me. He asked if I knew what his fingers were doing.
Of course I didn’t and said so.
He said, “It’s Jewish people running from temple to temple.” And then he laughed.
Was that his way of trying to make a bad thing better, through distraction? That thought occurred to me through the years. My mother was the mistress of this distraction technique: comfort a skinned knee or sore throat or broken heart with a dish of ice cream (but only after showing the kindest and most caring nursing first). But I don’t think there was any kindness in him. I think he enjoyed torturing children and fancied himself a comedian as well.
The Bad Luck of the Draw
I don’t remember anything about going home that day or telling my mother what happened. However, I never saw that Marquis de Sade again. When I’ve asked my mother what she remembers of that incident, sadly, she doesn’t remember anything.
This kind of needlessly painful and sadistic experience was and is rare in this country both then and now, thankfully so. For me, it was one very bad luck of the draw to be put in the face of that evil.
Healing the Wounds
It wasn’t until my late teens that I mustered up the nerve to see a dentist for the first time after that 1950s experience.
To help with college expenses, I’d been working part-time for a medical answering service. One of their clients was a dentist who practiced not too far away from campus. I’d never spoken to him on the phone, but I’d often spoken with his assistant and office manager: his mother. She and I got to be good “phone” friends (surely the precursor to “online” friends). One night, I confided to her about what happened to me all those years ago and what I was experiencing now. She listened patiently and kindly, while I cried on the phone.
A few days later, I was in her son’s dental chair.
And that’s a very happy, very different story.