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50s dentistry definitely not painless

Shortly before I reached my fifth birthday, my mother told me the time had come for me to meet someone who would play an important, ongoing role in my life – our family dentist.

Dr. Carman Slack’s office was located above the old Bank of Nova Scotia, which would later be demolished to make way for the present-day bank building. To reach it, it was necessary to climb a narrow, twisting stairway to the top floor.

Unaware of what to expect, I was not nervous on my initial visit to our dentist. It was not until he picked up his drill, which he told me was named “the buzzer bee” that I experienced feelings of apprehension. While I was a firm believer in the tooth fairy, I had no faith whatever that Dr. Slack’s dental drill was an industrious little bumblebee who meant me no harm. Subsequent events confirmed the validity of my skepticism.

From the time of my fifth birthday, my mother took me to our dentist’s office, every six months. Although I dreaded every visit, I sensed that, buzzer bee aside, Dr. Slack was my friend.

Dentistry in the 1950’s was definitely not painless. In most cases dental work, with the exception of extractions, proceeded without benefit of freezing. If an extraction became necessary, the gumline was not numbed with a painkiller, before shots of freezing were administered.

A dedicated professional, Dr. Slack would willingly come to his office, on the weekend, should one of his patients have an emergency. When my older sister Mary developed a toothache one Saturday afternoon, he left the golf course to treat her. He charged no special emergency fee for this service.

In Dr. Slack’s time, a dental check-up and the subsequent dental work that might be required, took place in a single visit. If the dentist found a cavity, it was filled on the spot. Only if the patient had several teeth in need of work was there the necessity for follow-up appointments. It was an efficient system that saved the patient time and money.

On a visit to Dr. Slack’s office, in my mid-teens, I was startled to learn that he would not be seeing me, at my next check-up. He had decided to retire and a young new dentist named Dr. Bradley would be taking his place. Although I had no fondness whatever for the buzzer bee, I had developed a strong liking for Dr. Slack and knew I would miss him. I would also miss his old office on the bank’s top floor, for his replacement was setting up his practice in an upstairs office across the street.

Six months later, when I met Dr. Gerry Bradley, for the first time, I was greatly impressed. The buzzer bee had flown into retirement with Dr. Slack, to be replaced by an ultra-modern high speed drill. In addition, Dr. Bradley was using a highly effective numbing agent, whenever he injected freezing, preparatory to filling cavities.

It was Dr. Bradley who introduced sleek, new, upholstered dental chairs, dental cabinets in pastel colours (Dr. Slack’s cabinetry had been a murky pond scum green) and attractive wall art.

My new dentist had a fine sense of humour and I have fond memories of the one-sided conversations we often enjoyed, as he filled my teeth.. Although he had introduced new equipment and progressive techniques to my original dentist’s former practice, one thing remained unchanged. Like Dr. Slack, he was a true family friend, dedicated to the welfare of his patients.

Filed Under: Margaret Haylock-Capon

About the Author: Maggie Haylock is a freelance writer and former newspaper reporter who has co-authored several books with her husband, Alan Capon.

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  1. Ann says:

    I never knew Gerry as a dentist, but, he is a great guy. Yes, dentistry has certainly come a long way from the 50s, and it is definitely a lot better!

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