Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


PRAISE FOR our rock-star guitarist/car nut/dentist is county wide, especially among ex-R&T staff. Dr. Eric Prouty is a skilled, compassionate, and most modern of dental practitioners as well.

It’s one reason I would enjoy reading The Smile Stealers: The Fine and Foul Art of Dentistry, by Richard Barnett, as described in the London Review of Books, June 29, 2017.

The Smile Stealers: The Fine and Foul Art of Dentistry, by Richard Barnett, Thames and Hudson, 2017.

The LRB book review by Will Self is titled “The Tooth-Pullers of the Pont Neuf,” which is one of the tidbits I share here: In the old days, medical practitioners of all sorts were not without their mountebank tendencies. Self says, “The tooth-pullers of the Pont Neuf were one of the sights in pre-Revolutionary Paris, what with their carnivalesque costumes, and attendant dancing bears and jugglers—all intended to distract while they extracted.”

Versailles and the Sun King were part of the tale as well: “Conspicuous consumption was a status-maker in these halls full of unflattering mirrors, and if it took your teeth to stay in the game then so be it.”

All this is caused by civilization, author Richard Barnett notes, with sugar being a culprit. Self adds, “But we can find archeological evidence of dentistry as far back as we care to dig; finely worked gold bridges, set with human teeth, were recovered from Etruscan sites and dated to 700 BCE.”

Etruscan lower teeth denture, c. 700 B.C. This and the following image from London Review of Books, June 29, 2017.

For thousands of years, many and various cultures blamed tooth worms for tooth aches. In fact, notes Self, this is “arguably the larval form of our much more benign tooth fairy.”

“Many dentists,” Self’s mother once told him, “are thwarted sculptors.” He notes, “It would appear that plenty of sculptors were also thwarted dentists. I particularly admired the wood and ivory statuette of an early 17th-century extraction, in which the patient is seated on a low stool, while the practitioner zeroes in from the rear, his pelican—a vicious, clamp-like tool—held just beyond the victim’s starting eyes.”

Dentistry, and statuette-making, as practiced in the early 17th century.

Author Barnett notes, “Ask anyone to list the markers of medical progress, and the odds are that modern dentistry will be high on the list.”

I concur: Years ago as a lad, I went to a dentist who’d clamber onto one’s chest for best angle, his drill whirling through all those little articulated cable drives. Invariably he’d ask while he worked, “So how’s your mom and dad?” My mumbled response would cause him to stop and say, “What? Am I hurting you?” This conversation would repeat itself several times during each visit.

My conversations in Dr. Prouty’s office are always more illuminating. I recall a hygienist once sharing a trick of her trade: “If you accidentally poke a patient, you say, ‘There. That should fix it.’ ” Thanks, Gretchen. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

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