11 minutes reading time (2107 words)

Quirks in Dentistry

It’s Not Normal, Love

It’s Not Normal, Love

“It’s Not Normal, Love”

(Apologies to Greg Davies)


I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe I’ve ever met a ‘normal’ person working in dentistry.

But that begs the question, what IS normal? My definition would be anything or anyone NOT connected in any way, shape, or form, to dentistry.

Just think about your friends and relatives for a minute. Then think about either yourself, or your colleagues. How do you stand up in the ‘normality’ stakes? I suspect that not THAT deep an analysis would get you thinking about googling all your quirks to look for a quick diagnosis and then checking with the GDC website to see if they can remove you from the register for it.

In ‘A Farewell to Arms,’ Ernest Hemingway proclaims that the world eventually breaks everyone, and kills those it doesn't break.

I go along with that to a certain extent, although I think those that dentistry doesn’t break, it turns into maniacs.

Did you ever see the episode of the IT crowd, when Richmond Avenal is introduced as the mysterious employee behind the red door? He has been banished to a soulless room off the IT department and is explaining to his head of department, who didn’t even know he existed until a few minutes before, what his job entails, which is essentially just watching flashing lights on computer servers. He knows the menial task to such an extent that he knows each flashing light sequence. After a demonstration, Jen Barber says “Wow, it’s obvious you’re going mad.”

Well that’s how dentistry, I feel, gets a lot of people. Performing often repetitive tasks for no real recognition or emotional reward. There’s a limit to the amount of joy you can get from watching a chunky bit of calculus fly up into an aspirator, or seeing a crown sit down with no adjustment needed on the occlusion – actually, I never tired of that, on the very rare occasion it happened.

The dentist I bought my practice off, I think, offloaded it and got out of dentistry…just in the nick of time – well maybe he was a little late.

For the purposes of this anecdote, I shall call him Bentley. Anyway, Bentley was a really sound practitioner with a slightly old-fashioned approach to NHS dentistry that I greatly admired. He was only interested in producing quality work and in consequence, didn’t earn an awful lot of money because he took so much time over everything he did. Bentley appeared never to be able to put the two concepts of quality and the need to remain viable together and eventually got fed up with patients moaning about the wait for appointments, rather than instead, appreciating they had a truly caring artist looking after their mouths.

Anyway, when Bentley got really frustrated, he’d take a lovely fluffy toy puppy out of a glass fronted cupboard he had in his surgery, take it to the top of the stairs, place it carefully as if he were about to take a critical six nations conversion for Wales against England and then kick the s**t out of the puppy, smashing its face into the opposing wall. Frustrations worked out, he’d return to the surgery.

It’s Not Normal, Love

I didn’t know Bentley before I purchased his practice, so maybe he was already a little psychotic towards stuffed animals before dentistry got to him. Having said that, he was one of the few dentists I ever met, who still cut occlusal rests in teeth for chrome partial dentures. Now there’s an unusual trait that should have been a warning sign that he was more than a little OCD. Maybe dental training sent him on the way.

At dental school there was a female lecturer that used to pocket a handful of pink thymol mouthwash tablets as soon as she went on to teaching clinics and suck them vigorously, making her thin lips like those pink ‘definitely no parking’ lines you only see in London. There was another senior lecturer in the restorative department who was particularly interested in endodontics and he used to be seen on clinics quite often, fondling a small piece of rubber-dam between his fingers and thumb, even when he was nowhere near a reamer.

And it wasn’t only individuals who were weird at my dental school. Whole departments were. I have written before on Twitter about being on a perio clinic and trying to find the supervising lecturer so I could have my work signed off. I couldn’t find him anywhere and eventually a nurse suggested I look in the seminar room. I did, and there he was, a man in his mid-sixties, stripped to the waist, braces off his shoulders, dangling around the leather chaps he’d put on in order to French polish the big seminar room desk, instead of overseeing students.

One mid-term perio exam we had was marred by the questions getting out and one of my year had distributed them among his rugby mates. A right thinking member of the year was outraged and went to the head of department (remember the man and his sexy leather chaps) and told him about the incident. The next day we all went into the lecture room and sat at our exam papers. Every single question was at research level and as undergraduates we hadn’t got a clue what the questions meant, let alone answer them. Most people burst out laughing at the absurdity of it. The perio department, obviously miffed, had set an impossible exam in order to wreak revenge. The trouble was with that department, it would have been impossible to know whether they were miffed with the exam cheats or the people who told on them. Anyway, the perio department was unrepentant.

I mean, what would make perio people do something as weird as that? I think I’ve just answered my own question.

Periodontology, I suppose.

It’s Not Normal, Love

I’m really not sure if general dental practice creates weird behaviour, or if it just attracts them.

A dentist I worked for in the Black Country on first qualification didn’t believe in matrix bands, especially for Class II’s. He also didn’t believe in filling right up to the occlusal surface. I once asked him why? Imagine Tommy Shelby from Peaky Blinders saying “Well it saves on carving and amalgam.”

Despite being appallingly sloppy with his dentistry, Jimmy (‘twas not his name) still fancied himself as an amateur builder. He’d been doing something in the cellar below the only surgery in the practice. The chair didn’t have any automation on it at all, so the patient had to sit in it, I had to release the clips at the side and take the weight of the patient as I lay them back. One day, a big chap came in for the last appointment of the day. As I lay him back, a pound coin rolled out of his pocket and agonisingly slowly, it approached a crack in the lino and then plopped down into the cellar below. We heard it hit the floor of the cellar. I have no idea what was supporting the floor we were working on. The nurse I was working with asked what we should do about the pound. My suggestion to just give it him out of petty cash was met with a worried look. She decided to ring the boss or his wife, who was the practice manager at the branch practice and was working at the main practice in Wolverhampton. My nurse was given an emphatic “NO” to giving the patient his pound back. Her plan was to take the patient’s name and tell him we would get in touch with him and give him his quid back, the next time they took the floorboards up. I gave him a quid.

But they weren’t the weirdest.

My associate once saw a patient who had recently seen a dentist with a notorious reputation for poor workmanship. The patient had just completed extensive treatment. He was complaining of pain all across his upper anterior region. An OPG showed that all six anteriors had posts in them, but each post had extended beyond the apices of the centrals and laterals by 8mm. The canines got away lightly. The perforations were only about 3mm. I can’t remember the outcome for the patient but I do recall screaming “REFER” at my associate colleague. I also recall not advising the patient to sue or go to the GDC. But that was the eighties.

That wasn’t the weird thing about that particular dentist. Nope. The weird thing was that his house had a big garden, the perimeter of which was surrounded by a wire see-through fence, part of which separated his garden from a local park. It was his frequent habit to do his gardening stark b*****k naked, apart from a pair of pristine green designer wellies. You’d have thought his wife would have said “It’s not normal, love.”

It’s Not Normal, Love

Then there was the bloke I worked for briefly in the early 90’s. He was a suave individual with an enviable Peter Bowles moustache and a nice practice on the edge of Birmingham. I should have guessed things were not quite right when he turned up on my first day like a semi-drowned rat, having walked from the bus stop due to his driving ban the week before.

But that wasn’t the weird thing. The absurd thing about him was his anterior ‘implants,’ as he referred to them to his patients. Instead of root-filling upper anteriors, he’d extract them, apicect them out of the mouth and retrograde amalgam fill them, then stick them back in, with a little bit of a splint if they were too wobbly. His nurse told me that of the half a dozen or so procedures she’d personally witnessed, only one patient didn’t come back in agony. Presumably that one went elsewhere. Mercifully, I badly injured my arm a couple of days after finding that out and didn’t return to the practice, so the obvious ethical dilemma was left to the new associate to wrangle with.

It’s Not Normal, Love

It wasn’t THAT weird, I suppose, but I had a boss who always used to tie a plastic bib around the top of his thigh when he was working on patients. I can’t remember the rationale for it, but it made sort of sense at the time. He was also the dentist who told a particularly challenging new female patient, when she said she wasn’t on any medication, that he felt she really should be.

In the days of posting FP17’s to the Dental Practice Board, I had a boss who insisted on walking over to the post box himself, to post them. He didn’t trust anyone else to do it. The post box was in clear view from the waiting room. He’d walk back a few times to check they had actually gone in. One day he temporarily caught his elbow in the slot, while attempting to pummel the envelope well down into the post box, and had to really wriggle to get it out again. We nearly wet ourselves.

Then I worked with a nurse who literally couldn’t mix alginate unless she was standing on one leg and another who ran with her horses first thing in the morning before coming into work. And I don’t mean riding the horses, she RAN alongside them, then came to work directly, sweating and smelling of Equus caballus. Then I had a new nurse who refused to work over for even one minute, and threatened to form a union wanting to affiliate it with the Fire Brigades Union for some bizarre reason. She walked out one day in the middle of me suturing up a particularly bloody socket. She later didn’t turn up, claiming to be ill. A few weeks later, she served my practice manager to ham, in Morrisons.

The least affected by the weirdness malaise seem, in my experience, to be dental technicians. Save one. I know a crown technician who works for a good friend of mine, and is superb at gold work. He is also excellent in his sideline, making bespoke, beautifully-crafted, dildos. I don’t know whether that is weird, or just entrepreneurial artistry.

So after all that, does dentistry create weirdness, or does it attract the weird. Frankly I don’t know.

But whatever, it’s just not normal love.

The Peaky GDC
Now Where DID I Put That Enthusiasm?

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