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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 5 - Crumbs of comfort in the Land o’ Cakes

ALTHOUGH my memory can suffer slippage, I still remember Bessie Bostock (almost her real name) when she was a lass of eight summers with hair like spun gold and eyes as blue as the Angel Islington in Monopoly. When the sun shone on my primary school classroom, its chalk-dust rays lit her locks like a halo. She looked, recollection tells me, like a minor Parnassian muse or some junior subject in a pre-Raphaelite painting. In short, she was, in my hopelesssly-biased juvenile eyes, the ultimate in female perfection, an image tarnished only by her smile which displayed a formidable set of broken, discoloured teeth, a sight then common in Scotland, the dentally-challenged Land o’ Cakes.

I met Sarah again when she was a young woman. Her smile was like the beam of a lighthouse produced by flashing dentures that appeared in the grinning jaws of an imperfect stranger. I parted from her, saddened but slightly smug since I still had a mouthful of best biting bicuspids, masterful molars and invasive incisors that had survived decay and the danger of being parted in the middle when I was a young reporter interviewing reluctant people on doorsteps.

I have always felt sympathy for people with false teeth whose dark, terra incognita of gums support the grinning intruders and who often keep them at night in special tumblers of special fluid, where they smile to themselves, pink and pearly, like some rare example of deep sea flora.

I have been through much to keep what oral sentinels I still have left in a bacteria-resistant state, ranging from my earliest encounter with a dentist when I was given gas from a football-shaped container and awoke to find myself dreamily ejecting bits of my infant teeth, shaped like miniature snow gems, to the days when, although I brushed, as per advertising advice, with Pepsodent and wondered where the yellow went, teeth still had to be removed, filled or polished.

I have endured grim, tooth-pulling practitioners, whose waiting rooms were furnished with Landseer prints of animals with acknowledged dental ability ripping each other apart, who refused to give me an anaesthetic when tooth-filling because they believed I was of the old, tough, wartime breed, impervious to pain. I remember another whose pincers clashed like crocodile jaws and who, while performing an extraction and perhaps to dull the shock, would tell me jokes with barks of clockwork hilarity.

Despite my tooth care, there are gaps, around which my tongue, like a sleek seal, swims from cleft to cranny, seeking crumbs of comfort among the old craggy and cavernous contours.

Nowadays, I rarely fear dental work. I go, privately, to an efficient and innovative dentist whose surgery is highly computerised and who, on request, can show me an electronic map of my mouth in all its grinning glory and whose waiting room is a haven of soft musical reassurance with soothing video pictures of marine life that I wish I could feed with electronic ants’ eggs.

Despite such transcendental displays, could the financial crunch be coming for dentists? According to a report of the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, a technique to stop tooth decay, using a genetically modified mouth bacterium are to undergo clinical trials.

Details of the research to turn the bacterium that causes tooth decay into a form that may permanently prevent the disease were revealed by Professor Jeffrey Hillman, of the University of Florida, Gainesville, who said that the GM mouthwash could last a lifetime. It would be squirted into the mouth in a one-off, five minute spray treatment, costing less than £100.

Imagine; no more toothache, fillings, crown dressings and root canal surgery. My dentist reacted with clinical calm. "It’s an interesting idea," he said, "but various ideas like that have been tried before and with so many, nature finds a way of circumventing them. Fluoridisation still causes controversy and I think a GM bacterium being let loose in people’s mouths would be bound to create a certain amount of public resistance."

Still, such a gleaming teeth paradise may come when the world sheds its caries and dental joy is unconfined. Let us spray and hope for the best.

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