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Don't Forget to Scrub Your Molars!

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Bill Hampel

“Have you told your Form teacher you won’t be at school on Wednesday?”, Mum asked, always keen to do the right thing.  

Clearing it with Mr Cavendish presented difficulties, he was the one who always filled the blackboard with notes. In Term 1, it looked as if we would not finish copying them and I’d miss kicking the footy at recess. I said, “Would you please remove your carcase, Sir? I can’t read the board”. Although he shook, and colour rose up into his face, indignation must have stifled his response, for I escaped punishment – on that occasion.  

At that time, tooth decay was endemic. People suffered from the lack of a fluoridated water supply, so an enterprising dentist never wanted for custom. Under a mother’s watchful eye, we ate well and, apart from the viral complaints kids seemed to get, we thrived, helped by abundant exercise. In addition, there was always a sneaking suspicion that Mum’s way of expressing affection was through good food as well as doses of cod liver oil, and liver “for the blood”. Her care extended to external dietary advice and concern for our teeth. As a result, we did little to boost Mrs Dickie’s sales of soft drink, her ‘lickrish’ straps that shattered into pieces, and lollies that would pass as archaeological specimens. 

I often wondered if the dentist had a surgery somewhere.  Perhaps he only had an itinerant existence, but in my early childhood, every Saturday morning he would station his caravan in front of the Walpeup Coffee Palace. I don’t recall any electric cables to drive the drill. To imagine a pedal-operated one is not fanciful, and maybe our friendly dentist did do some repair work, even if the evidence was that he did very little. The spittoon must have had no bottom because on his departure, there was always a small pyramid of decayed teeth on the roadside. Pubescent girls and boys alike lost their teeth indiscriminately, even their front ones. The consequences for their self-esteem are too awful to contemplate. While hiding the cavernous gaps at the back, I was lucky to keep my front ones. The taunts of “Herman Whizzer” when I had to wear glasses gave me some insight into what the recently toothless went through. 

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