In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« More Fat | Main | Lab Notes »

July 13, 2006

Doin' the Dental Drill

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Buck up, pessimists. Life actually does get better at times.

I returned from the dentist just before starting to draft this article. It was the first phase of putting in a crown. Many over-50 readers are familiar with that "drill" (har, har). The dentist grinds the tooth down to near the gum line, impressions are taken, and a temporary crown is attached. A couple of weeks later the final crown arrives from the lab and replaces the temporary one to complete the second phase.

What I found interesting was how quick the procedure was. Based on previous crown-jobs, I figured I might be in the chair for an hour and a quarter. But I was there for only 45 minutes!

My dentist seems to be one of those souls who keeps up with the times technologically, so I'm surprised by some new gizmo or procedure almost every time I visit.

For instance, he had a headband-mounted spotlight to supplement the regular dental lamp. Okay, he'd worn those before. But this time it had a blue-ish beam like those European car headlights you sometimes see.

The drill holder was a streamlined affair and short: perhaps four inches long. And little yellow lights came on when the tiny electric motor was running.

This drill was what got me to thinking.

I got to thinking about dentist's drills past. Back in the 1940s I had my baby teeth filled way more than once. (Seattle's water was soft as could be, coming from snow-melt. No minerals to speak of. No fluoride either, because in the 40s and 50s fluoride was a Commie plot to poison everyone. By the 80s fluoride became a right-wing plot. Conclusion: fluoride is the result of a plot.) So my teeth were lousy and I went to the dentist a lot.

Dental drills in those days were also powered by electric motors, but motors that were many times larger than now. The drill motor was mounted several feet away from the drill itself, perhaps in the base of the drill contraption. Rotation of the drill bit was imparted via a series of thin belts mounted on wheels about an inch in diameter. There were two or three sets of belts, one per segment of an arm that allowed the dentist to position the drill and its approximately six-inch long holder at the patient's mouth.

By today's standards, those drills were slow. I remember times when the dentist was using a large drill to rough out the hole; I thought I could almost count the drill's rotations. Awful.

High-speed drills were on the scene by the 1960s and marked a huge improvement over the belt-driven variety. For one thing they cut vibration, making drilling less painful.

Other changes in dental technology have been more subtle, and I welcome readers with dental training of any sort to hop into Comments with interesting details. One thing I've noticed is that rubber mouth dams seem to be used less frequently, but I don't know if this is a general trend or just the nature of the dental work I have done and the preferences of my dentists.

So far I've had two root canals, and neither was as unpleasant as I had been led to expect. Was improving technology a factor here too?

Plus, I've had one tooth implant. It was expensive, but after more than a year it seems to be working well.

Contrast all this with my father's parents, both of whom had complete sets of false teeth when I knew them. My father's teeth were better, but he eventually had to have a bridge; I suppose today he might have gotten implants instead, if he had been willing to spend the money. My children's teeth are perfect or nearly so.

Getting back to my faster-than-expected dental chair tenure, it wasn't drills that hastened the procedure. They used some kind of variation on tooth mold-making to greatly speed up emplacing the temporary crown.

I still don't like going to the dentist, but admit that it isn't nearly as awful as it once was.



posted by Donald at July 13, 2006


A friend in her 80s tells me that she grew up assuming that anyone over 40 had false teeth. Amazing how much better people's teeth are in these days. I'm often struck looking at old photos by how awful people's teeth once were. I remember dental drills from the '50s and early '60s too -- what mainly comes back to me is the smell and taste of burning tooth as the dentist drilled in. I'm told kids today, despite their lousy eating habits, rarely have any fillings at all. Is that true?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 13, 2006 6:47 PM

"I'm told kids today, despite their lousy eating habits, rarely have any fillings at all. Is that true?"

It depends on the kid. Our son had to have a tooth removed when he was two years old. And this is in spite of our brushing his teeth twice a day from the time he started getting teeth.

The big change for kids seems to be bonding the surface of teeth. It stops nearly all cavities.

For me, the biggest change recently was a new way of injecting pain killer: The needle now has a drip down its exterior that means that I feel nearly nothing even for the needle insertion.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on July 14, 2006 10:45 AM

My favorite development is Television sets embedded in the ceiling. The only problem is that with the ear phones on its hard to hear the dentist say "get your damn tongue out of the way."

Posted by: al on July 14, 2006 12:55 PM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?