Pietro Longhi - The Tooth Puller (1746)
I love Pietro Longhi. this is such a blatantly iconoclastic image - masked Venetian aristocrats slumming for their entertainment in the shadow of the Doge's palace. the composition a deliberate echo of the hackneyed religious set-piece. Christ as Dentist. behold the tooth. I suspect that seated figure bottom left is a self-portrait. looks a damn sight too knowing for his own good. and why is that height-challenged person making the warding-off-the-evil-eye sign at him? wonderful painting.
I've always had a low opinion of dentists. I regard them as jumped-up fairground performers. their basic skills have remained unchanged and only slightly improved in five hundred years - they just charge more now.
'my' dentist (I use the term ironically - he's just the latest in a long, long, similarly face-masked line who have variously drilled and filled and pulled with more or less successful efforts at anaesthesia since forever) has just installed a 'dental hygiene advisor' (as opposed to a hygienist). good, you might think. about time. I wish one of you faceless charlatans had shown me how to look after my teeth properly forty years ago. except that this pink-suited over-makeovered madam is transparently a sales rep, done a qualifying course in dental hygiene for dummies, installed in rotation in several related surgeries with the same charts and posters and disturbing pink-and-white models of dislocated jaws, touting various hilarious dental devices including a tongue-scraper(!) she 'advised' me today (almost inevitably, this post is getting heavy on irony-signifiers) that I might prefer to 'work with' another dentist since I was declining their 'advice' that I purchase, not only this pathetic £30 goodie-bag of dinky implements, but a £5 mouthwash which, on examination, proved to contain saccharine as well as a fluoride and a chloride. this after taking a swab of my mouth and projecting its magnified bacterial liveliness on a computer screen - ooh! germs! scream! - and trying to persuade me that this somehow constituted 'scientific proof' that my gingivitis would turn into rampant periodontal leprosy unless I availed myself of her expensive advice. my attempts to engage her in a meaningful debate about the pros and cons of fluoride, and to assert my preference, nay, my right to choose not to ingest one of the most toxic substances known to man, met with more resistance than I had bargained for:
she: well, this is a pro-fluoride practice. perhaps you'd be happier with another dentist. you're free to choose.
me: so are you seriously telling me that either I buy this mouthwash and this 'starter pack' or I won't be eligible for further treatment here?
she: we respect your views, of course, Mr Roylance - everyone's entitled to their own opinion. but unless you're prepared to co-operate with us we really can't be expected to help you.
me: so although I'm registered as a National Health patient you're saying that either I go along with this or I'll be refused treatment?
she: we're both free to choose.
me: what are you saying?
she: this is a business, not a social security (sic). I came into this business for the money, not as a social service. we're free to choose our clients just the same as you're free to choose another dentist, and it seems to me that you'd probably be happier with another dentist.
except - as full well the bitch knows - finding an NHS dentist around here is like searching for an honest man or woman in Westminster (OK - Clare Short maybe - the jury's still out). our wonderful, embattled National Health Service - the jewel in the crown of the postwar social and economic reconstruction programme - the model for an equitable and universally accessible, free health service, the source of worldwide envy for the last fifty years - has almost completely failed to incorporate dentistry under its aegis, entirely due to the dentists' greed, facilitated by several generations of Whitehall ineptitude and party-political tug-of-warring - which goes without saying. there's a whole generation of the worst-off whose only access to dentistry now is the same as it always used to be for the poor - emergency extraction. and the dentists continue to operate these fabulously lucrative cartels.
apparently, amongst the so-called 'professions', the top of the bell-curve depicting the incidence of suicide is the tooth-pullers.