Past Life: Pearson the dentist

From Shetland Life, February 1984, No.40

While reading Mr Sutherland’s interesting article on the Yell Sound ferries the name “Pearson the Dentist” caught my eye. This brought to mind my first experience of dental treatment and revived a long forgotten feeling of childish terror.

When I was about ten I had my first attack of toothache. I complained of the pain and my father said he’d take me to someone who would make it better and a few days later I went off happily with daddy to be cured of my agony.

I remember coming into a nice warm croft kitchen with chairs set around and people sitting all very quiet, an old woman knitting by the fire, no sound but the clicking of her needles and the loud tick of a clock. Suddenly a door opened and someone said, “Next please.” A youth got up hesitantly and shuffled out the door. There was silence for a while; then the door opened again and the voice asked if one of the men would come through for a few minutes. An anxious looking woman asked what was going on and the lady of the house, who’d seen it all before, said comfortingly, “Oh, he’s just needin someen ta had da boy doon.”

After a while the man and boy reappeared, the boy holding a hankie to his mouth and looking distressed. Next went the anxious looking woman and when she’d gone someone murmured, “Poor soul, shu bluds terrible.”

A hefty woman suddenly shuddered and remarked, “It’s gettin da painless dat gluffs me.” I pondered this for a while. How did one get painless and why be gluffed by it? Grownups were often very peculiar.

By this time grave doubts were entering my mind. The chairs before us were slowly being vacated and those behind were filling up. Among the patients was a boy of my age, usually a nasty bully at school, who was now, to my amazement, clinging to his mother and sobbing wildly. Obviously he knew something about all this that I didn’t.

At last it was my turn. We went into the ben room, where a white haired man stood beside a kitchen chair, with a bucket at one side and a tray with ugly looking instruments laid out. He prised my mouth open, peered in, prodded the offending tooth, made “Umm” noises and said, “We’ll soon get rid of that.” He produced a syringe and after filling it he sank it over and over into my gum. By this time I knew why the bully boy was crying, but worse was to come. Within minutes he took up a fearsome looking pair of pliers and seized hold of my tooth. He wrenched and twisted it and there was a horrible crunching feeling in my jaw. Then suddenly a large gory tooth with two huge prongs on the end was held up before my dazed eyes.

The sight of it appalled me. This was nothing like the tiny first teeth that had dropped out easily and had been put under my pillow, to be replaced next morning by a shiny sixpence.

He kindly offered the tooth for me to take home. No fear! I never wanted to see it or him, ever again. However that was only the first of many painful encounters with “Pearson the Dentist”. I’m sure he was good at his job and he provided a needful service to the island folk for many years, but I don’t think I can be the only person whose sole memory of him is one of pain and misery.



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