Tony Lord: Dental mishaps

I was about nine when my mother took me to the dentist in Charlton Village to have some teeth out.

The surgery was in a big house opposite the ‘Bugle Horn’.

As it would be a painful process I had gas (nitrous oxide). A rubber mask was put over my nose and mouth and the dentist told me to count backwards from a hundred.

By the time I reached 95 I was gone. A few minutes later I woke up, minus several teeth and feeling sick.

Mum parted with five shillings and we went home.

According to a book I picked up in a charity shop at Lee Green – Old Stories of Lancashire by Dr Drone, visits to the dentist in late Victorian times sometimes didn’t have such a happy outcome.

In April, 1882, William Smith, aged 10, was taken to Preston dentist Nathaniel Miller by his father to have several first teeth extracted because they were blocking the growth of his permanent teeth.

Dentist Nathaniel Miller and, above a girl who died in his care.

The healthy looking boy sat in the dentist’s chair, the gas was administered and within a few seconds he was unconscious.

Working quickly the dentist extracted seven teeth before the effects of the gas wore off. Shortly afterwards it became obvious that something was wrong, as the boy did not breathe freely.

Fearing that one of the teeth had slipped out of his forceps and got lodged in his windpipe, Mr Miller bent the lad’s head forward and banged him on the back.

This failed to dislodge the obstruction and the boy continued to struggle for breath and tried to cough and loosen his collar.

At this point it’s possible that Mr Miller panicked, because he ran out of the surgery to get the help of Dr Marshall whose practice was nearby.

When the pair came back, minutes later, they found William slumped in the chair quite dead with Mr Miller’s assistant distraught beside him.

There was nothing the good doctor could do but tell William’s dad the terrible news.

At the inquest at the Rosebud Inn nearby, Mr Smith told the coroner that his son had been a healthy child with no medical problems.

Dr Marshall told the gathering that he had carried out a post-mortem examination and had found a double tooth firmly fixed in the boy’s larynx, completely obstructing the passage.

In his opinion that was the cause of his death. After a short consultation, the jury returned and brought with them a verdict of accidental death.

Not everyone was happy with this verdict, letters were written to the local paper suggesting that Miller was incompetent and lacking in medical knowledge.

Nevertheless Miller continued to work as a dentist, moving his surgery into Fishergate, the main street of Preston.

It was here that Annie Budden (pictured above), aged 23, came one evening in January 1895 complaining of toothache.

Mr Miller was now one of Preston’s most respected dentists and a town councillor.

Annie was examined by Miller, who found that the pain was being caused by a decayed tooth in her lower jaw and agreed to take it out. (Tell me, didn’t they do fillings in those days?)

Miss Budden asked for gas and, looking at her robust appearance, the dentist had no hesitation in administering it.

In a minute she was unconscious, and moments later the tooth was out. Apparently everything had gone well, but then the girl turned very white and began struggling to breathe.

Then she lost consciousness. Miller must have been worried and sent his assistant for Dr Collinson, who arrived quickly and tried to revive the servant with an injection of ether.

On removing her clothing he found her stays (corsets) were so tightly laced that they had to be cut off.

Despite the best efforts of both the surgeon and the dentist, the girl slipped away and died a few minutes later.

At the subsequent inquest Dr Collinson said that regarding the tightness of her corset he had measured her waist and found it to be 25 inches, while her stays measured only 18 inches.

He considered that death had been caused by the gas and the effects of tight lacing.

The jury returned a verdict of death by misadventure and the coroner remarked that Mr Miller was in no way to blame for the unfortunate occurrence.

In 1910 the good dentist became Mayor of Preston and, when he joined William and Annie in that great surgery in the sky, in 1933 probably they had a few choice words to say to him.


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