Dentists, Design and Dumbing Down

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This week Susan faces the dentist’s drill and observes some Olympian sell-outs…

What sort of a person becomes a dentist? I was pondering on this, whilst my hands gripped tighter and tighter around the arms of the dentist’s chair (the only other time I do this is when a plane takes off).

Mine’s a gruff northerner with a no-nonsense approach that some would classify as positively brutal.  I much prefer him to my previous Chinese dentist, who was constantly asking me if I was okay – “am I hurting you,” “can you feel that,” “let me know if you want me to stop,” and so on. I’d rather bear the momentary pain of the drill than suffer a face-numbing injection and spend the rest of the day drooling from the corner of my mouth. The Chinese chap replaced wonderful Mr Weir, my favourite dentist of all time. Weir wore white clogs, was curiously camp, and spoke with a lilting Scottish accent – not unlike Stanley Baxter’s.

I actually count a couple of dentists among my friends. One is a cat loving ‘celebrity dentist’, who once appeared in an episode of Mr Bean. The other enjoys shooting defenseless birds in his spare time. Though, of course, modern dentistry is all clinical and computerized. It’s not at all like dentistry of my youth, which was more gas masks and spattered blood. On one occasion, when a couple of teeth were removed, I suffered nightmarish hallucinations – the dental nurse became a witch, and the dentist a clown. I must have screamed an awful lot, because my mother bought me a Barbie Doll on the way home…


Visiting the Design Museum’s latest exhibition made me wonder about contemporary design. Has everything already been created – the doll, the toothbrush, the chair, the wheel and the phone? Are there any totally new designs?  And will future inventions continue to be pretty useless – by that I mean not really adding any functional significance. Do we need a device (like the ‘pop phone’ by Native Union, pictured above) that turns our mobile into a retro looking, analogue-style phone? Do we need a nail varnish vending machine?


Everywhere I went last week Louis Smith’s face stared out at me from giant posters. He towers above the Wandsworth roundabout and envelopes the IMAX cinema. Are these locations above a subway – or perhaps near a Subway – a place Where Winners Eat? Is this the branding designed to inspire a generation? (A generation of lard-arses perhaps?)  My local branch boasts a smashed window with an eviction notice and bailiffs’ details posted on the door. However, Tom Daley’s poolside posing pouch seems to still be pulling in the crowds. Thank goodness Jessica Ennis hasn’t sold her soul to the fast food eating, celebrity worshipping masses – at least we still have a female role model. 

Susan Muncey is a trend forecaster, blogger and founder of online curiosity shop,
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About Author Profile: Susan Muncey

Trend consultant Susan Muncey, is Editor of Visuology Magazine. In 2008, she founded online curiosity shop, She writes on style and trends for several blogs, including, and The Dabbler. She previously owned cult West London boutique, Fashion Gallery, one of the first concept stores in the world. Susan graduated in geography from Cambridge University and is also an Associate Member of the CFA Institute. She lives in London with her husband.

16 thoughts on “Dentists, Design and Dumbing Down

    February 5, 2013 at 10:14

    What sort of a person becomes a dentist, good question Susan, who on earth would want to spend their working day in a miasma of halitosis and last nights bacon rind, wearing safety goggles and constantly bollocking the punters about hygiene whilst an assistant asks, on the half hour every half hour, “how are you today”, how do you think I am you twerp, petrified, that’s how I am, last time I was here your gaffer charged me the price of a Miele washing machine.

    Therein lies the answer, unlike 20 years ago dentists can now earn as much as a decent plumber.

    Used to have an Austrian lassie who previously practiced in Essen, we conversed in German whilst moaning about the local surroundings, much to the annoyance of the understrapper, who suspected that we were moaning about the local surroundings, she asked how I was today through clenched teeth.

  2. Worm
    February 5, 2013 at 12:07

    “am I hurting you,” “can you feel that,” “let me know if you want me to stop,” and so on…

    with patter like that I bet he’s a demon in the sack

    Thats a good question regarding whether every category of something has already been created and now we’re just rearranging things ad nauseum. I often wonder the same thing about flavours and scents- is there some very big flavour/scent that no one has created yet or have we discovered every pleasurable one there is. I doubt it, as science has up til now only produced copies of existing natural flavours and not anything bespoke

      February 5, 2013 at 12:51

      Umami? I am familiar with this new fangled taste because I once suffered from “Chinese food syndrome” (hot flushes, talking rubbish etc) due to my excessive consumption of Chinese take-aways that had been liberally sprinkled with Monosodium Glutamate.

      • Worm
        February 5, 2013 at 13:27

        Umami/msg as a salty meaty taste isn’t really a new taste though is it, it’s just a concentrated form of flavour that already exists. There must be new flavour analogues that we don’t even know about

      February 5, 2013 at 15:04

      Hmmm… perhaps we should get Mr Slang onto dental phraseology.

      And how about the scent of ‘discovery’, Worm?

        February 5, 2013 at 15:23

        Some slang dentists: fang bandit, fang carpenter, fang man, fang faker, fang-farrier, fang hustler, fang-lifter, gum-digger, gum-puncher, gum-smasher, gum-tickler, ivory-carpenter, ivory-snatcher, jawsmith, jawbreaker, jawcracker, jaw-twister. jawbone breaker, jawbone doctor, jawbuster, jaw puller, tooth carpenter.

          jonathan law
          February 7, 2013 at 19:43

          These are terrific synonyms: ‘fang-farrier’ and ‘jawsmith’ sound like something Gerard Manley Hopkins might have come up with:

          Dr Randall, the fang-farrier, Oh is he dead then?…

          Indeed, ‘GMH goes to the dentist’ would be a superb topos for Frank Key, don’t you think?

          The dentist who haunted my childhood and teenage years was a morose bearded Yorkshireman named Kershaw, who may or may not be still alive. He had a nice way of getting his probes and burs and pluggers into your mouth and then coming out with a lot of belligerent stuff that you felt obliged to try to contradict but were of course splutteringly unable to. Knowing that I was at Oxford, he always came up with some choice material about overprivileged parasites wasting their time and taxpayers’ money studying things like the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. In fact this wasn’t so stupid: whether designedly or not, it took your mind off the pain and fear like nothing else.

    February 5, 2013 at 12:44

    Faced with root canal work and a terminally terrified gag reflex (some kind of rubber sheet was involved) I was offered the Perambulating Anaesthetists of Harley Street (or something on those lines), who bared my arm, plugged in their catheter and announced ‘Right, this is what Michael Jackson was so fond of…’ I managed no more than ‘But, didn’t he…’ when away I went and woke up rooted (or de-rooted) with the PAoHS packing up and my dentist congratulating me on being so well-behaved. And yes, there was definitely a bill. No matter, I still recall those 1950s drills which were r-e-a-l-l-y slow, and of course no wicked drugs for the tinies.

      February 5, 2013 at 14:46

      Thanks Jonathon, you’ve rekindled fond memories of ‘experimental’ root canal treatment on one of my milk teeth – aged about 6. The South African dentist threatened to strap me to the chair if I didn’t stop screaming. And the Michael Jackson drug – I had some of that when my broken nose was fixed. I wasn’t so well behaved afterwards, though the nursing staff seemed amused by my obscenity littered jabbering…

        February 5, 2013 at 15:13

        ‘Obscenity littered jabbering’: that’s my profession you’re talking about.

    Joey Joe Joe Jr.
    February 5, 2013 at 12:50

    One is a cat loving ‘celebrity dentist’, who once appeared in an episode of Mr Bean.

    I thought for a second you meant the dentist from the tour-de-force that is the dentist scene in Rowan Atkinson’s classic The Trouble with Mr Bean. But that was, I think, the cat(chphrase) loving Richard Wilson.

    As for there being nothing left to invent, you need to watch more dragon’s den. There was the plastic cap you put on the end of your cucumber to keep it fresh, and the Eggxactly water-free electronic egg boiler.

      February 5, 2013 at 14:55

      Curiously inventive stuff, but hasn’t plastic on the end of a cucumber kind of been done in the form of clingfilm? A water free egg boiler? Doesn’t boiling involve water or another form of liquid? Is heating eggs an entirely new concept?

        Joey Joe Joe Jr.
        February 5, 2013 at 16:07

        I fear you’re not alone in your scepticism Susan – at any rate both products have yet to make an appearance in my local Asda. From what I recall the egg cooker had flexible heating pads which would mould themselves to the shape and size of the egg in question. The egg would then be “boiled”, in the sense that the end product looked like a boiled egg. I thought it was an excellent splendid idea but, alas, the demonstration failed, made a bit of a mess, and the inventor left with egg, if not on his face, then down his shirt-front.

  5. Brit
    February 5, 2013 at 13:30

    I love my dentist, in a Stockholm Syndrome type way. He is a kind and gentle torturer who only causes me precisely the necessary amount of pain.

    John Halliwell
    February 5, 2013 at 16:50

    “Open up, you cowering little scumbag!” The school dentist didn’t quite use those words but he made little effort to disguise the contempt he felt for the umpteenth kid he’d terrorised that day. It was that damned drill; a slow turner, as JG recalls, with no anaesthetic, not even a smile from Doctor Death’s female assistant, that inflicted most misery. And this was a decade and more after Barnes-Wallis had developed a bouncing bomb. Where were the equivalent developments in dental technology: the drill that revolved half a million times per minute and which, on landing, leapt over the contours of a decaying molar, mapping the area of putrefying grunge, before blasting the crap out of it, all in the blink of an eye, and then turning for home to the bracket by the door? It would have been known as The Guy Gibson; kids would have flocked to be drilled by it.

    February 5, 2013 at 17:54

    There are, I am reliably informed, in excess of one thousand dentists in the Köln metropolitan area, population circa 1.2 million. One of them, a friend of a friend, has sold her city practice and moved into the same street as Gerhard Richter in the Hahnwald area. In the hope of one day sitting in the waiting doom next to himself, I shall be pleading for a place on her client list. I am now living out this fantasy, Gerhard asks me for the X-Ray, overpaints it and calls it ‘Ohne Titel’. It is on permanent display in Bonn’s Kunstmuseum (museum of modern German art) next to his Baader Meinhof series. My Hampsteads, Gudrun Ensslin and Ulrike Meinhof (deceased) what a combination.

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