Out in the garage, I have an old foot pedal powered dentist drill…

By Christopher Green

It belonged to my grandfather and it is, other than the few pictures I have somehow managed to save over the years, the only tangible item I have from him. He practiced dentistry in a small coal-mining town in Southwestern Pennsylvania for I guess over 50 years.

I was told that this drill was used in WWI and that my grandfather was a dentist right behind the front lines. One of my relatives, I can’t remember which, once told me that Harry, my grandfather, used to joke that the men would come back from the front to get urgent dental care, see that pedal powered drill and decided it was less painful to deal with the Germans than face Harry and his drill.

I doubt the veracity of this tale since my Grandfather was a lieutenant and had received decorations for his leadership in the war, but you have to admit it makes a great story. I think this was what he had in his first office whenever and wherever that was. I think that fact is now lost to time.

Teeth, or rather the care for said teeth, were always important to us. Well, at least on my mother’s side of the family. We would load up the car here in Cleveland and head on down to Clymer on old route 422. This was way back before the Ohio Turnpike was finished. I remember we would be playing and then all of a sudden, grandma would tap one of us on the shoulder and say, “Grandpa’s waiting for you up town.”

Then we knew. We were all young enough almost to forget that the very same thing happened each year. Well, until that first tap on the shoulder. Then the fear would sweep through the gathered cousins.

We always had the worse teeth and I remember my grandma blaming it on the fluoridation of the Big City Water.  I guess that was the curse of living in the big city of Cleveland.

 It is interesting that now, some 35 years after my grandfathers passing, we are discovering just how important good dental care really is. There is concrete evidence out that proves poor dental care as one of the root causes for such major illness as heart disease, respiratory problems, osteoporosis and diabetes.

It’s the bacteria that can grow and thrive in our mouths that can cause many of these problems. Good oral health is one of the best defenses against major threats to our health. And this is why a comprehensive dental exam is required in order to get on the transplant list. As of last Thursday, I have two less teeth. Thankfully, both were molars. I am still getting use to the new gaps.

What was really interesting to me is how far dentistry has come since the mid sixties. I would not have wanted to have a tooth pulled back then. I remember getting X-Rays taken and then having to come back for a second appointment because the film had to be sent out to a lab to be processed.

At the Jaw Center, which is what they called the office I went to have my teeth extracted, they had this really neat X-Ray machine that was like something out of Star Trek. I stood in this little alcove and clamped down on the film pod they had placed in my mouth.

Then the X-Ray device circled my head taking a 360 photo so that my whole jaw and all my teeth could be examined in one panoramic view. It was all computerized so the X-Ray could be emailed to the doctors over at the Cleveland Clinic.

They had sent me to have a broken molar taken out and because of the X-Ray, Dr. Blood, I kid you not, discovered that another tooth, a molar that had already been root canalled, had to come out. They didn’t even put me to sleep. All they did was shoot a whole lot of Novocain in, let it sink it and then yanked them out. The process lasted less than an hour.

I was able to drive myself home and stop at the Walgreens to get antibiotic and pain killer prescriptions filled. It was not until the Novocain had worn off a few hours later that I was thankful for the painkillers. What use to be a very distressing and drawn out process was now almost completely pain free with little or no down time.

I will have to go back right before I am listed in order to make sure nothing has changed dentistry wise. One procedure down, ten or so more to go.

Here are some links if you want more info.



I read somewhere that it is estimated almost one third of all deaths in the middle ages were directly attributed to oral problems such as an abscessed tooth or just plain plaque-caked teeth. I know my grandfather made sure all of us cousins had clean and healthy teeth. And I remember him working on my teeth into his late 70’s.

 One of the many pills I take can inhibit the absorption of calcium. Over the years, my teeth started to chip and crack. When I discovered that Theophylline affected me this way, I began to take calcium supplements. This simple action seems to have stopped the chipping or cracking of my teeth. I wonder why my highly esteemed former pulmonary doctor neglected to point this out…


5 Responses to Out in the garage, I have an old foot pedal powered dentist drill…

  1. Eric says:

    Grandfather story…My grandfather was a guard at a WWII German POW camp in Arkansas. The camp had a Jewish dentist with foot powered drill.

    The drill went slower when German officers were in the chair.

  2. I hate to be negative – not least as a dental hygienist, yet the type of story opinion was is not exactly what was was looking for, the last line was a bit misleading tbh – what do readers have to say?

    • The reason I started the post with my grandfathers pedal power dentist drill was to personalize the experience of having my teeth pulled. I also wanted to show how important good dental hygiene is too the overall health of everyone but especially for people who are being screened for a transplant of any kind. You are the first person who has mentioned this. Thanks for your input but I have to warn you that I will continue to use poetic license where I see fit. Especially when I think it will be of interest or entertain my readers.

  3. Harrogate Dental Practice| Starbeck Dentist| Harrogate Dentist…

    Out in the garage, I have an old foot pedal powered dentist drill… « My Lung Transplant Years…

  4. leg problems says:

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