In the fifties there were a few things distributed for free to schoolchildren in the Netherlands.
Most striking was the school milk. This was delivered every day from a factory and two of the oldest boys had to bring the crates of milk into the school and in the wintertime place them close to the heating. The milk came in small bottles containing one pint. It was obviously not skimmed; there was a thick layer of cream on top. You had to shake it before drinking it straight from the bottle.
Another thing that was installed by the government was for the good cause too: the school dentist.
All around the country there were mobile dentists working their heads off to reach all the children who didn’t have proper dental care. And these were in bigger numbers than the ones without.
When I think back, I’m convinced that these school dentists somehow were not able to start a proper practice. Whether this was caused by the quality of these people or another reason was not clear. I now know that there are only a limited number of practices in a region.
Still, I am grateful to my oldest sister for having endured the torture of the school dentist in our village. The results of his treatment were clear very soon after it was done. But my parents always have a strict belief in anyone who has or should have a higher education than them. But after two days of terrible pain even my parents had to realise there was something wrong. They took her to a real dentist. He was in shock and said that the man who did this to her belonged in prison.
He treated her and also my parents bank account. They had to bring her three times to him to repair the damage. That made them decide to write a note in which they declared that I was forbidden to be treated by the school dentist, he was not even allowed to take a look in my mouth.
It was a big relief, but every year I could sense the nervousness of my schoolmates when we saw the bus of the school dentist in front of the school. They always froze in their footsteps and turned a bit pale. I really felt for them. With some brave boys we would stand around the vehicle, sometimes you could hear his drill howling and kids crying. Most disgusting was the little stream of water mixed with blood that streamed in the gutter.
Sometimes the assistant would walk into the class room while lessons were going on. She would ask which kids not had been treated yet. I would always be on that list and every time the remark would come that I had to go along and let the dentist have a look. He would only have a look. And I felt a sort of pride to be able to say that I was not allowed to go by my parents. The teacher would nod and the assistant would leave with some unfortunate kids. They would return with painful faces. Looking in this case meant poking around with a sharp hook in your mouth.
It was remarkable that year after year more children were having a note. Less and less children were “treated” and finally one year my classmates realised that the school dentist didn’t show up at all. Some told stories that the man was sentenced to life imprisonment. We asked the teacher and he didn’t know anything about it either.
Years later I heard that the reason was very simple. The government stopped subsidising the program because the majority of children had gotten in the hands of dentists with a practice and their teeth were under control.
But sometimes in bad dreams I still see that stream of water mixed with blood streaming in the gutter in front of the school.