Today, I spent two hours in dental chairs in the OHSU School of Dentistry Faculty Dental Practice and I found myself completely distracted with thoughts of how much worse it would have been in the old dental school on Sixth and Oregon streets downtown. I was positively comforted by the buzz and whine of modern dental instruments, thinking back to the oral history interview conducted with Class of 1949 alumnus F. James Marshall, D.M.D., in 1998. Marshall, whose father had also been a graduate of the North Pacific College in 1923, talked about the physical plant of the old school building:
WEIMER: Well, let’s go back. We can talk about some of the faculty that you remember, but let’s hold that for a moment and go back. I’m interested, first of all, in your dad. I didn’t realize before I met you today that he was also a graduate. Did he ever talk to you about his dental school days as compared to what you were going through in the ’40s?I kept thinking of that foot treadle, imagining a corps of dentists with one huge thigh, silently praising those unheralded dental engineers who brought speed, convenience, and hygienic tools to the modern operatory. And before I knew it, I was back in the hallway.
MARSHALL: Well, there was little change in the physical plant of the School between my father’s time and my time. My father learned dentistry in his time with a foot engine; I learned it with a 4000-rpm sewing machine motor. That was the major change. If the patient wanted suction, they had to pump a little bulb in their lap into a spittoon. If we wanted to wash the tooth cavity, we had to use a water syringe. If we wanted to get rid of the tooth dust, we had to use a chip blower. Water suction and compressed air came later.
All through four years of Dental School I used a headlamp for illumination. Some of the richer men in my class could afford to buy Castle operating room lights that were made available when they started breaking up aircraft carriers at Zidell’s. There was always an operating room on aircraft carriers, so spare parts became available.
Patient treatment was emphasized in my dad’s time and my time. As I remember, our budget came from one-third student fees, one-third state support, and one-third student practice income.
Student practice income came from the student treatment of patients. We went to school six days a week. In my senior year we were six to seven hours in the clinic Monday to Friday, and Saturday morning 9:00 till 1:00. In the junior year we shared a chair and an operating unit in the main clinic, with another junior. In the senior year we had our own chair. And a chair it was: wooden back, wooden seat, with a spittoon attached. As I said, no running water, no suction.
So, chalk up one more benefit of knowing history: it can be positively relaxing in certain situations.