The Sounds That Once Made Patients Wince

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Dr. Bruce Peterson of Rock Island, Ill., demonstrates the sound of older dentistry instruments from his collection.


Our SoundClip series has allowed us to share some curious and pleasant audio experiences sent to us from listeners around the country. Today, by contrast, we have some sounds from the world of dentistry. And while that may set your ears or your teeth on edge, you can take comfort in the fact that these are the sounds of old dental equipment.

Dr. BRUCE PETERSON: My name is Dr. Bruce Peterson.

I have a general dentist office in Rock Island, Illinois. There is no such thing as the good old days of dentistry. The equipment was very slow. The speed of the instruments for the removal of decay was maybe 15,000, at the most, RPMs. What you're about to hear are the sounds of dentistry. Some of these go back 40 years.

(Soundbite of dental equipment)

Dr. PETERSON: I've had many patients, the female patients, tell me that they'd rather give birth than go to the dentist and have a tooth drilled on. Some of that fear and anxiety that was created 40, 50 years ago, much of that was the sound.

(Soundbite of dental equipment)

Dr. PETERSON: This next one is a pneumatic, or air-driven, gold foil condenser. In the early 1900s - 1910, 1920 to 1960 - many fillings were done with 24-carat gold, very thin, very, very fine and little, small foils of that pure gold were laid inside the tooth, and then it was packed together.

(Soundbite of dental equipment)

Dr. PETERSON: Dentists, before they had compressed air, would dry the teeth in the mouth just using an air-filled rubber ball that was very flexible. It looks like a small tennis ball.

(Soundbite of dental equipment)

SIEGEL: No actual teeth were harmed or fixed in the making of this story. Dr. Bruce Peterson of Rock Island, Illinois, and his collection of old dentistry equipment. We listen for all sorts of sounds - machines, animals, you know the drill. Put the word SoundClips into a search at and find out how you can take part.

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