Category Archives: Reflections


What I remember from my math teacher
is that x and y relate to one another
by adding or subtracting a number
or even by multiplying or dividing another

part of the problem depends on triangulation
derived by methodical manipulation
and careful consideration of the probability
in restoring an equation to equilibrium

cognisant of any degrees of freedom
count with geometrical precision
like the hypotenuse of a Pythagorean triangle
with often more than one solution applicable.





we                                onto                 back

           bounced                      the                    seat


bums blistering on the vinyl

and speedilywindingdownthesidewindows

breathed in the natural air-con,

dad turned over the key a few times

we’d hear the engine grunt,

it took forever to fire up;

six cylinder regal chariot charged down

the highway stinking of lead

dusty white with silver side panels

and a steely grille face,

dad flicked his Peter Stuyvesant® ash out the window just before

it spilled onto the tire mat floor,

mum, bell-bottoms resting on the dash

click surfed the radio

needle riding the A.M. waves,

we porked on Smith’s Crisps® and Fanta®

fizzed up our nose

heads poking out the window

with air gushing into our gob

like a panting Dulux® dog,

us feeling every BUMP on the road

tummies going Luna Park on the hills

and lows

then scrambling into the wagon with dad’s tools





and fixing ourselves onto the windscreen

making wild faces at people we never met

like the time we stuck out rainbow tongues at that tailgater,

tip balancing a green Lifesaver®  

sucked down to a glassy halo and ready to shatter,

The best part was returning home

and feigning sleep to be carried in to bed

culture club

Walter William Skeat was an anthropologist who in 1900 published his observations on the aborigines of Selangor island (today’s Malaysia). One of the group’s many rituals was “tooth filing”. Yes, “tooth filing”. This process was a rite of passage for the young ladies into womanhood. The community’s “dentist” slowly filed the maidens’ front teeth (without any local anaesthetic!) down to the gum line and the remaining tooth stump was subsequently smoothed by rubbing it with sand.

Perhaps these islanders of yesteryear had greater foresight than we do today.  I can hear the gasps of horror at this assertion. The thought of such heathen acts performed on those poor girls! I suppose their consolation was that the ordeal was quickly over with.

In today’s civilised society, our modern lifestyle can produce pretty much the same effect on our teeth, the differences being that it is a chronic and costly process, and often self-inflicted. For instance, most of us are aware in this age of information wealth, that besides fixed intrinsic risk factors, controllable behaviours like “sugar grazing”, drug and alcohol abuse, and poor oral hygiene practices lead to tooth and gum rot, and their associated adverse symptoms.

Yet we still engage in these activities.  Why do we choose to fulfill this democratic right? Do we lack the self-control to deny processed foods? Are we so time poor that we find it difficult to cook a nutritious meal, or are we simply lazy? Are we brainwashed in our mother’s womb by fads and advertorials? Is the need to rebel an inborn human quality? Perhaps we tend to console ourselves with the notion of having access to the best dental facilities, equipment and treatments available in countering any complications; someone else will fix it (the most common reason for childhood hospitalisation in Australia is tooth decay*).

Well, managing adverse dental outcomes may not be so simple. Teeth can in some ways be likened to cars. When brand new, we tend to drive them hard and fast, and we can be, as Dr Phil says, “in denial” about anything bad happening to them. However, once damaged, even with ongoing repairs, they are never the same again, and are eventually thrown into the trash heap. We can always buy a new car, but substituting a body part with a natural replacement still remains out of our grasp…well, at least for a few years yet…


*Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australian Hospital Statistics 2008–09. Health Services Series no. 17. Cat. no. HSE 84. Canberra: AIHW, 2010.

witches and warlocks

Let’s face it. Dentists are as popular as a cloud of blowflies at an Aussie barbecue. And, it seems that this view is unlikely to change, at least until the sun runs out of hydrogen gas, plunging the earth into oblivion.

For instance, how many TV series or movies have you watched lately (or ever, come to think of it) with dreamy looking actors like George Clooney (this one’s for the girls) playing the role of the hero dentist, rushing into the dental surgery during the early hours in response to an emergency call to cure a blinding toothache? Can you imagine the scenario?

Dental Nurse (hastening through the surgery corridor whilst speaking in anxious tones): “Doctor Clooney, we’ve got a complicated crown fracture in surgery one; I don’t know how much longer the patient will last without a root canal!”

George Clooney (looking fab in batman – oops! I mean dental – garb) “Stay calm, Gladys and hand me that barbed broach; stat!”  

Or, how many Mills and Boon titles have you read (another one for the girls, I’m afraid) where the innocent lass gazes adoringly into the blood splattered spectacles of a Quasimodo, while he jabs a 31mm long needle into the dark recesses of her mouth and then proceeds to strip off her gum and drill away into the cavernous depths of her jawbone, to finally extract a non-regenerating part of her body?

I’m afraid that dentistry is perceived as a necessary evil.  It’s no secret that on entering the dental torture chamber, the atmosphere is thick with fear and the waft of secret, vile concoctions mixed by a young apprentice in a hidden corner. (In fact, studies have been carried out in the dental surgery using various scent masking agents, such as lavender, in the hope of easing patient anxiety.) The witch suddenly appears before you, masked, gloved, draped, and rubbing her hands together, impatiently awaiting her next victim. Medieval looking instruments are lined up on a stainless steel tray ready to probe and prod into the secret corners of your mouth. You are made to lie flat on your back, while uncomfortable and sometimes painful procedures are performed on the most sensitive part of your body. You are oftentimes numb, with fat fingers obstructing your only means of screaming for help…

Medical health professionals have “on occasion”, lightheartedly accused dentists of performing witchcraft rather than practising a science. This is based on the perception that a traditional, anecdotal approach is taken in treating patients rather than applying evidence based methods.  Interestingly, I came across a snippet  in the daily edition of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post ( published in 1936), reporting that a dentist from Tufts College indicated that the colour of a patient’s teeth acted as a warning to dentists in regard to that person’s nature. Bluish teeth were a sign of a temperamental patient as opposed to yellow teeth, which indicated a happy go lucky one. I can imagine the dentists at the time covertly examining the hue of their patients’ smiles during the initial checkup and blacklisting them accordingly!

Such an approach seems to be increasingly a thing of the past, as today’s dental graduates are trained to sift through the available evidence prior to deciding on the best treatment plan for their patients. However, unlike Medicine, where in simplistic terms, a pill can be proven to be effective or otherwise, dental treatment is fundamentally technical in nature. Therefore, it can be challenging to provide comparable strengths of evidence…


Fellow dental explorers

What do you think? Is today’s dentistry progressive? Is visiting your dentist a pleasant experience? And more importantly, does your dentist look like George Clooney?