Personal story of dentistry under Socialism in Czechoslovakia

By Xanthippa Socrates with much thanks

I was born and raised behind the Iron Curtain, the daughter of a political dissident.

Yeah, fun times.
I would like to talk to you about the socialized dentistry I grew up with.
As a kid, you were not entitled to just making a dental appointment:  in grade 3, a screener came to our school.  Those of us who needed dental work were given an appointment at a dental clinic.
On the appointed day and time, I showed up at the dental clinic.  My parents were going through a rough patch and did not come with me, but apart from a parent/chaperone, the big thing that I was missing was a ‘present’ for the dentist.
All the other kids and the adults accompanying them had packets of imported coffee beans, expensive boxes of chocolates, bottles of alcohol, or other rather expensive gifts.  I had nothing, but did not realize the significance of this.
While in the waiting room, I became rather afraid, because I heard howls of pain from the dentistry room.
Once it was my turn, I entered and there were 6 dental chairs, side-by-side, and I was shown into the second from left one.  A dentist came up to me, told me to open my mouth wide, and looked in.  Then, without any notice, I felt a horrible burning pain…
I screamed and, without consciously thinking of it, my jaws shut closed.
“We have a biter here!’ the dentist called out and everyone stared at me, shaming me…I wished I could have fallen through the floor, that is how ashamed I felt.
At this point, I would like to point out that in this type of dentistry, there was no freezing (thought a waste of resources) and, unlike in the West where a stream of cooling water is directed at the tooth – well this was never considered.  Plus, nobody ever warned me this might hurt, or when they were about to drill…
Shamed and shunned, I was moved to the rightmost chair where there was an assistant who had ‘the finger’ – a metal sleeve that went over her finger, with really sharp edges.  I suspect the sharp edges were a feature – to condition the patients against the need for their use.
She had stuck this between my jaws – again, no notice – and kept them apart while the dentist drilled away, no stopping or pausing for a breath or to relieve pain.  When she had smugly removed ‘the finger’, I did not know what was more painful – the four drilled teeth or the cut-up insides of my cheek.
By the way, all 4 of my cavities were in baby teeth – so no fillings were put in because that would be a waste of resources.  After all, they would fall out, eventually – so why fill them?
My next dental visit, they pulled 4 (different) teeth.
I had learned from my earlier mistake and brought presents, but they still thought using anaesthetics was a waste of resources.
Yeay for free dental care!!!  Yeay for socialism!!!

About Eeyore

Canadian artist and counter-jihad and freedom of speech activist as well as devout Schrödinger's catholic

16 Replies to “Personal story of dentistry under Socialism in Czechoslovakia”

  1. Tbh, this is nonsense. Exaggerated projection of childhood traumas and fobias.
    I grew up in midsize town in one of asian republics of ex-ussr. There were few kids dental clinics. Not the top notch level, but decent and easily accessible.

    • I am more amused than traumatized and when I know the pain is coming, I can take it rather well.

      For example, when I was pregnant, out of an abundance of caution not to affect my fetus, I had chosen to have all dental work done without freezing, and this included a root canal and getting a molar pulled.

      It was more about the attitude of the dentists/staff – and this attitude is pervasive both under Socialism, but also in a number of unionized workplaces in The West.

      Once, I was working a union job and about two weeks in, my union rep came to have chat with me: he proceeded to tell me to stop working so fast…or else.

      Same attitude.

  2. Weird. Same country. Dentist on the way to school. Only one seat, no weird shaming practices. No presents for the dentist ever needed. When my tooth hurt once, I just dropped by on the way to school, and was attended to, no paperwork, no money needed.

    All dental work was without anesthesia, but I never expected any, did not know it existed.

    This is not a push for socialism. I liked the low-bureaucracy aspect.

    Another time, we kids we running around, and something sharp got embedded in my eye. We walked down to the hospital that was a block away. I had never been there as a patient. We kids were maybe 12. The doorman said it was after closing hours. I told him about my eye, and he remembered that the eye dr was still there. Sent us up. She welcomed us with a smile, took the sliver out of my eye, and put in some magic ointment that made me see with preternatural sharpness for a few days, in the dark. I loved the informality of it all. And how about “child empowerment”? 🙂

    • Sadists can be anywhere. It’s not a fair characterization of the dentistry or pediatric dentistry in the USSR.

      A close friend of my parents was liberated from concentration camp by the Soviet army. He went on to learn and practice dentistry in a clinic in Minsk. Till he was purged and sent to gulag.

      By no means a sadist.

      My Russki says he was treated properly there. No anesthetic – they simply didn’t know about it. Way back then – he’s a senior citizen – I don’t know how much it was used much in this country.

    • Yesterday we had a problem with comments None were working. Then we fixed it. We apologize to all for the inconvenience. Sometimes when you try and cure a cold you kill the patient.

  3. My first long-term Girlfriend, Veronika Nejeralova, she escaped ALONE from Czechoslovakia when she was still a Teenager in 1986.
    Her Parents had been dissidents and had disappeared a few years earlier, she never knew or found out what had happened to them.
    She was placed in a Home/Orphanage, met a boy and one thing led to another and she fell pregnant.
    The Baby was aborted by the Authorities and since she was considered “Damaged” Goods, was sterilized at the same time.
    She HATED Socialism/Communism with a passion.
    Veronika never told me everything of what had happened to her, in 1989 she came with me to Lome/Togo/West Africa and then to Kigali/Rwanda/ East Africa and when in April of 1994 the Genocide happened I manage to get her out on one of the last Planes.
    The last thing I ever heard was that her Plane had to crash-land in Tanzania, but nobody was hurt.
    I tried for years to trace her, but to no avail, and I hope she lives happily somewhere nice and safe.

  4. While working as a U.S. Army contractor at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo. I had to have surgery at a hospital in Macedonia. I noticed a sign on the wall with a hand full of money with a red circle and red line through it. I ask my Macedonian friend what it meant. He said you are not supposed to give bribes to the doctors and nurses for better care. I ask him if I should give the money. He ask me if I wanted good care. I said of course. He just smiled.

  5. The same happens to me in communist Romania.
    Not only in dentistry, but also in surgery, orthopedics, etc.
    It was one of the reasons I decided to become a highly qualified nurse, and to try to reduce patients’ unnecessary suffering.
    I loved my job, which I practiced for 45 years, avoiding as much as possible to cause suffering to my patients.
    Sorry for my bad english.

    • Thank you for your comment Maria. Xanthippa has more medical stories similar to this one. Maybe she can be convinced to write a few more for us.

      • It would be wonderful if Xanthippa, or someone else, would share such medical stories, sad or maybe happier.
        Here in Romania we had one of the cruelest communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe, with repercussions on all aspects of daily life.
        I don’t want to hear of any kind of dictatorship in my life.
        P.S Thank you for your articles. I feel honored that your blog is “Vlad ?epe?”.

      • …and I’ve heard plenty of other USSR experiences that have been favorable. Individual practitioners who used traditional remedies because they didn’t have anything else, who did their best to relieve suffering.

        30 or 40 years ago in the USA, corrupt doctors were taking out ovaries and tonsils on an industrial scale. Lopping off breasts “just to make sure”. They were reimbursed by Blue Cross, coverage almost universal for union workers.

        No doubt you could find medical horror stories in the “free world”. Poor training, carelessness, malpractice. Medications over- or wrongly- prescribed based on advice of pharmaceutical companies’ pushers.

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