January 17, 2010

Gold Teeth and Dental Care in Sibu Then and Now

My mum looked trendy in this 1954 Kodak Black and White taken by my late father. She was holding the most precious possession of hers : a son ! My father a keen photographer took loads of photos of them from the day he was born.

This is one of my favourite photos. Mum looks so happy and my brother is as beautiful as an advertisement baby. (He was on KLIM)

My mother told me that after the war most young ladies in Sibu and the villages in the vicinity went to have their teeth capped with gold because it was a healthy thing to do - to prevent teeth decay and Dr. Tiong Teck King was promoting gold teeth capping . Flouride was not known yet then.

I asked her why she did it. She said she did not actually know what she was doing but she followed the other ladies "in order to protect her teeth". She was about 18 when she did her (removeable) gold capping.

Mum used all her teacher's salary to pay for four capping. Later when she married into my father's family she took off the gold capping because none of her sisters-in-law who were city girls had them. No she was not embarrassed but she just wanted to be "one of the family may be".

However I remember many of our neighbours in Brooke Drive like Ah Chuo Moo and Mrs. Lau Boon Ting all had gold teeth capping until they passed away in the 1990's and 2000's. Whenever I meet a lady with gold capping I would remember my mother's gold teeth and feel so connected!! They are my mother's contemporaries and would have gone through the havoc and tragedies of the Japanese Occupation and old rubber tapping days. The little gold they had was part of the wealth they could show.



My mother and brother Hsuing about 1954 in Pulau Kerto (Hua Hong Ice Factory which was established by Rev. James Hoover and my grandfather)


Both men and women of all races had their teeth capped with gold (which was about $20 per gram) in the 1940's and 1950's with popular Sibu dentist was Dr. Tiong Tech King of Channel Road. His clinic is run by his son nowadays but if the American hip hop rage has swept over Sarawak then young folks would be making a bee line towards Dr. Tiong's clinic I am sure.


A woman of Kajisltan today









Gold capping was not just popular in Sarawak in the past for in certain regions of the world, especially in the former Soviet Central Asia and the Caucasus, gold teeth are worn as a status symbol, a symbol of wealth. Originally the most expensive historical dental prosthetic, these are sometimes now installed in place of healthy teeth or as crowns over filed-down healthy teeth.

Grills, false tooth covers made of metal, have become a popular hip hop fashion in the United States. While some rap musicians have had their gold teeth permanently attached to existing teeth, most people who purchase them for aesthetic purposes opt for removable gold teeth caps.In 2005, Nelly released the rap single Grillz which promotes the dental apparatus.

In the USA gold teeth as a fashion statement began in Miami Florida sometime in the 1960s, but it wasn't until the 1980s that gold teeth became popular in the hip-hop world.



As we grew up we left the traditional Chinese dentist like Dr. Tiong behind and opted for government dentists like Dr. Sisson from the Philippines. For a while my parents took us to Dr. Chai Pok Ai who came from Kuching and who became a household name in Sibu. I had an accident at hockey and had to have two dentures. Dr. Chai made them for me.( Mum told me that I would not get a good man to marry me because I was so ugly. That was verbal punishment as I chose hockey over housework.)

Mum later had bad migraines caused by poor dental health according to Dr. Chai. With my father's consent it took her three months to have all her teeth extracted and she looked so beautiful with her new pearl coloured dentures. Her nervous smiled improved and she became more confident.

In the 1960's my younger siblings and their generation in Sibu were attended to by the wonderful school dental programme dentists and beautiful dental nurses like cousin Wong Yuk Hee. Indeed we did not spend much on dental care. Sarawak's School Dental Programme has been noted as one of the best in the world and is still on going.

Finally we came to know Dr. Teh who went to the same Methodist Church with us. We went to see him and brought along all our in laws too until we moved away from Sibu. Penang born Mrs. Teh (Madam Lee) is the first female lawyer practising in Sibu. The Teh Dental Clinic as well as Mrs.Teh's legal office were above Ban Chuan Coffee shop facing the Sarawak Hotel. I can still vividly recall the day Dr. Teh said that I would lose approximately one tooth per pregnancy. How right he was!



References : Wikipedia
Photos : Woman from Rajisltan (Wikipedia)

23 comments:

Ann said...

Re: the photo in my site:

That 4th photo was a kangaroo. He played dead, and kept still even when people tickled him.

I went Alamack when I read about your mum's teeth being pulled out. One of my maternal aunty too, had also her teeth extracted because they didn't look good. Gee!!!!!

Sibu dentist of yester-year, my Dad had a sarawak Scholarship ( British colony) to study in London, before he went, he had a dental check up. The dentist was to extract one bad tooth. Turned out, he made a mistake and extracted a good tooth, so it ended out with two teeth. A joke in our family. Imagine the court cases today of malpractices.

I owe my complete set of my own pearlies to Dental nurse, Miss Chew. She returned from training in NZ, and because she was my dad's student, she got me to see her quite early. Turned out, I was the best model, I didn't finch or scream. So when a student was afraid of her, she would send for me to have a demonstration. I remember one girl my junior would scream and scream, and I thought it was quite stupid of her.

Any idea where that Miss Chew/Chiu, daughter of a Dr Chiu,, step sister of my classmate Danny Chiu is? what about Danny?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ann

I will ask the Chius about her. Dr. Chiu Nai Ding owned a clinic in Blacksmith Road and he was a very popular and well respected man. Today he would have been a YB or even a minister. Another Chiu whom we called Woo Dieh is in Kuching now. I am not sure about Danny. But Chow Tiong Kee will let me know. Kee Kee is one year your senior I believe.

Catherine Chiu is in Kuching too.

so nice to hear of another good testimony on the Sarawak School Dental Programme.

Cheers.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ann

By the way when I was doing my first year teaching in a small town the dentist in the government dental clinic gave one tooth anesthetics but pull out the wrong (but good tooth)...you can imagine the pain!!

Did I scream?

Bengbeng said...

u managed to keep the pic of yr mum n brother.. a priceless 'kenangan'. i remember once long time ago i was asked if i would like to have gold tooth in a clinic, it was like 'huh?' ... so not me hehhe. I didnt :)

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Bengbeng
No I took my father's black and white (square ones) to my friend's photo studio (Coney of Miri) to scan and enlarged to 8R. Wonderful momentos for this CNY. I made two sets of three photos...

slowly lah...too pricey.

But I am really delighted with myself and modern technology!!

Daniel Yiek said...

In the old days, there were dentists that were not certified.

There was a joke flying around that said that the older a person gets, the more metal he has.

Gold in the teeth, mercury in the blood, lead in the air, metal in the bone and heart...and stones in the kidney!

maney said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Daniel
Yeah there were a few uncertified dentists in Sibu but Dr. Tiong was really good. His clinic is even a tourist spot now because of the old equipment.

Have you seen it?

wenn said...

wow, nice picture of yr mum n brother!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks Wenn.

Mum is still around!

This is indeed a very great treasure for us. Dad was a good photographer too. He used a Rolliflex. We still have the camera!!

Uncle Lee said...

Hi Sarawakiana, I used to see old days lots of people with gold teeth.
I am very impressed with your memory of names and places.
You keep a diary?

If not for my old, faded diaries I kept from wayyyyy back, I will not be able to recollect the experiences.
Always nice read your postings, more a learning adventure.
You have a nice day, Lee.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Uncle Lee
Thanks for visiting. How is the weather?
We have been watching lots of CNN and the Haiti Earthquake. Some of the footages are worst than the imaginative scenes in horror movies!!

No - I don't have a diary. May be just good memroy of names and places. Thanks for the compliments. Wow I have never met a man who has kept a diary! Rare breed indeed.

You too have a nice day.

Joey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joey said...

Just like today, I remember when there are imitations of real braces that you just have to put in your mouth and voila, instant braces. Children thought it's cool but once you tried the real braces, oh my, you'll be hurt for sure.

twinkles

Matilda said...

I very much enjoyed this post, reminding me as it did of my mother and grandmother, both of whom had a full set of beautiful, permanent gold crowns.

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Grand Junction Chiropractor said...

wow! golden teeth? do we still have them now? when i was a kid, i used to see other kids with silver teeth.but that indicates they have rotten teeth before.so i was never a fan of it.but with golden teeth, it sounds cooler than silver.

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I'm glad to have a good dental health, this is very imoprtante in a modern dental care, I congratulate you with all my heart

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Ensurai said...

Thanks for your comments. Nice to hear about your mother and grandmother having good teeth!!

Unknown said...

You are welcome. Gold teeth were a tradition for the women of my family and my mother had her teeth done when she was a teenager. So I only ever knew her with gold teeth. As a child I loved my mother's smile but did not think her gold teeth were out of the ordinary, especially because her mother - my grandmother - also had them. Such nice memories.