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)