Pop your own abscess

Rory Scothorne

  • The New Poverty by Stephen Armstrong
    Verso, 242 pp, £12.99, October 2017, ISBN 978 1 78663 463 4
  • Poverty Safari by Darren McGarvey
    Luath, 244 pp, £7.99, November 2017, ISBN 978 1 912147 03 8

Two years ago a woman from Dewsbury called Claire Skipper, suffering from toothache, went into her garden shed, clamped the offending tooth in a pair of pliers, and pulled. Her tooth broke. There had been no vacancies at her local NHS practice and she couldn’t afford private care or the journey to the nearest emergency clinic in Bradford. A week later, in ‘indescribable’ pain, she went to the Real Tooth Project, a ‘pay as you feel’ dental clinic that had been set up in Dewsbury with the support of DentAid, an international NGO. DentAid’s UK operations began in 2015, providing a charitable alternative to what Stephen Armstrong calls ‘DIY Dentistry’. In a chapter that’s almost impossible to read without flinching, Armstrong tells story after story of individuals forced by the scarcity of public services and the cost of private treatment into self-dentistry, sometimes aided by cheap off-the-shelf ‘kits’ for basic treatments up to and including replacing lost fillings. Armstrong first came across the phenomenon in Paisley, where one woman, concerned about being fined for a missed dentist’s appointment and apprehensive about future treatment costs, ‘resorted to popping her own mouth abscess with a fork’.

The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

You are not logged in