Jack and Donald McNicol

The dental health of thousands of people in central Scotland has been in the capable hands of Jack and Donald McNicol for half a century.

Jack and his son Donald have given 50 years of continuous service to people in the Stenhousemuir and Falkirk area since Jack started as a dentist in 1958. Donald followed his father into the practice in 1989 and took over after his father retired in 1992.

“When I started people would come in and say – ‘I want that tooth out.’. . . .”

In that time they have seen many changes. The most striking according to Jack has been the attitudes of people themselves to their teeth. “When I started people would come in and say – ‘I want that tooth out.’ I would tell them I could save the tooth but it made no difference. When I was finishing my career, it was the exact opposite. I would tell a patient a tooth would have to come out and they would say – ‘can you not save it?’ ”

Dentists in the 1950s and 60s pulled out a lot of teeth. It was the time when it was said the best wedding present a father could give his daughter was a gleaming set of false teeth. It was also a time when many practices carried out their own general anaesthesia and the thought of dentists having to protect themselves from the risk of contracting infections like HIV or hepatitis was unheard of.

The biggest changes identified by Donald include technical advances such as the advent of the high speed dental drill and the introduction of disposable needles. Prior to the disposable needle, dentists reused and often had to re-sharpen needles used for pain relief. Sharp needles and improved anaesthetics makes today’s dentistry as pain free as it can be.

Donald also practices what he describes as four-handed dentistry compared with the two-handed version familiar in his father’s day. The additional two hands come from dental assistants who play a much more active role in treatment today than in previous times.

Unfortunately, one thing that has remained unchanged has been the extent of dental disease. The average five year old in Forth Valley today has four rotten teeth as sweets and fizzy drinks continue to take their toll. As a young dental student Jack recalled attending lectures where students were told how adding fluoride to the water supply was going to change all that but it has never happened in Scotland.

The McNicols strongly believe that NHS dentistry is the fairest way to provide services for the whole population. “It would be a disaster if dentists left the NHS in big numbers because many patients would not be able to afford the care, “ said Donald. However, he believes the new system of allowances has made NHS dentistry more attractive than it once was and has helped to stabilise its future.

“We are a family dental practice trying to service our community,“ Donald added. “I can see a child followed by an adult, followed by another child and so on. They come from different parts of the area, from different social backgrounds and with different problems. I love that – that is general dental practice.”

Donald McNicol
Chairman, Scottish Dental Practice Board

Jack McNicol
Retired Dentist

Jack and Donald McNicol

The Strathclyde fluoride case – at the time the longest and costliest in Scottish legal history – ended in 1983 with Lord Jauncey’s ruling that Strathclyde Regional Council did not have powers to put fluoride in the water supply.

Public health officials argued that putting fluoride in would bring huge reductions in the appalling tooth decay among a sweet-toothed nation.

Catherine McColl, a Glasgow pensioner disagreed. She secured legal aid to fight Strathclyde Region and the case lasted three years.

The epidemiologist Sir Richard Doll later described his time as an expert witness as the worst two weeks of his life. The issue remains controversial to this day.