Most practices have music playing in the background to relax the patients, well we’ve just got back from Glastonbury Festival (do you remember when it was just plain Pilton Pop festival?) where the music through the surgery window comes live from the Pyramid stage!
We first went in 1995 as guests of friends who were working for Festival Medical Services. We discovered that alongside the volunteer doctors and nurses treating festival goers, there was a wider team of first aiders, psychiatrists, podiatrists, physios, midwives, happily for those with raging toothache, dentists.
We offered our services to the dental team and have been going ever since, working alongside enjoying the music and all the other things the festival offers.
Over the years the practice has become a base for the dental equipment, materials & instruments to be stored & maintained.
‘Are you busy?’ is the usual question our Penn Hill patients ask when they find out where we are off to in the last week of June.
The answer is ‘Yes!’
We start to set up on the Sunday before, getting the stuff on site, setting up our tent and then start treating patients from the Wednesday onwards. The festival site is the size of a small town, and just as you would have people accessing the on-call dental rota or in A&E in Yeovil on a Saturday night, it’s the same at Glastonbury.
A lot of the people we see on the Wednesday & Thursday are workers, who by the nature of their jobs (pop up bars, security, circus skills performers etc) travel from festival to festival & find accessing routine dental care difficult. From Friday, the music acts have started and our patients tend to be festival goers of all ages and who come from all over the country to attend the biggest performing arts festival in Europe.
Our base used to be an old ex-school dental caravan, used for inspections and treatments in rural areas like ours by the Community Dental Service. About 10 years ago (one of the ‘muddy years’), there was so much rain that a small leak in the guttering of the caravan roof led to the bowing and eventual collapse of the ceiling – luckily after the we had packed up for the weekend! We now work in a small cabin attached to the main tent of the medical centre. The medical centre resembles a field hospital with its temporary wooden floor and curtained off cubicles, including stores & pharmacy.
The cabin has a lightweight folding style chair, portable suction and a mini compressor. It’s like the mobile equipment used by the armed forces in remote regions like Afghanistan.
We can’t do anything too fancy, but are able to get people out of pain which could otherwise ruin their festival and put a strain on local services.
We try not to extract teeth, because being on a farm site it’s difficult to keep your mouth clean and the last thing anyone wants is an infected socket.
Festival Medical Services is a registered charity, and as such relies on volunteers working for free, being funded by the festival and donations from the public who use it.
We’ve had some interesting characters to treat over the years, one who had a large facial swelling and had been treating her toothache with mallow extract & clove oil. The clove oil had burnt all the inside of her cheek, which became as painful as the cause of the toothache. She had stopped at all the bars along the way to have another drink to try and block the pain so arrived well anaesthetised! Happily, we could help her and she left able to enjoy the rest of her festival.
Next year is a ‘fallow’ year, in which Michael Eavis lets the land at Worthy Farm recover. We have decided to give it a rest and this was our last year working there after 22 years.
It’s been a mixture of great fun and hell on earth - we’ve seen some great bands, met some fantastic people. We’ve also been soaked through, sloshing through the mud coming back to a tiny tent trying to get changed without getting everything else wet!
Glastonbury, it’s been an adventure!