I’ve never tried my hand at lion taming but common sense tells me that it’s like visiting a dentist in that you should never breathe that final sigh of relief until you step out of their cage.
‘Just a couple of small fillings and we’ll get them done today so you don’t need to come back.’
‘Hurrah!’ I thought, punching the metaphorical air from behind my yellow protective sunglasses which made me look like some 1970s disco crooner, a flesh and blood Disco Stu straight from The Simpsons’ waiting room.
‘Okay, I’ll just numb you and then we’ll do some x-rays to make sure that everything is okay.’
I nod with enthusiasm. I was only going to be in The Chair for half an hour and then I’d be skipping down the street looking for the first shop selling sherbet and boiled sweets.
The numbing happened painlessly and then there was a bit of drilling with wasn’t exactly pain free, despite so much of my face being numb that I couldn’t even feel my boots. I always mean to ask why hitting a nerve gets through the numbing agent but by the time I want to ask these things, I’m incapable of speech.
But questions are for another day. I’ve only got another twenty minutes and then I’ll be able to escape…
As the drill spun down, my dentist sat back and tapped my shoulder reassuringly.
‘Okay, that’s the drilling done. Let me just check the xrays…’
Off he goes. I’m sitting there, a couple of cavities in my dead mouth, anticipating getting out and getting back to work. The dentist takes his time looking over the x-rays before he comes back to me.
‘Okay, I think I’ll have to send you to the hospital,’ he says.
Holy shit! What is this?
‘You have some crud above a tooth that might require a minor surgical procedure to clean out…’
Double holy shit and triple what is this?
‘We might be able to save the tooth but you’ll need a new crown which will cost you everything you’ve earned in the last two months but if that doesn’t hold you’ll lose the tooth and need a bridge which will cost you everything you’ve earned in the last year and when we’re waiting to fit your bridge you might want to wear a palate so you don’t have a huge gap in the front of your smile which makes you look like an alligator farmer straight out of a Louisiana swamp… Oh, the palate will cost you everything you’ll be lucky to earn next year…’
This was explained more professionally than that but the meaning was the same.
The mild panic attack I then had in the dentist’s chair was only relieved by my dentist’s calm manner and a quick glimpse I had in a mirror that indeed confirmed that I looked damn cool in yellow sunglasses. Yet I think my eventual calm was mainly down to my dentist’s kindness. He has a gentility that’s unbelievable. It’s why I always go to him and why I trust him. It’s probably the reason why I’m not sobbing in a corner right now. He explained things. He makes the minor surgical procedure sound like a minor surgical procedure even to me, a man who can turn a pimple into an advanced case of gigantism with a side dose of botulism.
It has not always been the case. In the past, my dentists have been butchers. My first was even nicknamed ‘the butcher’ and as a child I remember visiting his surgery which was in the front room of an ordinary house taken straight from a Edward Gorey print. Every tool he used looked pre-War and seemed to have been licked clean by the dogs that sometimes came in from the living room. One of my earliest memories is having teeth removed under gas. I still recall the smell of the rubber cup they held over my nose. A day later, my tongue turned green and I was a pariah in school because I had the most unholy halitosis. I was like something from the Exorcist and like exorcisms, my green tongue was never explained.
Over the years, the surgery has changed immeasurably. It’s the same house but after numerous renovations it’s unrecognisable and contains a very modern dental surgery with an ultra-high tech computer system on which you can Tweet your x-rays only minutes after they’re taken. The staff have changed too. They’re now more professional yet also more personable and seem genuinely interested in making the whole thing less painful.
Long since gone are the two dentists who made such a mess of the tooth that will now force me to make a hospital visit. I’m hoping that this dentist might finally fix the problem either by giving me a crown that doesn’t fall out every five minutes or pull the tooth so I can be rid of the nuisance, even if that means wearing a bridge, though I’m not entirely sure what that means.
I still can’t get over the disappointment that my thirty minutes has probably turned into six months or more of work or how much of what little earnings I’m scraping together will go to pay for all of this. It’s now a few weeks before my next appointment, when I’ll get an appointment at a hospital, perhaps treatment at the hospital. Only after all that will treatment on the tooth begin.
I’m freaked out, of course. I hope the crud drains away, as the dentist thinks it might, but if the experts think I need the crud removing from above the tooth, then everything becomes a little more real. I recall phrases like ‘peel back the gum’, ‘incision’ and ‘bone’ but I’m telling myself that surely it can’t be as painful as drilling into a tooth, which is the bit that always makes me fret. It’s not the one that sounds like a high pitched drill that strikes fear but the one that sounds like a slow low grind that always gives me pain. That was enough for one day. I’d hoped it would be enough for the next six months but I see I’m going to be Dentistry’s plaything for a little while longer.