The Whole Tooth

I'm acquiring a fear of dentists, "dentiphobia"? I can't recall ever disliking visits to the dentist before so this is a new development for me. Yes, given enough time and a few more treats like my last visit I'm sure I could try and get through the rest of my life without ever feeling the need to visit one again. I never lived in fear of the dental profession before and jokes aimed in that direction, while

funny, didn't have any "deep" significance for me. Now, I'm beginning to laugh a little more when I hear them.

Many years ago in a different country I went to see a dentist for a "quote". I should have realized before I even saw the dentist that here I was dealing with a man of discerning taste and a passion for antiques. This was emphasized in the waiting room. The only chairs available were genuine antiques resting spaciously on a plush carpet. Quite odd as there were at least four times the patients and people were milling around this tasteful setting like figures in a Lowry painting admiring the posters on the wall. I should have left then as the only "posters" on the wall simply instructed patients to "Clean your teeth before seeing the dentist". When one is used to reading entertaining information about gingivitis or graphic depictions of a "bad tooth" to see nothing but instructions to "Clean your teeth" should have told me something.

However, this was "Day Two" without any cigarettes and I could cheerfully cope with any situation that could arise. To say I was "laid-back" would be underestimating my state of mind. I was in that state of "total consciousness" that you only find in a smoker who is "cold-turkey". Logic was not only an ally - it was also my weapon. I looked around at my fellow passengers in life's long journey and pitied those that relied on the extra stimulation of nicotine to survive. I scorned those that had never smoked for not having had to walk the corridors of Hell like I had to attain this state of grace. In short, I wasn't fit to be in decent company. Yet here I was visiting a dentist who seemed more interested in "Queen Anne" legs than teeth.

My visit to this particular dentist was quite short. The man seemed busy, so busy in fact I was surprised he had time to see me, as I merely wanted him to examine a tooth. Have you ever noticed the strange approach some dentists have? They place the patient in a chair; push some sort of wedge or gag in their mouth and then proceed to ask them what the problem is. This puts the patient in a situation where they either stare at the dentist and jab a finger at the problem tooth or make strange gagging noises closely resembling the death throes of a heart-attack victim. Some dentists seem to understand the latter as a form of language and proceed to operate on the information.

Perhaps they have training in this. It isn't difficult to imagine a dental convention where the participants are met at the door with a programme and two or three cotton-wool balls they immediately pop into their mouths. Just think of it, a room full of dental proselytes gobbling away. I suppose the speakers would have one of those wedges similar to the one that this dentist put in my mouth that day.

It was a long time ago and I'm sure the dental profession have moved on from spring-loaded wooden wedges that were used then. Having placed the wedge in my mouth; the dentist pushed me into a reclining position and asked "What's the problem?" Not wishing to gesticulate like a demented Parisian cab driver or sound like Neanderthal man I simply starred back at him. "Mr. Watson, what's the problem?" no reply. "If you don't tell me what the problem is I can't help you". The tooth did hurt, but not as much as this treatment was hurting me, no reply. This dentist was in a hurry and he'd just met his nemesis, a belligerent, stoic that had no intention of losing the little dignity he still had even though the wedge was bearing down on the painful tooth, no reply.

At this point the dentist heaved a heavy sigh, removed the wooden gag from my mouth and flipped a lever that brought the chair back to its normal position. "Now Mr. Watson, what is the problem?" Wiping my mouth with the towel that the nurse tentatively offered me I said "It was difficult to talk with that device in my mouth, could you look at this tooth (indicating the painful molar) and tell me how much it will cost to remove it?" The wedge was slapped in the other side of my jaw and the chair fell back with a speed that only crash-test dummies know of
Having examined the tooth I was told that it would cost several dollars and could only be done at some date before the end of the century. I wasn't surprised by this information as the man was busy and I had been a positive pain. I politely thanked him for the information, apologized for not having cleaned my teeth in his waiting room and left. I'm sure that dentist was good at his chosen profession and taking into account my belligerent mood he coped quite well with me. I never went back to that dentist and I will always wonder if his obvious love of antique furniture  extended to the surgical implements he used.

To be fair, since that one occasion other visits I have had to dentists have been pleasant and useful. However, I always check the dentist's waiting room now to see if he/she has a penchant for antiques and I must be the only person I know that is happy to see posters of decaying teeth decorating the room.

My most recent visit was prompted by a nagging pain in the jaw. The type of pain that you can't really attribute to a specific tooth but you feel must be related. I rang the dentist only to find that my usual dentist was sunning himself on some exotic beach and I would have to see the "relief" dentist. I tried to make some pathetic joke out of this and made an appointment to see him.

I was late for the appointment! Oddly enough, just before I got there the nagging pain had stopped. No one believed me! The dentist didn't, he proceeded to tap and stab at my teeth asking me, in a voice reminiscent of Peter Lorrie, "Did that hurt?". This was a new form of torture, this man was going to tap, stab and pull at every tooth in my head till I leaped out of the chair screaming "That's it!" Happily no amount of banging and thumping could make me change my opinion; the pain had gone. Having decided that I didn't need a polygraph test and that I was telling the truth they then decided to "Clean" my teeth in an effort to see if that would cause  the pain that I now didn't have. During the process they discovered several "likely candidates". Before the afternoon was out I left the chair with a numb mouth and two or three extra fillings. As I turned to go I looked at the dentist and said, "I did say I was sorry I was late" He looked at me with a glimmer of understanding and said "Oh that's a joke isn't it?" Interestingly enough after the cleaning and the thumping I don't have a slight ache in my lower jaw any more. It's more... sort of  all over.