The dreaded dentist

No, I’m not going to the dentist. But three of my eight colleagues have been in the last week so we’ve been talking about it a lot at work.

I have a ridiculously over-sensitive gag reflex. It means a dentist can’t even give me a quick check-up. When I was seventeen or eighteen, I broke one of my back teeth. In fact, I did better than that. I broke that tooth four times, which is better than breaking four teeth once each. It hurt a lot for a few years and eventually, I had nothing left of it but a shard of bone/tooth sticking out of my gum, a proper spike that I had to be careful not to catch with my tongue.

In mid 2013, I broke a back tooth opposite. Don’t even know what I did. It hurt a lot too. I tried to fix the pain by rinsing it in vodka but it didn’t work. I had to face up to the fact that I was twenty-eight, I had two broken teeth and it was time to be a grown-up and go to the dentist.

The NHS dentist didn’t do well with me. I gagged and choked and cried and she was Polish, it was her first day, she didn’t know how the lights worked or where the gloves were and she kept ordering me “you must breathe!” over and over again, which didn’t help, and then decided all she could do was refer me to the dental centre at the county hospital.

The county dentist couldn’t do a lot better but he was more experienced, he had me squeezing the nurse’s hand, he ordered me sternly to keep still and stop squirming away from him and then decided that the best way to fix those two broken teeth was to simply remove them – under general anaesthetic.

But first I had to have an x-ray. I had to hold a stick thing in my mouth while the x-ray was done and we both knew I wasn’t any good at that. I was instructed to practise using a pencil and I went home and panicked and then googled it.

Numbing throat spray is no good – I gag as soon as it hits my throat. Weirdly, what helped was salt. Put a bit on the tip of your tongue and it calms the reflex. And when I turned up for my x-ray, I discovered you don’t hold the stick in your mouth like a horse with a bit, it’s like a lolly stick and you just hold the end of it between your teeth. With the help of the salt, I could do that. In fact, I was so proud of my achievement that when I went back through the dentist to the hospital, I told him about the salt trick and we used it for him to have a quick look in my mouth. A quick look – it wouldn’t have held out for a double extraction but I could now cope with a quick examination.

The two teeth came out under general anaesthetic. The county dentist told me that the best thing for people like me is to make sure we’re diligent about keeping our teeth clean so that we don’t have to go to the dentist at all. And I don’t. Haven’t been back since I had those teeth out. I have no cavities, I need no fillings or crowns or root canals. Good teeth, except that I cracked two of them.

Meanwhile, my colleague Jayne says “once you start having things done to your teeth, you keep having to have them done” and that does seem true. I see one in particular come in for crown after crown after filling after root canal, getting things replaced, getting things redone – it makes me wonder what on earth kind of damage he’s doing if he needs this much work done so regularly and what miracle I’m doing by not needing anything when I haven’t been to the dentist for five years.

My other thoughts about teeth are that we just accept that old people all wear dentures. What on Earth happened that an entire generation has lost every tooth in their head? My mum just says “the war” and I know there was rationing and nutrition was poor but poor enough for an entire generation to lose every tooth? Really, really, what happened?!

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