Monday 8 December 2008

Fear (Part Four) - The Dentist

Tomorrow I have to spend half an hour in a torture chamber.

Yes, it’s that time again; my semiannual visit to the fourth level of hell – the dentist. I can’t help but picture Laurence Olivier playing Dr Christian Szell in the film “Marathon Man” torturing poor Dustin Hoffman. As the dentist puts me in the chair and comes towards me, all I hear is “Is it safe?”.

I’ve had a mild fear of dentists for years. I remember my first day at university when I happened to walk past the School of Dentistry; I became aware of something very strange. The screams of agony aside, I noticed that everybody walking into the place were either quaking with terror or grinning psychotically. It took me an instant to work out which ones were the trainee dentists and which ones were the guinea pigs. I mean, what kind of masochist would allow himself to be treated by dental students?

Intrigued by this, I made an effort to get inside the mind of a dental student. I got to know a young Indian woman who on the surface was a wonderful person – in fact we became very good friends. But when I mentioned the quaking victims, her eyes became feral and she said “Yes, I’m looking forward to practicing my art”. I felt as if she had reached into my chest and squeezed my heart.

I came to the conclusion that dentists are normal people but as soon as they get a sniff of the white coat, and pictured their instruments of torture, they mutate into sadistic beasts ready to inflict pain and torment on hapless victims like myself.

Now some of you reading this may be thinking “You are such a coward! They are there to help you!”

That is just not true. I have evidence – approximately forty years of evidence. True, my teeth are fine, but the psychological torment dentists have inflicted on me over the years is immense.

In the 70’s as a mere child a dentist was responsible for a full year of embarrassment. I was just a teenager but he didn’t care. He was a young man; cool and friendly and quite likeable. But the instant he got you into his surgery, there was a transformation to rival that of Dr Jekyll mutating into Mr Hyde. He took out four of my adult teeth without a care, telling me that my teeth overlapped and therefore needed room to manoeuvre. He made me wear not one but TWO dental braces; the first ached, the second was agony – I looked like I was trying to eat metal spaghetti.

And then there was the time when at the age of 15 I foolishly gave my mate a ride down a hill on my bike. The inevitable happened and the two of us went flying over the handlebars. I was a cushion for him. The tarmac was a cushion for me – my face hit the road, tooth first and I chipped away most of one of my front teeth. And as I lay there on the road, in complete agony with my upper lip so swollen that it looked like I had tried to glue a sausage to it, all I could think of was the dentist. “Oh no!" I wailed to my mate. "The dentist, the dentist, the dentist, …”

When I got there, all I received, apart from a temporary filling, was a severe bollocking and the ritual torture I had suffered before.

Of course, you may say that the acts of sadism perpetrated by this dentist were rare and that this dentist was particularly brutal. I can tell you that isn’t true. Eventually, he departed to cause untold terror in Birmingham. He was replaced by a young female dentist fresh out of university.

“Now then,” she said smiling as I opened my mouth. “Let’s do a thorough examination.”

Before that session, I had no fillings. After that session, I needed six – SIX!!! And she “made sure” that I needed six by impaling each tooth with a metal spike, causing me to head butt the ceiling six times. I had to have the six fillings over a period of three more appointments. Each time was more terrifying than the last. What is worse than seeing the world’s biggest needle heading towards you gum? I’ll tell you. There are TWO things worse; the first is the look of glee on the dentist’s face as the needle goes in; the second is the sound of drilling.

I have a weird phobia that makes my teeth itch; you know when you get two forks stuck together and grind the metal? My teeth are on edge when that happens, a bit like the feeling you get when fingernails scrape down a blackboard – it is pure agony. Drilling a tooth, sounds very similar to me and I am in total distress when the dentist is chiselling away chunks of my teeth with the drill.

And all the time the dentist is in your mouth with spikes and drills driven by motors, he is talking to you.

DENTIST: Are you all right?


DENTIST: There’s no need for language like that!

Why do dentists insist on talking to you when your mouth is full of equipment? And, yes they do understand you. I’ve had a conversation with my current dentist about holidays:

DENTIST: Where are you going to on holiday?


DENTIST: Hong Kong, eh? Should be nice in November. I’ve never been to Thailand, actually. Is it nice?

Of course, these days dental appointments are made all the more traumatic because not only do you have to suffer the dentist, you have to face the dental hygienist, who is, in many ways much worse. The session goes something like this.

HYGIENIST: What have I told you about brushing too hard?


HYGIENIST: Yes you can. I’m sorry but now I have to scrape all the tartar away and I’m going to have to use THIS!

And then the hygienist pulls out a drill with a spike on the end of it and proceeds to attack my teeth with it. The noise is unbearable and the agony is unspeakably horrible. And all the time, his partner in crime, the dental hygienist assistant, has a hoover in my mouth, sucking up the saliva and my tongue (and possibly my lungs). And still the hygienist insists on talking to me as if I am a child. And I can’t respond properly because my tongue is three quarters of the way up the hoover nozzle getting dangerously close to the motor.

HYGIENIST: You know you really should use dental floss.


HYGIENIST: There’s no need for language like that!

Anyway, this time tomorrow it will all be over. I know that for six months I will not have to enter the torture chamber have to cringe at fifteen tons of dental equipment, most of which will end up in my mouth. I won’t have to have rubber-gloved hands shoved in my mouth. I will be free of spiked drilling equipment being jammed into my teeth and gums in the name of dental hygiene. And best of all I won’t have to say “GAH! GEAGE GE AGONE!” when the dentist says “Is it safe?”


Dwacon said...

Just had four fillings and a crown. I feel your pain...

Plastic Mancunian said...

Poor you :-(

I was lucky this time. Still got told off by the hygienist but I can cope with that ...