I’ve never seen my dentist’s teeth. Or her nose come to that. They are always hidden behind a pure white clinical face mask. Her eyes are beautiful with a classic black eyeliner, which extends alluringly beyond the corners, suggesting there is beauty hidden behind the mask. Somehow pain is all that more bearable when inflicted by a pretty woman called Kataryna. It reminds me of what I read about early eighteenth century dentistry. The patient would be filled with brandy and a naked woman paraded in front of them. I’m not sure what they did if there was a woman in the chair. The theory was this took the mind off pain. I prefer a more modern anaesthetic although I don’t mind having a probably attractive dentist carrying out the work.
She has an accent which I have never worked out. It could be Polish, Swedish or Latvian. As I have difficulty in understanding even her routine businesslike conversation through the medical niqab, I never dared ask.
Helloooow Mr Lamport. How you are? Any change to medical from last visit? No? Just sign here please. You have checkup and clean with me. Do you have problem since last visit?
Nothing that a handful of Nurofen didn’t cure.
That good. Put these glasses please. Open wide.
She pokes around with a metal spike, stretching my mouth beyond elastic limits, and recites a confusion of numbers and things to the dental assistant like 6th occlusal cavity watch, left 6 upper missing. Over the years missing has increased and it is the only one of two dental terms I fully understand. I flinch with a sharp pain.
Apology Mr Lamport. I think we must fix this one now. OK?
I think Nurofen worked last time but I try to say yes with wide open mouth which comes out like
Mr Lamport, you feel leetle preek now.
Which is the other dental term I fully understand as a giant needle ahead of a frighteningly large syringe enters my mouth. She once asked if I would rather not have the injection as it was only a small filling. I told her I’d rather have a little prick thank you very much.
I used to be scared of the dentist’s hypodermic. What cured me was gas. Nitrous oxide or laughing gas, administered for the extraction of a wisdom tooth. I had never realised that counting to ten with a stainless steel rubrics cube clamped between your jaws could be that hilarious. I giggled about as far as four or five and found myself falling down a well into complete blackness. The odd thing about a general anaesthetic is that it’s not like sleep. It actually feels like a small part of your life has gone missing. I’ve never noticed the time just before going under and have always been too groggy to do so when coming round, so the amount lost is always a mystery.
The strange thing about coming round is that I felt as if falling down a well towards light, leaving me totally disorientated. I remember the dentist, anaesthetist and nurse all laughing as I came back to the world. Maybe I’d farted, said something rude while under, or perhaps the nurse had given me a poke in the genitals to revive me. They didn’t laugh for long. The nurse told me to rinse and spit. As I leaned over the stainless steel cup my stomach gave a great heave. It seems as well as foregoing breakfast, I now had to forego last night’s dinner, retrospectively. The next thing I remember is waking up again in an ante room with the nurse holding a cold compress on my brow. The experience completely cured my fear of the needle.
Fillings today are nothing like they used to be. Great balls of mercury amalgam forced into a gaping cavity, nicely pre-drilled out. One rinsed and spat shrapnel into the spittoon. Those metal masterpieces lasted for decades, and when they eventually fell out they made a significant clink as they hit the dinner plate, leaving you in shock with a crater in your mouth the size of Vesuvius for your tongue to explore. I never could understand why people with interesting dental histories did not die of mercury poisoning. Mercury is highly toxic after all*. You have probably heard of the expression ‘mad as a hatter’. This comes from the time when felt hats were treated with mercury salts as a preservative. Exposure made the hatters teeth actually drop out. Rather ironic as now it was helping to keep them in. It also caused the shakes and symptoms of madness. Nevertheless, I seem to have escaped with the fillings that I had, as do most people with proud lines of silver fillings.
*For those who want confirmation of the potency of mercury as a toxin read the story of methyl mercury pollution in Minimata Bay, Japan. A tragic story dating back to 1956, where organisations failed to respond to one of the worst ever cases of mercury pollution. The situation was either misunderstood or swept under the carpet for many years resulting in untold death and suffering. The sea borne pollution entered the food chain via fish and shellfish, a large staple of the Japanese diet. It also killed thousands of cats and dogs, and became known as dancing cat disease as the cats went mad and danced around before dying. Metallic mercury, the stuff we used to stick our fingers in at school while the teacher wasn’t looking, has a highly toxic vapour. The dentists assistant has to be very careful when mixing liquid mercury with the amalgam powder which contains silver and tin, amongst other things. Once this has set solid in your cavity it is claimed to be entirely safe. For many fillings these days plastics are used but there are some situations where only the strength of an amalgam will suffice.
I always arrange the earliest appointments. This avoids the delays that occur as the day grows longer. I’m usually waiting in the empty car park behind the surgery at ten to eight. The staff car park is already full with BMWs and Audis, along with what I assume are the nurses cars. They unlock the doors at eight sharp and I’m the first in the waiting room. They used to have a nice tank of tropical fish to watch, but that has been replaced by a TV screen which shows a loop of adverts for cosmetic dentistry, porcelain caps and the like, even teeth that screw into little sockets in your jaw, and what the early and final stages of oral cancer look like and why you should not smoke.
I preferred the tropical fish.
It is now quarter past eight and the waiting room is filling up. Each new addition suffers intense scrutiny from those already present and you can see they are uncomfortable as they take a seat. Nobody talks and neither do they seem to look at each other, as if there is some disgrace in being at the dentist, like you haven’t been looking after your teeth properly. I wonder who all these people are? I have never in my life seen anyone I know at the dentist. Perhaps all my friends have electric toothbrushes. I’m not into them. Seems too much like sticking something from Anne Summers into your mouth. I prefer my trusty Oral B manual brush which has served me well for many years.
Before too long those unknown identities are revealed.
Bing bong. Anne Catchpenny, surgery one please
Bing bong. Nicholas Prat, surgery three please.
The mental sniggers at his name can almost be sensed. If it was me I’d change it. As everyone leaves they suffer the same scrutiny as when they arrived, but in reverse. By now I’m getting anxious that I’ve been forgotten when
Bing bong. Norman Lamport surgery nine please
makes me jump from seat, spilling the Cosmopolitan I’d been glancing though onto the floor, spoiling a cool exit. Unfortunately, surgery nine is at the end of a long corridor and involves walking past open doors letting out the horrible drilling noise that is enough to make you want to run for it. The door to surgery nine is closed. I knock.
Please come in, come in, come in…….
Inside I am greeted with firm handshake from an Indian looking gentleman. He isn’t wearing a mask and his teeth are unbelievably white. Eventually he lets my hand go.
Good morning Mr Lamport. Ms Kataryna has gone home to work in Poland. My name is Satchim Patel. I, with your excellent approval, will continue to be your dentist from this day.
I can just make out what he is saying, although subtitles would be a help. Eventually he lets go of my hand.
Now Mr Lamport, just a check up today. Any change to medical history since the last visit? No? Excellent, excellent.
And that’s where I came in, except at the end he hands me a leaflet.
You may like to try one of these Mr Lamport, to get to those difficult little places?
It’s all about those bloody electric toothbrushes.