Thursday, 9 April 2009

When it comes to the dentist, ignorance isn’t bliss.

I’ve practically moved in with my dentist over the past 6 months. Over a decade of dental denial doesn’t do much for the state of your teeth and when I did finally did force myself to sign up, there were a lot of problems.
I made it clear from the start that I was very nervous and panicky about coming in. My dentist was very sympathetic, and did her best to put me at my ease. However, it’s an NHS (National Health Service- subsidised by taxes and with flat rates, but long waiting lists and overworked staff) practice, meaning that they are incredibly dedicated but strapped for cash. These people work through their breaks, stay late and will do anything to make sure everyone gets the treatment they need. I have huge respect for them, but they don’t have time to chat (it’s not like I can make conversation during the seemingly endless fillings and hideous root canal treatments) and they work on the assumption that the patient would rather NOT know what was going on. So they just blithely stick piece after piece of apparatus into my defenceless mouth. Apparatus they never talk about, and which I have only seen through my safety shades at an angle not suited to anything than observing that the good dentist needs to cleanse the pores on her chin.
However, after months of highly uncomfortable research, I present to you my findings on the basic toolkit of your average dentist.

The Frankentooth Bolt: This little number clamps around your tooth like a vice, poking holes in your gum that you don’t know about until the anaesthetic wears off, but when it does they sting like buggery. They seem to generally use this when there’s a bigger filling to do, as if they are expecting the whole tooth to fly apart under the pressure.

The Face Sucker: Made famous by Bill Cosby’s iconic routine. Except these days they don’t leave you alone with the damn thing. Instead an enthusiastic dental nurse has at you with it like her mum’s coming to visit and she hasn’t hoovered in six months. This is fine as long as she gets the angle right and you don’t feel you NEED saliva, but when she’s reaching round to the back, god help you if you’ve a sensitive gag reflex. I swear she nearly sucked up my uvula last time.

The Bill Murray Packing Peanuts:
The things Bill Murray spits out at the end of the masochist at the dentist scene in Little Shop Of Horrors. Not a film you want in your head when you’re in that chair. If you prefer you can think about the Godfather, since that’s who you look like once they’ve pointlessly rammed them round your jaw like they’re planning to fed-ex it somewhere.

The Power Tools:
Holy hell. Forget the drill. This is like one of those all in one Black and Decker jobs you’re supposed to buy your dad for Christmas. It has a variety of scary looking add-ons, makes a selection of worrying noises and, occasionally, disturbing smells (cf Thubuh Smuboke Mabachibine).

The Tortured, Pissing Bat:
This is when they say “we’ll just give you a quick clean”, and you foolishly assume the worst is over. Not so. It makes a noise like a pipistrelle under extraordinary rendition and squirts water everywhere but your mouth. And it feels like the dentist is etching a beautiful filigree pattern on your gum line, i.e. intricately painful.

Flat-pack screws:
These little numbers are what they stick in your root canals. Inch long black spines, which, no joke, they screw into your tooth like they’re going to wall mount it. Dentistry, Ikea-style.

Thubuh Smuboke Mabachibine:
Bill Cosby again. “Smuboke, smuboke, smuboke! FIBUR!” I swear. If I hadn’t seen that routine I would have been out of that chair and down the street with a mouth full of metal when the smell of burning tooth hit me. Seriously, it doesn’t occur to these people that the easily spooked dental phobic might be bothered by a FIRE IN HER MOUTH with no warning?

The iFill™: My personal favourite. Unlike the well appointed medieval torture chamber aesthetic of the rest, this thing looks like Apple designed it. It seems to be used to ‘cook’ your filling after its gone in. it makes your mouth feel nice and warm. Kind of like your tongue’s in a tanning booth. It’s probably giving me cancer.

Would it be better if I actually knew what these things were called, and why they were used? Does knowing the name of something reduce your fear of it? I think so, but the dental culture here is ‘shut your eyes tight and let the experts get on with it’. This is why I have resorted to naming everything myself, and not in flattering terms. (Hmmm. I may be onto something here: could sexist racist and homophobic slurs POSSIBLY be born of fear and ignorance? Surely not!) One day, when they’re not rushed off their feet at my dentist’s (cold day in hell), I’ll have them give me a quick tutorial, and maybe it will be less scary after all. On the other hand, I like my names better. Another life lesson in prejudice there.


  1. Yikes! This sounds painful just to READ.

  2. There's a reason most people fear the dentist. I love the memory of Bill Cosby screaming fire when he was numb and full of tools and stuff. Nice!

  3. This is a great post. My favorite line was "dentistry Ikea-style."

  4. Had another run in with the Guantanamo Bat today, plus strict instructions about flossing. Joy.