Sunday, 31 August 2008

The dentist

This has been the most expensive month in recent memory. I'm not looking for sympathy, funds are available, but the car service at the start of the month was a major one that included replacing the cam belt. I bought Mr A a birthday present of the second day of a paragliding course, food and drink for the party, and then I went to the dentist.

Visiting the dentist is one of the three most unpleasant experiences that I regularly put myself through, the others being cervical smears and blood donation, in case you were interested. Actually, blood donation isn't that bad. At least they give you a biscuit afterwards.

I have always suffered at the hands of dentists. The first visits I remember were as a child, when Uncle Leslie was our dentist. It was dentistry that is now obsolete - a mechanical drill that made that ominous high-pitched mosquito whine, no anaesthesia, that smell of the friction of drill against tooth enamel, and magical blobs of mercury rolling around on a little plate before being transformed into a paste that was forced into our teeth. Then when it was all over, the offer of some sort of treat, perhaps a small toy? My memory of that is vague. I remember that the drilling hurt, but not unbearably. I think I dislike the needles more.

After Uncle Leslie retired, the dentist wasn't such a long way away, but then he wasn't family either. I remember him as a grim-faced man who never smiled, never indulged in small talk, didn't care to put you at your ease with a kind word, just got on with the job. He's still my parents' dentist, and perhaps he is a very good one, but I didn't like him at all. And of course there were more fillings. Brushing my teeth was never an activity I looked forward to, unlike eating chocolate.

Then there was a period of about 8 years when I was treated at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, and I still remember Mr Mars, a lovely, kind man. Serious dentistry was required: my teeth were pointing in all directions except the right one. As well as removing four teeth to make space for the others, I had to have one removed that was coming through my palate. Mr Mars applied the sort of brace that produces an effect like James Bond's arch enemy Jaws, which is about as traumatic as it gets for a fairly insecure 13-year-old just starting to become obsessed with appearance. There isn't a single photo of me smiling in the whole of this period.

The first dentist I registered with under my own steam (rather than through my parents) was a revelation. He treated me as an intelligent person, talked about what was going on in my mouth, and had a camera and a screen so I could see what needed doing. I think there was even a mirror so I could watch the whole thing. Unfortunately, I didn't live there for more than a couple of visits. The dentist in Manchester was OK. Not as bad as the worst, but not as good as the best.

Now my dentist is Chris, and he's a happy, cheery soul. He and his wife were friends with the couple that we bought our house from, and it turns out he went to school with Smurf, the landlord of the pub next door, who Chris remembers as the cool kid in the class. It turns out that the most pressing need within my buccal cavity is not in Chris's department, but demands the attention of Laura, the Hygienist. No more caries, now I have pockets. Apparently these form between tooth and gum, harbour bacteria, and are the dental equivalent of War Crimes, Child Abuse, and Genocide combined. Pockets are Pure Evil, as they say in the film 'Time Bandits'.

Pockets are dealt with in a number of ways. The use of interdental brushes and anti-bacterial gel or mouthwash is one. But mainly, Laura gets out a variety of medieval torture instruments, puts me through an hour of excruciating discomfort, charges a small fortune, and then makes another appointment so she can do it again. She also has a pierced tongue - this labels her a masochist as well as a sadist. She masks these tendencies well in social situations.

As a full-time student, I am entitled to 100% free dentistry treatment on the NHS. To see Chris and Laura, I have to have private treatment, as they don't offer an NHS service any more. I suspect that I am likely to keep my teeth longer if I continue to see Chris and Laura, but actually I have no idea whether their advice is sound.

They have treated me for several years and have achieved definite improvements in eliminating the evil pockets, but there are two areas that are resisting all efforts to heal. I have an ache at the base of my neck in the mornings and signs of abfraction on a number of teeth, which suggests that I am grinding my teeth at night (bruxism). An appliance is recommended that should prevent the grinding and allow complete healing: only £350, and it will last indefinitely. Laura has one: she can't sleep without it any more. Oh, Lord.

If anyone has any expertise on the mysterious art of dentistry, feel free to share. Otherwise I'll just dose myself up with enough painkillers to numb my bank balance, and go for the recommended anti-bruxism appliance. Perhaps in a couple of months, when the car, the paragliding and the party have worn off.


aims said...

I think your teeth are on of your most valuable assets. They say alot about the state of your body.

I love going to the dentist. Love the needle - love everything about it - love my dentist! He's fantastic! And yes - I chose him.
My teeth are my best asset. They truly are - so I do everything I can to keep them that way.

Looking at people's smile is what we all do. Smelling their breath is something we don't want to do. And looking at brown rotting teeth just makes me want to throw up.

The Man has pockets. He has to go in every 6 months to have them poked and prodded and he works diligently on cleaning and rinsing his mouth. It was my dentist that found them in the first place. Luckily he changed jobs and now works in the town where my dentist

I've heard that the anti- whatever plate works wonders Lola. Go for it. You've spent money on everything but yourself - and if you feel better?

Now - go brush your teeth!

Anonymous said...

I think our generation are now paying for the 'drill & fill' culture of nhs dentistry in the 60s & 70s. I allway seem to be at the dentist lately - mainly having repairs and replacemnts of the old ugly siver fillings I had as a child - many of which my dentist tells me wouldn't be done now. I am glad dentistry has changed and is now more preventative. Hopefully my children will grow up with unfilled, straight teeth.

Amy said...

Teeth, eew. I have a thing about teeth. My kids push my buttons, too – just last night, one of them plucked a tooth out and dribbled blood here and there.

Can't you just go to a sporting goods store and get a mouth guard? They have ones that you put in hot water for a minute or so to get them soft, then stick them in your mouth to form to your teeth for a custom fit. I'm betting they're a lot cheaper than what your dentist/hygienist has in mind. Just a thought.

Lola said...

Thanks aims - I'm off to the bathroom now.

Ms Wiz - I'm sure you're right, every other branch of science has been changed almost beyond recognition since we were young.

Amy - nice idea about the mouth guard!

Philip said...

Ms Wiz and Lola - You're right, dentistry has come on a huge way but unfortunately it doesn't come cheap. Implants, crowns, veneers and so on do cost a lot, and the regular visits for cleaning aren't cheap either. I've seen a lot of people debating how often we need to have check-ups recently, so if you're happy that you can keep your cleaning regime up, maybe you can go a little less frequently to keep the cost down?

healing bruxism victim said...

I’ve always had this thought that dentists were desensitized people who don’t understand pain and what it can do to their hapless patients who sit strapped to the dentist chair for hours for getting dental treatment. I abhorred the idea of fitting night mouth guards, mainly because it had a lot to do with dentists. So I kept on searching for alternative therapies for treating bruxism.

My sister is a yoga enthusiast and believes that almost all ailments can be treated by this ancient art of healing. She kept recommending and soon I was practicing some postures including deep breathing, meditation, etc.

Whether the fact that I was relieved of the fear of visiting a dentist or whether meditation really calmed my frayed nerves, I am not too sure, but my teeth grinding is reducing at a rapid speed and mentally I feel on top of the world.