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.