8 January 2008
I am partially embarrassed to say that I have not visited a dentist since 1999. I know I should. I was on an NHS list, but was then removed and find myself unwilling to pay through the nose for something NI contributions should automatically cover.
However, I was happy (well, willing without complaint, rather than happy per se) to shell out 190 quid last week for emergency removal of four of Bentley's molars. The vet said they were so rotten that the infection was causing him to lose weight, despite normal eating and lavatorial habits.
So, the dog gets the finest dental treatment and I miss out entirely.
I must say - and again bash me over the head if you detect any complacency on my part - that my gnashers feel in good nick. Cleaned twice a day, mouthwashed and flossed with some regularity. They bled a few years ago, but my last dental visit sorted that, and I've never needed fillings. I never get toothache and they don't even get that sensitivity when eating ice cream.
My beloved father has a contrasting dental structure. He has a full set of dentures though also remains in possession of some of his birth teeth; he had a large quantity kicked out during a particularly brutal and courageous amateur football career in the 50s, 60s and 70s. He used to do that parental trick of removing his teeth and making spooky noises when we were kids in an idle attempt to frighten us. God bless him for such japery...
My paternal grandma, who died in 2004 at 92, also wore false teeth. I can honestly say that the first time she spoke to me without her false teeth in - I'd stayed at her house when I was very small and got up while she was emerging from the bathroom - was the most petrifying thing I experienced. I just wasn't expecting it, although I don't think I let out a shriek, ran away or soiled my pyjamas. Looking back, I would have been within my rights to do all three.
When the dental van made one of its half-yearly visits to my primary school, the kids as ever dutifully lined up for their check-up and I was told I could do with a bit of help in getting the last of the milk teeth out. I therefore had an op, with general anaesthetic, and woke up with two holes in my bottom row. But the pain was non-existent; it just felt strange and mildly tender. The nurse gave me a list of dos and don'ts for my recovery process - don't consume tough food or hot drinks, and do not "indulge in violent exercise". I was seven - I had no idea what "indulge" meant. I needed to ask my mother. She told me I couldn't play football, basically.
Radio 2's pet megastar, dark lord and emperor of the halflings, Alex Lester, told a story on his show a few years ago about going 28 years without a dentist's visit, and when he finally plunged back into the chair after breaking a tooth, his set were largely in good order. His reluctance for almost three decades was due to having a childhood dentist who was a "butcher" and every visit was therefore agonising - and public schoolboys like Alexander N.C.P. Lester had to keep their smiles in tip-top condition, so butchery was a half-yearly necessity and it scarred him through a major wedge of his adulthood.
Jack Dee used to say dentists were con-artists - wannabe doctors who got to medical school, realised quickly they were out of their depth and left the course, taking the page on teeth from the medical journal on the way out. I don't hold this opinion; I don't have an aversion nor disrespect towards dentists, but you won't find me going near one soon until the free service returns. It's all about the money!