Don’t Fear the Dentist

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It was a cold rainy day in November 1973, one that I will never forget. As an 11-year-old boy I had the day off school so that my father could take me to the dentist. I remember sitting in the waiting room on a rickety red chair fumbling through the pile of old magazines on an adjacent table. I even remember reading an article on the rules of American Football and another about Bobby and Jackie Charlton growing up in the North-East of England. Shortly afterwards a slate grey rubber mask was placed over my mouth, the smell of gas hit my nostrils and seconds later I was out of it. I awoke to the news that I had had five teeth extracted, there was blood all over my shirt and I felt – and was – physically sick many times over the next day or two.

I made a vow to myself that day that I would look after my teeth every day for the rest of my life so that I would never have to go through anything like that again. It is to my eternal shame that I stuck to that promise for the next 42 years. Regular and effective brushing and the use of mouthwash certainly helped and in all that time I barely suffered from any kind of toothache. 42 years does however take its toll and I had been aware for a long time that a trip to the dentist would one day be inevitable; a few years ago I walked past my local private dentist, stood at the entrance thinking about entering and then completely bottled it.

Two months ago part of a tooth simply fell off, a week later a quarter of one of my wisdom teeth also crumbled away and I was getting a lot of pain down the right-hand side of my face; something had to be done about it so I plucked up courage and made an appointment at the very same dentist which I had almost visited years earlier.

I barely slept the night before my first examination but when I did, I went from nightmare to nightmare; the following morning I had even remembered them all and wrote them down, these are not made up for dramatic effect!

  1. I was introduced to my dentist and it turned out to be Jimmy Carr – I was his first appointment since he had changed his career from comedy to dentistry.
  2. I was frogmarched to a firm of solicitors to sign a disclaimer in case anything went wrong with my dental treatment; the firm turned out to be taxicab office in the car park behind my local chip shop.
  3. In one dream a grey T-shirt I had been wearing was completely soaked in sweat. As I awoke, so were my bedsheets.
  4. I had a heart-attack whilst in the dentist chair and awoke to a ridiculously fast heartbeat.
  5. The dentist asked to look in my mouth but my jaw clamped shut and would not budge. A set of clamps and a torque wrench were used to prise my teeth open but instead they just cracked and fell out.
  6. I dreamt there was a TV in the waiting room and that famous Marathon Man scene with Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier involving dental torture was playing on a loop.
  7. The same magazines were available on the table in the dentist waiting room as 42 years ago; the one on top had a picture of a smiling Jackie Charlton on the cover.
  8. My entire face broke out in cold sores.
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The day arrived and I have to say I was incredibly nervous not only about the anticipated recommendations of treatment I would need but also about the undoubted admonishments for being so stupid in not dealing with things sooner. A lady came out of the treatment room with a big smile on her face and she said to the receptionist ‘Well, I have never hugged my dentist before’. Surely that had to be a good sign and indeed it was. I explained my recklessness over the last four decades together with the more urgent problem that needed a quick solution. My dentist, Narinder, listened to everything without judgement and gave me all the time I needed. Clearly I was not the first grown adult to come to her for much needed help and she instantly put me at ease with her respectful, calming and often fun demeanour.

I was examined with x-rays and she made notes of where any fillings would be required and I was given a course of antibiotics to alleviate the infection that was causing me the pain. The very fact that she said ‘I’ve seen a lot worse’ was at least some comfort.

A few days later I was given my first ever filling; there truly was nothing to be afraid of. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I could take up having fillings as a new hobby but it was nowhere near the experience I thought it would have been. Later in the week I had six further fillings within the space of 24 hours, this was less pleasant but easily manageable. After a final eighth filling and an appointment with a hygienist we started work on my main problem tooth which involved root canal work and a crown. I asked Narinder why I had to wait until all the fillings were done before the urgent work could commence. She replied that the antibiotics needed a week to take full effect – fair enough – but she also said that other people come in for urgent work, have that done and then don’t bother coming back for the fillings that are clearly required. Shame on them (gulp!).

Exactly 3 weeks after my first appointment everything was complete and I feel like I have a new mouth. The whole team at Pearl Dental treated me with the utmost respect and care. There was no sign of Jimmy Carr or Dustin Hoffman and I didn’t have to sign a disclaimer in a taxicab office for when things go wrong. Narinder received her second hug from a patient in 3 weeks and I will never again be afraid of the dentist. If just one person reads this and is encouraged to face their fears – dental or otherwise – then my work here is done.

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