The joy of dentistry.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth having teeth. It goes without saying that they greatly aid the process of mastication and digestion and they’re quite good for biting fingernails too, but beyond that they seem such a flashy inconvenience. They rot, they hurt, they need constant attention and they are another expense that one could really do without. And yet. And yet. All things considered I don’t have much choice than to keep my teeth. Very few people who prefer not to be considered a simpleton are toothless. You can lose one or two, of course, and there were once plenty of really quite cool musicians who had dreadful teeth, but by and large the more the better, though not necessarily the bigger the better: no one other than Freddie Mercury could have had his teeth and still be taken seriously as a human being. So if I keep them, my teeth that is, then I’d better make sure they’re looked after.

The closure of dentists in the first lockdown (frankly, the only proper lockdown) caused ripples of panic up and down the land. I had been dawdling through February thinking I must make an appointment but by the time I realised it might be too late it was too late and so I spent the next six months trying my best to try my best. They tell you the same things every time – always floss regularly and try to use those outrageously expensive little interdental brushes that conveniently and irreparably bend on the second gap you attempt. So the brushes never last long and flossing is just a big pain in the arse (if that applies literally then you aren’t flossing correctly) but over the years I have managed to get away with little of either because to my credit (yes, well done me) I brush thoroughly twice a day and use gum mouthwash fairly regularly. I must admit I have a very sweet tooth but this has somehow not rotten my mouth inside out and so I must conclude that I have fairly strong teeth which, like my liver and kidneys, will just keep going until one day they stop and then the whole lot will just drop out of my arsehole and that’ll be lights out.

So they may be strong but they are far from perfect. They are crowded down below and gently stained from years of fags and red wine and, honestly, herbal and fruit teas (the last of which are a lot worse for the colour of your teeth than you may think). The staining gets particularly bad along the front bottom (no, no that front bottom, I don’t have one of those) row and so my trip to the dentist is always accompanied by a visit to the hygienist. I don’t seem to remember having a hygienist when I was younger and so have always assumed that they emerged because dentists decided they couldn’t be bothered to clean teeth themselves and just sourced that task out to a group of people who didn’t quite make it as dentists: this is, I hasten to emphasise, just an assumption, and it is not one I can be bothered to follow up. Either way, these services are vital for a happy mouth, and I want to keep it that way. I know a chap whose dental welfare is so appalling that his teeth appear to have merged into one single identity; all fused together by a layer of plaque and subsequently giving him a permanent fug of halitosis which you can almost hear coming round the corner. I also used to know a woman whose teeth resembled a haunted graveyard and yet she never seemed too bothered to do anything about it; perhaps her husband was aroused by seeing a recently bombed forest every time she opened her mouth.

If you were wondering where all this was going, then I’ll tell you. You see (though not necessarily care), in the last week or so I have managed to squeeze in a trip to both of my dental experts and I must say I am very relieved to have done so. First up was the hygienist, who actually seemed quite pleased to see me, to the extent that her usual scolding tone had warmed up immeasurably. She asked me the usual questions – yes, I was flossing daily (a lie) but I got out of the habit recently and yes, I was still smoking, but not a huge amount (go me). She then proceeded to apply the triple whammy of drill, scrape and polish as I stared at the Belmont light shining down on me and inspected the cheap ceiling tiles (I wanted to remember the brand of light bulb for you but it’s completely slipped my mind). And the oddest thing was that it really wasn’t too bad. I mean, I didn’t sit up at any point to find I had an erection but I think the sheer relief that I was having my teeth cleaned and that they were still all there and in pretty good shape meant that the pain just drifted by, rather than judder half way down my spine. The polishing was, as always, the worst bit with the intense vibrations of the machine on my inner mouth making my feet squirm and spasm like a tasered child. But it was over. Usual advice. Come back in six months.

A few days later came the dentist, or rather I came to him. I don’t think I’m giving away too much if I tell you his name is Dr Patel and that he is a very nice man. He took some x-rays to get a general idea and from those he was able to confirm that yes, they were teeth and yes, they were all mine. He then asked me if I had any concerns and I told him that I was worried about our cat’s foul behaviour, but he didn’t seem too interested in that. Next he got his little poky thing out (ooh matron) and that tiny mirror on a stick that Lilliputians use to check under their cars for IRA bombs, and he duly prodded away as he told me a load of dentist tips I’d heard a dozen times before and never paid any attention to. Fortunately, there was no wriggling or wincing and I got to soak up the cheap majesty of some awful, not very calming at all, paint by numbers on his wall, called something like ‘Ocean Sunset’ or ‘Napalm Haze’.

Once he was done he decided it was time to talk about that crowded front bottom of mine and suggested I might be won round to the idea of having them straightened because, as he needlessly pointed out, it wasn’t going to get any better on its own. By getting them straightened I would be able to clean them more thoroughly and I would also become devastatingly attractive to human beings of all gender descriptions for the rest of my life. The last bit did have some appeal but the price did not. He couldn’t tell if I would need the shorter or longer treatment but he could tell that the procedure would cost between £2500 and £4300, a sum so bafflingly high I could feel my teeth start to straighten all by themselves. Don’t worry he said, the initial consultation would cost £250 but that was part of the final cost (so, er, I’m still paying it) and when it’s all done I’ll need them professionally whitened but that will be half price, though he neglected to say exactly how much half price was. Finally, he gave me an utterly useless blue NHS form and told me he looked forward to seeing me again, once I had sold my wife and that bloody cat to raise some funds.

The daft thing is that I probably will get the little buggers straightened at some point soon. It will mean wearing one of those awful retainer things all day long for seven months (apparently you get a new one every few weeks, tailor made to fit your ever changing dental structure, and by my hasty calculations costing around £477 a time, which must be a bargain for something, somewhere) and will very likely annoy me very much but then I’m sure when it’s done I’ll feel slightly better when I look in the mirror and Wifey will have to beat away all my new admirers with a broom – obviously, if I can pay for it without selling her then that would be a bonus. Also, once it’s done my teeth will have been properly invested in and so this might make me a bit more grateful for having them in the first place and I won’t spend an entire afternoon trying to dislodge a bit of sausage meat from between my pre-molars using only my tongue and what’s left of my fingernails. They’re handy, teeth, so treat them real nice; they probably do more for you than you do for them.

G B Hewitt. 19.12.2020

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