This is the story of my front tooth. And my hatred of dentists. Read carefully, there is an important message at the end of it. Try not to cheat and skip ahead.
From an early age, mum and dad instilled into me the importance of looking after my teeth. I would brush regularly and when I was old enough I started visiting the dentist. Mr James, of Bath Lane. Even now, the name conjures up visions of Jack the Ripper, or Jeckyl and Hyde.
Mr James was solely instrumental for my morbid fear of dentists. At the age of five, for some odd reason he felt it necessary to extract a back molar. In those days, everything was done with general anesthetic, and on this occasion I sat in the booster seat on top of the large black chair, and the assistant held the big black mask over my face which smelled of horrid, putrid rubber and told me to breath deeply, and dream of lions and tigers. What a dream! I had the whole of Chipperfield’s circus going on in my head, but then I was back, my face throbbing and a large squishy hole where my tooth had been.
Mum and me walked back to the bus stop, me still feeling rather sick, and we got on the B8 double decker to come home. We didn’t make it back to Rainworth before I was poking around the wound with my tongue, dislodging the clot that had formed and starting it bleeding again.
Still feeling sick and woozy from the gas, I lay on the sofa with blood oozing profusely from my gum- no amount of pressure was stopping it. Mum had to leave me with my grandma while she walked to the phone box to call the dentist for advice, who said I was to be taken back for stitches.
You don’t tell that to a scared five year old.
We had to wait for dad to arrive and then he drove me back to the dentist in his little green mini, the smell of cigarette smoke and petrol fumes compounding my already queezy state. Back in the dentist chair, the dentist, obviously annoyed at me for causing him extra work, said that this time I would have to have a local anesthetic before he stitched me up. I remember being petrified as he approached me with what appeared to be a foot long stainless steel syringe with a six inch long needle protruding from it – it looked like he was about to ice a cake (my mum had a plastic icing set that looked somewhat similar). He jabbed it into my mouth, I clamped down hard, and he cursed me, muttering something about “that’s 2 and 6 wasted” as he pulled out the bent needle. Anyway, he eventually managed to get the needle in, and then the next thing I remember is the large curved suture needle approaching in a huge pair of forceps as he put in the couple of stitches needed – remember, I was still bleeding out through all of this.
Shortly after this, Mr James died.
It was a while before I visited the dentist again, but eventually we booked in with Mr Bell, who had taken over Mr Jame’s ill fated practice. Mr Bell wasn’t bad, but he had a bad habit of doing fillings without any anesthetic to save the cost of an anesthetist as he wasn’t trained to administer.
And all went well until my 13th birthday.
If you read back through my previous posts you will come across the mention of a school friend who eventually joined the army in an attempt to live up to his brother’s achievements in the RAF. Well, before we got to that stage, his brother had made a name for himself at the comprehensive, and not many of the older kids liked him. But rather than confront him directly, me and my friend would often find ourselves getting beat up by proxy. I remember one particularly brutal beating where we were surrounded on the old farmer’s field behind my house, and we were given the choice to stand still and take a few punches, or alternatively get a good kicking. We obeyed, and I got a good beating.
But back to my tooth – out on the bike with my friend I suddenly found myself yet again being chased by a set of familiar school bullies, who chased me out of the village on my bike, out towards the Farnsfield roundabout, pedalling faster and faster until I lost control of the bike, fell off and skidded down the road covered in blood. I had hit the tarmac face down and it chipped the front tooth.
I have never forgiven those bullies. In later life, one has done amazingly well for himself, driving around in a Bentley, one is a failed footballer, and the other, another school wannabe football star popular with all the girls, ended up as the local milkman. What goes round.
I wonder if they feel any guilt for the pain and suffering they have caused?
A couple of month later and my chipped tooth became very painful, and a trip to Mr Bell revealed a huge abscess which entailed drilling the tooth, killing the root off, draining the abscess and then performing what turned out to be a two hour operation to fit a crown.
All without anesthetic.
Pain like you couldn’t imagine – all because he hadn’t bothered to pay an anesthetist that day.
I didn’t go back to Mr Bell.
A few weeks later, Mr Bell died unexpectedly.
I was about 30 before I visited the dentist again. Your mum convinced me to go to see her dentist, Mr Ridley, and I reluctantly agreed.
I sat in Mr Ridley’s chair and explained I was scared stiff of him. Nowadays, apparently did their own anesthesia and he said he could merrily do FIVE crowns in two hours.
I let him check my teeth, but forewarned him that the last two dentists who had hurt me had died suddenly very soon afterwards.
He didn’t hurt.
I went to Mr Ridley for years up until he retired, a novelty for my dentists.
But a couple of years after our first meeting, the abscess came back on the front tooth and he said he needed to carry out an apesectomy – cutting the gum open, exposing the tooth root and cutting off the top which had rotted, and sealing it.
He said it was a large operation, and needed a lot of anesthetic. And he was up front, it was going to hurt a bit. I asked him how long it would take. “Twenty minutes”. I asked him if he had twenty minutes now. “Why?” he asked. “Because if I leave this chair, I’m not coming back, so if we are doing it, we are doing it now”.
He did it there and then. Four little needles in the roof of my mouth to numb it ready for four more deep needles. It felt like they were coming out of the back of my eyes. I have never felt pain like it. Apart from that crown.
He did the work, stitched me back up and all has been fine until today.
The abscess is back. This time probably due to slightly incompetent dentists who work on the cheap, giving the least service possible while bleeding the NHS dry. He missed this two check ups ago when I told him the tooth was painful.
This time it is going to be a problem. I’m having a course of anti-biotics to try to stop the infection, but I’m guessing it’s a year too late. If it doesn’t work, I’m losing the tooth, and that will mean dentures or a very expensive implant.
It might not go down well, but I’m going for the implant. The thought of having no teeth, and to have to wear something in my mouth for the rest of my life makes me heave. It’s going to cost a fair amount, but it’s not like I’ve spent a fortune on myself over the years, I think maybe I deserve it.
I said at the start there was an important message for you. When my girls were old enough, we took them to the dentists too. They had very good treatment, and unfortunately they suffered from crowded mouth syndrome (blame mum) and had to have teeth removed so that they could have braces fitted to straighten out what was left.
It wasn’t pleasant. I sat in with them while they had them taken out – not an easy task, I was more scared than them. I was amazed at the speed they were under, whipped out and woken up – a matter of seconds, I remember it feeling like I had been sleeping for hours. Blood everywhere, girls looking dazed, in pain and frightened. It brought some similar horrible memories back and I hoped we had done the right thing in agreeing to the treatment. They have beautiful teeth now.
We kept up the dental visits until the dentist went private and we were forced to move back to the NHS. Although I registered everyone with the new practice, I don’t think my girls have visited regularly since. I might be wrong.
I hope they look after their teeth, and encourage their own children to do the same; it might seem a trivial thing now, but in many years from now you may be faced with the same decision to have all of your teeth out and resort to disgusting dentures. My dad had all his teeth out when he was in his forties; I’ve fared a little better but I’m hoping I can keep them a few years longer. I recommend you do the same.