Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Passing the test

It’s something of a shock, but I feel rather heroic at present. Not that I have really been heroic – just that I’ve been to the dentist.

‘Oh look, folks; I’ve been to the dentist – how heroic I am!’ Give the girl a medal.

Heroism is a funny thing. It’s easy to say that of course you would ‘do the right thing’ in circumstances that demanded it from the comfort of circumstances that do not.

Would you really defy a repressive regime if your own life would be put at risk? Or if the lives of your loved ones would be in danger?

The latter was pretty much how I thought God behaved when I was a child: I was convinced that I would be punished by bad things happening to those I loved.

And even having finally grown out of religion, that sort of approach has changed into a deep-rooted feeling that any physical shortcomings are my own ‘fault’: that if not a punishment, they’re the consequence of my own behaviour or failings. Or a weakness.

The Other Half has observed that I hate eye tests so much because I treat them as though they’re a test that you pass or fail – and that inevitably, as someone who has had myopia since I was small child, it’s a test that I always ‘fail’.

Finally, in this circumstance, my rather feeble heroism has seen an immediate reward rather than any punishment.

I’ve been stressing out and getting very, very wound-up for some months about the process of dental care that I am now – finally – in.

I knew, six months ago, that I would have to have all my teeth taken out because of gum disease. The diagnosis was partly a surprise; partly not.

That’s the joy of years of not going near a dentist because your teeth were not hurting and you had no money. When I had money, my eyes had to come first.

And then when I got around to going to a dentist around five or six years ago, the dentist in question didn’t even mention gum disease, said he would do something in general when two rather wonky teeth had fallen out, and then cleaned my teeth in what was an utterly horrific experience. I came out shaking from head to toe.

My new dentist, who is Spanish and rather good looking (a welcome distraction) did not originally seem to have quite the easiest manner. But last week, when I finally got around to booking an appointment, he was firm but gentle, and assured me that “there will be no pain: you might feel some force, but there will be no pain”.

And there wasn’t. There wasn’t much force either – the six he removed then came out ridiculously easily, before he applied stitches (there was a first – I’ve never had stitches).

I had no pain, even after my face had stopped feeling like rubber. And the tenderness had pretty much disappeared by Sunday. So I really don’t feel anything like as worried about my next appointment, this Thursday, when he’ll remove four more to leave me with no gnashers in my upper jaw.

What’s perhaps most irritating is that there’s no sign of any decay on the teeth. So I wasn’t outrageously neglectful on the basic oral hygiene front.

But I realised, a day or so after Thursday’s surgery, that I felt almost elated: I’ve spent so long being embarrassed and downright ashamed – learning to cover my mouth when I laugh as a habit, and to smile without showing my teeth – that the relief of finally grasping the nettle of my fear and getting the treatment underway has proved a huge relief.

The moral of the story, as I took the chance to tell my niece a couple of days later, is don’t skip dental care. Although of course, it would be rather nice if the NHS hadn’t stopped providing it universally (along with ophthalmic care) and if dental insurance plans were actually decent (I haven’t seen one yet that provides real coverage).

And just think – in a few months I’ll be able to bite into an apple properly for the first time in close to 20 years.

Now all I’ve got to do in the next week or so is have an eye test so that they’ll let me buy some more contact lenses for my holiday at the end of the month.


  1. The medical visits never end and become more frequent as you age. Pap smears, mammograms, dental visits, eye exams, and the dreaded colonoscopy. I feel like I need to go on a conveyor belt and have every doctor imaginable inspect every orifice.

    Getting old ain't for sissies...

  2. Good luck today for the rest of the treatment, I had one troublesome tooth removed at xmas but didn't feel a thing, I just sat there and let the young and rather attractive Indian lady dentist do all the tugging and pulling, 20 mins it took her to get it out and she kept apologising profusely, in the end she got the practice manager to tug on it and it came straight out, "Don't you just hate it when things like that happen" I told her.

    I did have a sore jaw when the numbness wore off though !