WARNING: Contains dental nightmare triggers.
I was sitting in the beautifully vintage cabin of a friend’s little inland waterways boat having a second helping of blackberry crumble. It had been made with blackberries picked from the riverside the previous day.
I heard, or more felt, an ominous crack from the inside of in my mouth.
“That,” I said out loud, “is not the sound a blackberry should make.”
By Tuesday, it was clear something was up and I ring the dentist. They had nothing until the following week so I booked in a check-up hoping I could last that long. Ten minutes later, I poked at the tooth with an exploratory little finger. One side moved. The other didn’t. I felt queasy.
I rang the dentist again.
“I really, really think something is not at all right with my tooth and I need to come in a lot sooner.”
They found me a place on Thursday, two days later.
On Thursday, the dentist gently probed the worrisome tooth then, ominously, said that he was “just going to numb the spot up a little.”
He prodded and tweaked for a minute then asked for a micro camera from the nurse. Then he did a sort of Scotty-from-Star-Trek sucking in of breath. A kind of ‘The-tooth-cannae-take-the-strain-Captain’ sort of sucking.
“The tooth is cracked,” he said, “and it isn’t good.”
He showed me. The camera revealed, in squidgy high definition, a geological faultline opening across a massive filling. The tooth had cracked deep below the line of my gums and the nerve was visible.
“We have three options,” he said. “Some truly heroic dentistry that no orthodontist would recommend; an implant, which would start at” – and he cited a truly ludicrous sum of money – “or we take it out and put a bridge in between the remaining teeth. That would be in four or five months, once the gums and bone have settled.”
“When would you take it out?” I asked.
He popped out to look at his diary.
“Now,” he said. “I’ll just numb it up a bit.”
No, I thought. I don’t want to lose another tooth. I can’t bear this.
“Okay,” I said. “Go for it.”
More injections. I closed my eyes.
“You may hear some clicking,” the dentist said.
I did. The clicking (and snapping and breaking and popping and cracking) went on for some thirty seven minutes. I kept my eyes shut. At one point I began to feel something and went “Urrrghhhh!” until he paid attention and shot me up with more local anesthetic. The nurse kept the suction pipe running and wiped away at my mouth a lot. Credit where credit’s due – I was wearing a white shirt and didn’t find so much of a speck of blood on it.
Whilst I lay there, eyes closed, doing a lot of yogic breathing and trying not to panic, I began to feel sorry for myself. I didn’t want the tooth to go. It was my tooth. It suddenly felt enormously important. I felt a little tearful. Then I thought of Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man*, as people of my age group always do at these times. I imagined the local anesthetic going wrong and horrible pain shooting through my skull at any moment. I thought of men and women strapped to chairs undergoing worse in dirty rooms or clean offices with plastic sheeting spread over nice carpets. They would sit there and suffer this until they either told their interrogators what they wanted to know or until their captors grew bored. Does a certain kind of person ever grow bored of inflicting pain, I wondered? I breathed more slowly. I had a choice here. I was the lucky one. I felt rather ashamed.
Later, I wondered why my tooth was hanging on so determinedly. It was as if it didn’t want to go. I found I was talking to it, as the dentist broke it three and dragged it out of my jawbone. Please, let go, little tooth, I told it. Please let go. It’s okay. It’s over. We’ll be alright.
Suddenly, the pulling and grinding stopped and didn’t start again. I dared to open my eyes.
The tooth was gone.
I went home and mourned a little then took very powerful painkillers and two kinds of antibiotic.
“Poor daddy,” said little elf (five).
*Really, REALLY don’t watch this if visiting the dentist makes you uncomfortable.