I sit here before you, most ardently listening Listener, with a metal rod in my face.
No, I have not developed a penchant for elaborate facial piercings, or become involved in a vicious dispute with a steelworker – I have been to the dentist.
The dentist, Listener. The Tooth Attacker, the Oral Bandit, the Face Raider. Or, if you’re so disposed, the Smile Saviour, the Dental Happiness Lord, the Ivory Saint. Whatever you want to call them, a trip to the dentist is never enjoyable and always fraught with discomfort, humiliation and involuntary loss of dignity.
The trip gets off to a bad start. The dentist’s chair itself is impossible to enter in a decorous manner.
‘Please take a seat,’ the dentist said to me yesterday.
‘Yeah, right,’ I thought, as one look at that chair told me that carrying out this simple task wouldn’t be calamity-free. Reclined like a lilo on a choppy sea, and flanked by table-like arms containing an evil plethora of lethal instruments, protruding wires, and stacks of highly expensive, breakable equipment, the only method of taking that kindly proffered seat was to perform a strange and ungainly backward shuffle, involving my bottom pointing obnoxiously towards the dentist’s face, a little jump over the arched seat, and an impact of my bottom with the chair that sounded like a hippo fainting.
Then you’ve got to open your mouth. As wide as is humanely possible, wider than the anatomical limitations of your jaw will allow – but you’ve still got to do it.
No one wants to have someone peer intently at a part of their body and make a judgement. No one. True, every day we may think ‘He could drop a few pounds,’ or ‘She desperately needs to dye her hair’, but we have neither the tools, the mental determination, nor the social permission to carry out these physical alterations on another human being at whim.
A dentist, on the other hand, has all those things. A dentist can peer into your mouth, think to themselves ‘Hmm… I’d much prefer upper 13 to be filled with lovely porcelain’ or ‘That faintly discoloured second molar would look far better round my neck’, and then say words to you that you don’t understand but that you know are bad words, and what’s more, you MUST OBEY THEM.
For who are you to question them? Who are you to disagree when a trained professional tells you that if you don’t have your root replaced with a metal rod, your tooth will rot, crumble, explode soon after, and leave you in crippling pain and with unsightly swelling for life? Unless you have the knowledge to match theirs – and, as a very wise woman once said, ‘No one has the dental knowledge to match that of a dentist apart from another dentist’ – you really are in no position to quibble.
So once this master of your mouth has decided which particular horrendous procedure they wish to perform on you, there begins a depressingly degrading process.
Your mouth will be sufficiently numbed so that your lips feel like whale blubber. Pneumatic drills will be forced into your face – the sound of a steel tip breaking down your precious pearly whites will haunt you for days – and a sullen, silent assistant will suck up your uncontrollably gushing saliva with a small vacuum cleaner. And that is perhaps the worst thing of all: the silent judgement of the dental assistant.
Halfway through you may be ordered to rinse. There is that slow, terrible, saliva-filled journey as the back of the chair is made upright (no journey is ever so painfully lengthy), and you swirl an unidentified liquid round your deadened mouth, dribbling 90% of it down your chin like a mumbling, toothless old drunk, and what you hope will be a clean-cut spit into the basin turns into a half-wretch, half-fling of stringy phlegmy liquid that dangles from your lips like the wretched futility of your blackened soul.
Then the prodding, the drilling, the sawing starts again. I had the second part of root canal treatment yesterday, and at one point I had what felt like a metal spear rammed so far into my upper gum that I felt it nudging my eye socket. My eye socket, Listener. Not content with assaulting the lower half of my face, this dentist attacked the upper part as well.
And when you’ve been speared, stabbed, suctioned and dentally abused to within an inch of your sorry life, you must go through the dribbling rinsing process again, and then comes the hilarious punchline in this protracted and traumatic sick joke:
You leave a broken, bloodied, bankrupt woman, a rod in your face, one side of your mouth hanging lower than your knees, and to top it all off, an ill-timed and premature sip of water on the bus results in you dribbling all of it down yourself in front of four disapproving elderly ladies.
So I am left with a rod in my face, a filling the size of Finland, and a severely diminished dignity.
All offers of sympathy / empathy / cash are most welcome.