By the skin of my teeth

Since December, it has seemed as if our lives are dominated by doctors and hospitals. Neither of us have anything seriously wrong, nothing more than minor ailments, but thanks to the thoroughness of the French health system we’ve had numerous appointments with specialists, X-rays, scans and blood tests.

A recent head and chest X-ray showed that I had FIVE dental cavities! FIVE! How absolutely horrid is that? Strangely enough, until then I hadn’t had toothache for years, but once I knew about all those caves of decay, no day passed when I didn’t have agonising pain in one tooth or another.

I have never recovered from the trauma of my early visits as a child to the dentist. The surgery smelt menacing, the high-pitched whine of the drills terrified me, the man was unsmiling and rough and I hated him. The only part I enjoyed was when he pushed the thick rubbery mask over my face and nitrous oxide plunged me into a deep sleep. But sometimes there was no rubbery mask, just a slow, noisy drill that hit the nerves and made me leap from the chair.

After that, only excruciating toothache could drive me to a dentist.

When I first came to France, a friend introduced me to a dentist, reputed to be the best in the whole region. He was extremely handsome, with great, limpid brown eyes, designer stubble, a husky voice and limitless patience, and this somewhat offset the horror of having anything done to my teeth. I don’t know what happened, but stories began to circulate about him failing to keep appointments, marital difficulties, unpaid bills. One morning I set off for an appointment, only to pass him careering past me in the opposite direction and almost running me into a ditch. He was plainly in a great hurry, so I assumed that he would be back at the surgery in time for my appointment. But this was not the case. The receptionist said that I would have to see his new partner instead.

The new partner did not have nice eyes, designer stubble, a husky voice or any patience at all. I tried to explain that I was extremely nervous. He told me to sit down and open my mouth, and jabbed around inside it with that nasty metal hook thing, making me jump and gasp. Then he shoved a couple of wads of cotton wool into my mouth, a thing that blew air and another thing that sucked out saliva, and dived into the remaining space with a drill, hitting a nerve with uncanny accuracy. I yelped and jerked my head away.

“If you do that again,” he snapped, “I will put the drill straight through your mouth.”

Whether this was a warning or a threat was not clear. But I was quite certain that when he drilled into a nerve again, as he surely would, I would react, and end up with a perforated mouth. So I ejected the cotton wool, the air-blowing thing and the saliva-sucking thing, climbed out of the chair and walked out.

Happily a friend introduced me to another dentist, a lady who looks about 14, speaks perfect English and has every quality a dentist should have, patience, charm, a sense of humour and a large syringe of anaesthetic. I’ve been going to her for years, have had root canal treatment that was completely painless, and have no fear of her at all. I drive nearly 40 miles to see her.

Still, the prospect of FIVE fillings was rather overwhelming. When I told her about the Xrays, she looked astonished.

“FIVE cavities? That is very surprising. I can’t believe it. We’ll do some more Xrays now.”

After she’d looked at the results, she smiled. “They’re not cavities. They are old fillings that can look like cavities.”

I felt like breaking into song and dance with relief.

“Except for this one,” she pointed at a shadow on the screen. “This is a cavity. It’s in a bad place, very close to the gum.”

Cut the music.

She’s cleaned it out and put in a temporary filling. I’m proud to say that I was able to endure this procedure without anaesthetic and without yelping, although once my arm did involuntarily fly into the air, causing her to remark: “It’s lucky I don’t have a weak heart.”

Back in a couple of weeks for the next stage.

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7 thoughts on “By the skin of my teeth

  1. My first dentist in France was an absolute charmer and also ran the amateur dramatic society which was how I was roped into that while he had me speechless with my mouth open.
    He ran off with the wife from the local chateau….
    Then like you, I had a delightful lady dentist…and luckily I moved before she retired as the only other alternative locally was a brute who clearly learned his trade sometime in the middle ages….but missed out on the chivalric manners.

    With similar childhood experiences – except that the smell of the rubber mask made me want to vomit – it has to be a good dentist to get me even to think of crossing the threshold.
    Currently I go to a lady in Nicaragua. A day each way and a night in a hotel, but she is worth the trip!

  2. Why oh why did I read this blog, I should have been warned off by the title alone???
    We are currently sunning ourselves in Gran Canaria, Graham is an alarming colour of mahogany, me a much lighter tan, mainly because I can’t sit still long enough for the rays to frazzle my tender, ageing, skin…his nibs likes to say that the sun has to work hard chasing me around the balcony and in and out of the apartment.
    During this sunny, relaxing holiday, I have managed, other than a few fleeting scares, to forget my impending dental appointment, 2 days after we return home. I’ve had a nagging, painful molar for years, it’s been x-rayed, poked, tapped, filled, had a nasty tasting paste painted onto it and threatened with the dreaded root canal surgery…my last appointment, a few months ago, at a new surgery with a new dentist, (a nice enough chap but still…a dentist). This nice chap informed me that the tooth needed to be extracted, that is, if the root canal surgery failed. I am faced with the horror of all dental horrors which, if unsuccessful, will result in, what I can only imagine, will be an agonising extraction leaving a gap in my rather large smile…I wonder if I could justify a trip to your lovely sounding young lady dentist :-/

    • Oh dear, how awful to have such a shadow over your sunshine holiday. Still, if your dentist is a good one, he’ll be able to do the job painlessly. I didn’t even know I was having root canal work done until it was all over, and really I didn’t feel any pain at all, either during or after. Just insist on plenty of anaesthetic, with the pre-anaesthetic spray, then you won’t even feel the needle. Really. I think the days of agonising extractions are long gone. 🙂

  3. I have a very nice dentist here too, but the first visit was a surprise because he asked me how I would like me teeth to be ideally. Then he presented me with a large estimate for the work!

    I said I wasn’t after an ideal mouth, just a healthy one so he ditched the estimate.

    Good luck with your difficult cavity!

    • Dentists are very expensive, here, aren’t they? But they do a good job. My previous dentist (the one who went wobbly), said he could always tell an English person just by the state of their fillings. The NHS dentists, he said, were crap!

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