I’ve never had much luck with dentists; in fact, I’d go so far as to say that if there’s a dicey dentist around then there’s a pretty good chance that he/she and I will be drawn together with an almost irresistible magnetism.
In fairness, I’m not the easiest of patients. In addition to a ferociously strong bite, I’ve been cursed with quite a small mouth, which makes dental treatment a nightmare for both me and the dentist.
This also led to a problematic degree of overcrowding, so that the age of 14, three healthy teeth were removed before a brace was fitted for a couple of years to straighten the remaining ones up. The brace didn’t render any detectible improvement, and the orthodontist then said that I was too old, at 14 for a brace to have any effect.
I look around these days and see people of all ages wearing braces. You could be forgiven for thinking it was some kind of fashion statement, and it makes me wonder what’s changed then?
Only, I think, the stories dentists tell.
To add insult to injury, the dentist assigned to carry out the extractions to facilitate this straightening administered insufficient anaesthetic, an experience I shall never forget. I changed dentists after that, and very nearly my religious persuasions.
I then had a relatively comfortable sojourn for a few years with an amiable dentist who steadfastly made his way through my mouth filling everything in sight. These were indeed, the halcyon days of dentistry for me. It was this kindly soul who was responsible for transforming my two stubbornly crooked front teeth into something I wasn’t uneasy about flashing, thus liberating a smile I hadn’t utilised a great deal until that point. But this comfortable relationship wasn’t to last. He took early retirement, handed me on to a new appointee and it all went steadily downhill from there.
This surly young replacement instilled the fear of God in me when he attempted a root canal filling. It took far longer than anticipated; something was clearly going wrong and as I kept seeing his shaking blood-soaked hands withdrawing from my mouth I became increasingly nervous. Instruments were seized desperately before being dropped equally desperately onto the dental tray and I noticed that even the nurse was looking on aghast. I was in that chair for well over an hour as subsequent patients threw themselves against the waiting room door before giving up and leaving. Sadly, but maybe predictably I lost that tooth within a relatively short period after that.
This too was the dentist who declared I’d got serious periodontal disease and referred me to a dental hospital. Having spent several months on the waiting list, fully expecting to find my teeth laid out on my pillow each morning, I was finally granted an appointment. The specialist, and his attendant group of students couldn’t understand why I’d been referred in the first place, and suggested a marginally different dental hygiene approach.
My regular dentist was disappointed at this verdict, and obviously so distracted by this blight on his judgement that at my next visit he managed to complete a routine check up completely unaware that he was actually referring to, and updating someone else’s dental records.
More significantly, this was also the man who told me I needed to have two left upper back molars removed as they were ‘flapping about in the breeze.’ I duly made the appointment for the extraction but when I turned up he did an about-turn (thankfully) and said maybe we should see how I went on with them, with the rider that I’d probably loose them naturally before the end of the year anyway.
Whatever, I’m glad he did defer the extraction. Fifteen years passed before I eventually had one of those teeth removed, and another four years after that, the second one followed suit. Nineteen years… not bad for some teeth predicted to drop out within months. Of course by that time he was just a distant and unpleasant memory.
My current dentist, a man with a first-class honours degree in lugubriosity finally removed that second tooth, counselling me at the time to have the two non-troublesome back molars on the other side removed, as it would be cost and time-efficient then to have a partial denture fitted with two teeth on either side. The back one on the other side was very mobile, he said, probably wouldn’t last much longer and once it was extracted, the other one would loosen anyway.
I got the impression he thought I was being unduly precious when I said I’d like to keep ALL of my teeth for as long as they are healthy, and preferred not to have extractions ‘for the sake of order and economy’.
I paid for a second opinion with another dentist, whose verdict was that though he could see there was a degree of mobility with that back tooth, in his view he would leave well alone unless or until problems began to arise. He added that current dental opinion didn’t support the view that if one tooth was removed, the one next to it would necessarily loosen.
Who should you believe?
At a subsequent check-up my regular dentist, in the manner of one who’s recently discovered buried treasure, informed me that one of the lower teeth (directly below the gap left by the two nineteen year ‘mobiles’) was cracked, and would probably go sooner rather than later.
“Well since there are no teeth above it,” I said optimistically, “it’s not taking any strain whilst eating so hopefully it will be later rather than sooner.”
“In that case, if you’re not using it” he said, “you might as well have it out.”
What is it with this guy? Does he get off on extracting teeth? And how does that logic stack up with his urging me to have a partial denture directly above it? What would be the point if there is no tooth below it to chew against?
At each check up this dentist looks at the ‘mobile’ back molar, sighs and tells me that probably the only reason it hasn’t given me any problems is because I’m (obsessively) fastidious about oral hygiene. Now only able to chew on one side, no amount of flossing is too onerous, since I’m even more determined to keep what I have.
So I was a bit concerned a while ago when I felt some twinges in one of the neighbouring teeth, though I couldn’t tell which one. We were on holiday in Spain in a town close to where we used to live, so in an effort to head off any problems, I returned to the dentist that had treated me for several years when we were resident there.
This dentist’s particular claim to fame in the black gallery of my personal dentistry amounted to a couple of insufficiently filed down fillings that left me unable to bite my teeth together, and a recommendation that I had a cosmetic build up to the sloping corner of one of my lower front teeth. This he did, leaving me unable to bite together once again; there was a reason there was a corner missing off that tooth – it had been worn down over several decades by my top teeth.
Because that’s the way my teeth bite together.
Still, as dentists go, (or as far as my dentists go) that wasn’t a bad track record, so I was happy to revisit him for an examination of the upper right molars to see what, if anything, was developing… a stitch in time and all that. The verdict was that the second from the back molar was cracked and the only option was to take out the nerves in that tooth and do a root canal filling. You don’t get much change from 400 euros for this procedure and though it should stop the pain, there was no guarantee that the tooth itself wouldn’t fracture sooner rather than later. So then I’d need a crown, at a cost upwards of 800 euros.
And probably a bank loan too.
While he was talking, I cast my mind back and remembered that he’d performed a root canal filling for me once before, and asked him whether he still had my records.
The records were there, and showed that this tooth had already been the subject of a root canal filling. Reassuring or what?
“There’s only one option then,” he said. “You’ll have to have an extraction.”
By this time, I was beginning to wonder what the chances were that the tooth in question wasn’t the one causing the problem.
“I’m really nervous about losing another tooth,” I said, “my dentist in the UK is already urging me to have the one next to it extracted because it’s mobile.
He dived into my mouth again. “Nothing wrong with that back one, perfectly healthy, and it’s not that mobile at all.”
Conflicting opinion number three then.
“Look,” I said, climbing out of the chair, “maybe I’ll think about this.”
The tooth that he’d been proposing to extract then stopped twinging, but I wasn’t holding out any great hopes that the problem had gone away for good. So just in case, I started canvassing friends for an alternative dentist in my holiday location.
Well, you can never have too many conflicting dental opinions can you?
“I know an excellent dentist,” said one friend, “expensive, but very good. Won’t undertake procedures unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
This was encouraging, so I googled his name, only to find that a dentist of the same name had been subject to disciplinary proceedings and reprimanded by the General Dental Council in response to complaints by several patients in the UK. He hadn’t attended the hearing because, coincidentally, he’d moved abroad. To Spain.
Probably not the same dentist at all, but given my track record, I thought I’d pass on that one… just in case.
(To be continued… without a shadow of a doubt…)