I am shedding teeth like a snake sloughs skin. What was once a slightly crumbling Acropolis within my mouth now more closely resembles Stonehenge. I dare not venture out on the Spring Solstice for fear of being continually turned to face the sun by druids. If I grin in artificial light, the shadow I cast resembles the Andes. If I floss, I have to use 4-ply wool in order to touch the sides, and I have to carry a bucket to capture the enamelled escapees. If I eat a biscuit, I attract a crowd of children whom, it would seem, enjoy listening to the sound of dental fragments as they pitter patter down onto the plate. I can no longer eat anything harder or more chewy than a marshmallow. I can only really be at peace with a meal if I am able to suck it. I would not be able to eat out if ‘Soup of the Day’ did not exist.
Today has been another ‘Dentist Day’: preparation for a crown that will take me one step closer to repairing the crumbling façade of my smile. The procedure involves, as far as I can tell, having the remains of my shattered molar ground down to a stump using something that feels as though it might well have been made by Black & Decker – or whoever it is that makes the rigs for the North Sea. It would be of no surprise to me to find that the vibrations have, Terminator-like, liquefied my existing fillings and, from the feel of it, bounced my brain around in my cranium like a pea in a beach ball. My poor, emaciated dentine is currently encased within a ‘temporary crown’ that feels like a tea tray suspended on concrete has been affixed to my jaw. Little bits of… something project from the edge at angles that consistently take me by surprise. I most definitely dare not chew on it. It has to last me three weeks before its permanent* replacement is ready. I’m pretty certain that it will not survive the gnashing associated with the next Prime Ministerial Broadcast. I feel as though breathing might unsettle it.
I am pretty certain that the dentists have notes on my file to warn them that I am a nervous patient: something along the lines of ‘If you don’t want him to die on you, keep him calm.’ They are very kind, but it doesn’t help. Nothing in my brain can make sense of being laid down, beyond horizontal, whilst people fish about inside my head. It doesn’t help that they currently look as if they are about to deal with toxic waste. Understanding the explanation of what they are about to do with what looks disturbingly like a thermal probe is not helped by communication taking place through an industrial-strength surgical mask and a visor that would be at home in a riot. Why is it, that not until I have four hands in my mouth and I am robbed of all alternatives, do I discover that my nose has stopped working? Breathing through the mouth is definitely too risky: nobody wants the tube of a vacuum cleaner down there. (Although, unless I produce unfeasible volumes of saliva, they certainly do not seem very efficient those little tubes. Today, the dentist actually stopped, mid-drill, in order to mop me down – and, I suspect, herself, her assistant and possibly the walls too.) I have tried to inhale through my ears, but they do not provide a viable alternative to the oesophagus. I’m pretty certain that there is a route through to the lungs down there, but I am unable to make it work. What I do is to freeze, breathing neither in nor out, until there is a natural break in proceedings and I can gasp in a lungful of air without the risk of swallowing a latex glove. If my dentist appointments become any more frequent, I will have to develop the lung-capacity of a sperm whale.
I am back in three weeks to have the new crown fitted. My face should have returned to its normal colour by then. The burst blood vessels should have re-buried themselves. Currently my jaw aches, my tooth throbs and my gums feels as though they are too sensitive to accept the application of ‘Sensitive Tooth Paste’, so I at least know that the Anaesthetic is wearing off. Why does a worked-upon tooth always feel far too big for the mouth? Currently I feel as if an inadvertent chomp might just force something up into my brain.
I wouldn’t mind, but since the ministrations of the paid-by-the-filling school dentist in the 60’s and the need to open beer bottles in the 70’s, I have taken great care of my teeth through my adult years. I have brushed and flossed with the best of them. Fear, I will admit, has always been a big factor. The fear that I would have to visit the dentist more often than twice a year for a simple check-up has always been a great motivator in the dental-hygiene stakes for me. But now? Well, my teeth have started to take on all the hues of Rembrandt’s palette and bits of them, like Sugababes**, break away at will. I cannot use a mouthwash for fear of washing them out. It is the price we pay as we get older. We either pay the dentist or we end up being unable to eat anything that will not puree. Like Rome, a decent set of gnashers are not built in a day and, like that great city, nothing can prevent their decline and fall.
I have the time on my hands now to search for an alternative: a life without teeth. I may research whether it is possible to survive on bananas – it will at least give me something to chew on…
**If you are not British and ‘of a certain age’ you may well have to make your own joke up there – relax, it will almost certainly be an improvement.