Open wide

I had to get up early this morning for a belated visit to the dentist. The only slot I could get was 08:15, which meant getting up at seven, a quick shower, tea not coffee because it would take too long, two pieces of toast because making something would take too long, just let the dogs out instead of taking them for a walk and hope they don’t crap in next door’s garden (just kidding, I wouldn’t mind if they did that at all, if it was one neighbour in particular), bundle them into the car, stand there while the smaller one remembers how doors work, then start the car while you do the winter thing of putting the read window heater on, spraying the ice, scraping it off with the special glove scraper thing, wishing I’d filled up the screen washer then when I saw the outside temperature gauge saying -4.5 Centigrade realising it wouldn’t have made much difference anyway.

Got to the dentist on time and without incident this fantastic sunny morning, and happily the dentist episode was uneventful too. I was in the chair less than five minutes, after two years of not being there. No fillings to do. No enamel worn off. No gums falling out. No nothing. Not even any plaque that a minute’s polishing didn’t sort out. Thank-you Mr Bennett. I’m not going to get rich from you.

Last time I was there the dentist asked me to go and start eating sweets after he complained my teeth were 20 years younger than the rest of me. It wasn’t always like that. I nearly didn’t have any teeth at all.

My parents were disturbed. I had something wrong with my left eye and surgeons offered to correct it. The muscles on one side of the eye were stronger than on the other side. The eye hospital said if they cut the muscles a bit then the pull on that eye would balance up. I wouldn’t look wall-eyed when I was tired. My eye would focus more easily. That wasn’t enough for my father. I’ve seen his details on my birth certificate. He knew how to work a lathe. Obviously in his mind that qualified him to advise on eye surgery.

I was six and even then I was embarrassed hearing him sounding like a child badgering the surgeon. “But what if the scalpel (see, a technical word. My father loved doing that) slips? Hmm? What then?”

The surgeon pointed out that actually he’d done one or two of these before.

“But what if the scalpels slips?”

And on, until my father produced his trump card. “Let’s ask him!” Me. Aged six. Should I have an operation and go into hospital and my eye might be destroyed in a freak accident?

All my father was ever about was ‘look at me.’ We didn’t get the chance to do that a lot, admittedly, as he was a lying bigamist running two parallel families, but when he was there everyone had to look. But not too close, obviously.

The teeth thing I don’t remember so well. I didn’t know how to clean them properly when I was about ten. My father had left by then, taking up with a hairdresser from Andover, but that might have been just another lie like practically everything else he ever said. Because I didn’t clean my teeth much, maybe because I was so afraid of going to the dentist whose surgery waiting room I passed out in more than once, something horrible happened to my gums. On yet another trip to the hospital in Bath I was told I had to do two things unless I wanted all my adult teeth taken out within a foreseeable timeframe: Clean my teeth night and morning and gargle with alum.

Alum is stuff dug out of the ground. It’s a crystal and it’s antiseptic. I don’t know if it made any difference or not, but it tasted disgusting. It’s good stuff to put on pets’ wounds if they get in a fight, because they almost certainly won’t lick it off. But I cleaned my teeth and they didn’t get taken out.

The snag was I cleaned them too much. By the time I was in my twenties with the usual complement of fillings I could see my teeth weren’t like other people’s. The top front ones were a different colour, for a start. Another ten years went past before I got them crowned so they didn’t look black because I’d worn the enamel off from over-brushing.

It’s the gums. Even Alice Cooper had the same problem when the dentist told him his teeth were ok but the gums have to go. But not me. About fifteen yers back I got a proper dentist. He cost a fortune because he was in Wimpole Street but it was the first dentist I went to that didn’t frighten me.

It had just a few magazines and nice furniture and pretty girls who leaned a long way over me and pressed their breasts into the side of my head in a way that made me forget I was at the dentist at all. And it worked, except at £90 for 20 minutes I came to expect that, really, but times change along with my disposable income. Pausing only to push one of the girls out of the way the dentist told me something more valuable than peering down her shirt ever was, almost:

Get some dental sticks. Ram them between your teeth every other night. Your gums will bleed at first. By the end of a week, they won’t. Bacteria hate it. Then your teeth won’t fall out.

And it works. It saves a fortune on dentist bills. Admittedly, you don’t get to look down girls’s shirts every six months, or not for money anyway, but there are a lot of upsides. Like not having to go to the dentist at all. I do keep wondering whether people didn’t know this stuff back when, or they just weren’t telling. It seems pretty basic, really.

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