Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Open wide

This morning I got the taste of latex and another man's fingers in my mouth.

Be honest: that got your attention, didn't it?

My dentist is an unusual chap. Mind you, I suppose a professional life that involves peering at the tonsils of strangers while knuckle-deep in saliva does make you a little differently-wired.

Having said that, I have had an unusual relationship with dentists. My first one, when I was a small child, was Chinese. The thing is, middle-class Birmingham families like us in the early 1970s didn't get to mix with that many people from different ethnic groups. Dr Chen was the first and only Chinese person I'd ever met at that point. So, to my five-year-old mind, all dentists were Chinese. Or perhaps all Chinese people were dentists, I can't remember.

This would have made any trips to Beijing deeply confusing. Luckily, Great Yarmouth was as eastern as we would travel at the time.

For many years as I got older I didn't go to a dentist regularly. As a result, in 1996 when Katie finally dragged me to the practice her family had used since she was born, my teeth were not in a good condition. (I know some Americans read this blog. Hello. Suspend your disbelief for a moment, folks, but some people in the UK have bad teeth. I know, it's a shock.)

By the time I sat in that dentist's chair 14 years ago, my mouth was a battlefield. Or rather, it was the aftermath, all craters and tombstones. Time and amalgam heals all wounds, and the various holes were patched up in the finest NHS traditions. My mouth is now like a Soviet engineering project; everything's workable, but there's a lot of metal involved. On a good day I reckon I can pick up FM on my lower jaw.

So now I take care. I brush, I sluice. I'm no stranger to floss. My dentist tells me I have lovely gums. Crap teeth, but lovely gums. I see soup featuring heavily in my future.

This morning was just a routine check-up. As I lay there, examining his ceiling tiles rather more closely than is healthy, my dentist poked and prodded while calling out to his nurse his litany.

"S4, NTL, P7, JJG, N4, missing, G22, Duckworth-Lewis Method...."

Then he turned back to me, fixed me with a stare and pronounced: "You know, I reckon the Victorians had the right idea."

This was a conversational gambit I hadn't expected, to be honest. But I tried an honest reply:

"At some level you make a reasonable point. Certainly the Victorians had some good ideas; the development of drainage, for instance, made a huge difference to public health in 1840s London. And then there's the way they put the discoveries of the Industrial Revolution to work. The architecture has many followers, although to me it seems to be a corny pastiche of the Classical era. However you can't deny that it was a time of breathtaking social division, and many commentators believe that the faux puritanism of the middle classes held back the intellectual and cultural development of the country over the latter part of the 19th century."

That's what I would have said. But his hand was in my mouth. So instead it came out as:


I bet dentists never lose arguments.

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