I’ve just been to the dentist with my son Conall, 7. He was writhing in agony with a toothache and I had to make an emergency appointment. He’s been to the dentist once before but panicked every time she came near his mouth. I hadn’t mentioned he had aspergers as I didn’t think it was necessary but when I did tell her she changed tack completely and started explaining what she was doing to him as if he had a PHd in dentistry. This peaked his interest and she managed to do a full check. She did warn him about the dangers of biscuits and he grieved all the way home, sobbing over “jam in the middles” and custard creams. He soon forgot her warning and any time I left the room I could hear the lid being prised open on the biscuit tin (I have developed superhuman skills since having kids and one of my powers is to be able to hear trouble almost before it happens, similar to the BFG but without the elephant ears). On this most recent trip Conall tried desperately to be brave but anxiety kicked in. The dentist, a different guy this time was so understanding and has recommended we see a paediatric dentist that specialises in anxious kids. It seems he needs a crown. It got me thinking about my experiences with dentists as a kid and how I wish I’d seen someone a bit gentle that dealt with my anxiety.
From a young age, dentists were the bane of my life. If you saw the mouth of teeth I’ve ended up with I’m sure you’d concur. Even when I had baby teeth I was told there were too many and I had to have 4 removed by gas aged 5. Anyone who’s ever been knocked out by gas, can you please confirm that it has the same smell as a dry-cleaners? It was an unpleasant experience sweetened by a gummed dairy milk and a plethora/smorgasbord of fancy paper.
I was a desperate chicken-shit of a kid (no brothers, oldest child and a protective mother) and any time I had a loose tooth I would be hysterical. My Dad would threaten to tie string around it and attach it to the door handle, then slam the door, possibly tearing half my jaw off. I once had a front tooth hanging from my gum that I wouldn’t let anyone near, surprisingly, considering my options. I was vomiting with the shock until my Mam dragged me to the dentist who told me to close my eyes and hey presto (he actually said that, this was at the height of Paul Daniel’s fame and everyone thought they were a magician, I’m just glad he didn’t say “You’ll like it – not a lot, but you’ll like it.” that would’ve been creepy) when I opened them, he had magically removed the tooth. I’m sure my mother was dying to get her hands on the wooden spoon.
My second teeth grew in and they didn’t stop growing. Everyone would comment that I’d gotten my Aunty Barbara’s teeth (who never looked anything but beautiful and glamorous). My Mam would exonerate her side of the family, admitting liability for cankles and bunions (got both of them) but not cartoon sized teeth. She was fond of blaming my thumb-sucking also.
I was quickly marched to the local dental clinic and signed up for braces. I think this was a relatively new treatment in the 1980s as there didn’t seem to be a waiting list. The dentist took nasty impressions of my teeth in between drags on his cigar.
It was decided 2 more teeth should go as here were just too many. I began to wonder if I was one of those cases where I was supposed to be a twin but I’d absorbed the other one in utero, well it’s teeth anyway. I was twelve at the time and my Dad brought me to the clinic as my Mam was never any good in a crisis. I had my Philip’s yellow and turquoise walkman on and Jason Donovan came on the radio singing “you can put your faith in me” and I took great strength from this saintly man’s words and survived a functioning alcoholic stabbing me with needles and gouging my teeth out, gloveless and tasting of Hamlets.
The following week I was fitted with my retainer.I was in school in first year and had just landed the part of Tybalt in our class play. I attended rehearsals lisping like a true thespian. The drama teacher asked me to remove the brace not impressed with Sylvester the cat does Shakespeare. A year or so later I was referred to an orthodontist in town. The building had what looked like bullet-proof glass, with an inch of nicotine to give them a frosted effect. I was given a set of braces (train tracks as they were known then) not dissimilar to the ones that Willy Wonka wore as a kid. I wore them for two years, followed by night-time wearing of the retainer. My teeth looked ok when they were removed but they made their way back to pre-brace status in a disappointingly short time.
I was always so self conscious and pictures of me as a kid show me grimacing rather than smiling. My sister knew it was my achilles heel and called me goofy; I countered her witticisms with FAT and we’d both cry. I was nervous in the company of young kids or old people as I knew them to be scarily honest and to be avoided at all costs. Everyone gets some cross to bear in their excruciating teenage years, weight, acne, big ears… mine was an overbite.
It was when I lived in Turkey that I began to develop a thicker skin. People there will comment on the obvious, there are no white lies, they tell it like it is. You may have a huge spot that you’ve squeezed, applied tea-tree, concealed with 3 inches of make-up but every person you meet that day will point and say “what happened?” in a genuinely concerned way. My husband would call me hamster and make toothy little faces at me. I was shocked at first and probably huffed for ages but I learnt to point out his ears and resemblance to a chimp and all was good. He even bought me a hamster called Jimmy that we loved but lost (genuinely, possibly down the back of the couch).
On a routine visit to a fancy, new cosmetic dentist a few years back, my dental issues were finally clarified. He examined my teeth and said “let’s address the overbite”. My knee-jerk reaction was to shout FAT in his face but I calmed myself. I inquired about an invisalign and he said it wouldn’t fix anything. The problem is my jaw. The bottom half needs to be broken and moved forward and then all will be good. A few things ran through my mind…. 6 weeks of liquidised food, that would facilitate a hefty weight loss; what if I ended up with a jaw like Arnie?; Is that preferable to Gail from Corrie?
The decision was taken out of my hands when I got pregnant and my cosmetic dentistry has become a pipe dream. Maybe I can treat myself after my 40th and get a designer jaw to match my designer bits.