Anecdotage

dentist

“Believe me, this is hurting you less than you’re paying me”

In the teeth of moral hazard

On the whole, I’m in favour of teeth. They let you eat stuff, bite people you don’t like that much and – if you ever feel the need – grip a leather pad in your mouth while twirling from a trapeze rope.

But teeth come with baggage….decay, fillings, crowns, extractions and all kinds of trouble…..with a capital T and that rhymes with D and it stands for Dentists. My feelings about dentists are not quite as positive as those about teeth – and I should know, because from the age of five I saw rather too much of them.

Like my father’s sister Molly, I was born with an endless capacity for producing teeth. Other kids had exciting things like whooping cough, measles or tonsilitis, but I had a gob with seventeen teeth more than the script suggested. That’s far too many: so many, in fact, that a civil war in pursuit of lebensraum was going on in my gums.

My first dentist had been my mother’s dentist when she was a girl, which was fine except my mother by this time was already 35, whereas Mr Green seemed to me the wrong side of 90. His practice was in a rambling old Edwardian mansion in Cheetham Hill, and the staircase leading to his surgery was, I think, the one they used for the Martin Balsam scene in Psycho. In truth, he was a kindly old man, but he tried to hide his bad breath with cloves, and always sported those pince-nez glasses that make you think of words like Mengele, Himmler and Beria.

In those days, the jungle juice of choice for extractions was N20, better known as laughing gas. The humour in the process escaped me: the dentist would clamp your mouth open so wide, your teeth could look at the ceiling even though your nose was pointing straight ahead; then he put a mask over your mouth and said you were feeling sleepy. Mainly, I was feeling betrayed by my mother.

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Mr Green took a lot of my teeth out, but when they kept growing again he told Mum I’d have to see somebody else with more specialist expertise. He probably had an exorcist in mind, but anyway I wound up going to a chap called Batten for three years. He took more teeth out, and then made me a brace-plate designed to make the lucky teeth left over move into the empty lots he’d supplied. Wearing the brace was like letting a homeless midwife live in my mouth.

I didn’t like Mr Batten, but he obviously knew what he was doing…and so by the age of 11 it felt like my orthodontic nightmare was over. But five years later I needed an oral X-Ray to investigate pain in the roof of my mouth.

The oral X-Ray plate represents one of the few diehard things left in the practise of dentistry that refuses to get any less painful as technology moves on. It never fails to find the soft gum flesh it so obviously craves, and then slice into it with the frenzied sadism of Jack the Ripper. In this sense, it is beaten only by the syringe delivering painkiller to the patient through the medium of unbearable pain. But the needle torture can’t match the anxiety felt as, once the X-Ray razor blade is in place, the dental practitioner slaps a lead-lined shelter on your chest and then retreats six blocks in order to press the button.

I digress. The X-Ray showed that I had two further rows of teeth under the skin behind the upper ones, and they were quietly rotting away like so many unpleasant isotopes. I will never forget the dentist asking me, “Didn’t you notice the roof of your mouth was unusual?” Think about it: it is an outstandingly dumb question. Anyway, if you’re disturbed by explicit medical description, look away now.

The process required to fix this involved a dental hospital, and a surgical procedure that consisted of rolling the skin behind the upper teeth away, collecting the pulsating fragments thereunder, and then sewing the skin back on by stitching between my teeth….using black thread.

It was physically painless, but – as far as the already fragile self esteem of a pubescent was concerned – emotionally horrendous. Not only did I have to walk around in public looking as if my top teeth were informally tied to my nasal passages by ink spaghetti, the complete change to the roof contours effected by the removal of the Alps meant that Oio shund it verr dishicult to plonunch ebbyfung. When you’re 16 and spotty, this is not – believe me – the fast lane to losing your virginity.

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The years passed, and all things considered I remained surprisingly socialised. It emerged that my choppers were not only numerous, but strong: I sailed through a series of now forgotten check-ups, until in my mid forties the first signs of wear and tear began to appear. This involved my lower row of teeth. At either end of the row I’d had wisdom teeth: but when these were removed during my tragic infancy – only to grow again and be removed yet again – the remaining teeth (encouraged by Mr Batten’s plate) had spread out in a less than perfect manner. They had too much room, and were now become wobbly.

I was able largely to ignore the warnings of those who follow the profession of the bloody pole for five years. But then in 1999, my jaw collided with a Great Western train plastic back rest just outside Paddington Station. My train had hit an unsighted Thames train head on. It was yet another triumph of rail privatisation following which nobody culpable went to jail; but my lower teeth decided from then on that enough was enough. Gradually over the next ten years, they took on the appearance of anarchically arranged headstones in a graveyard.

Worse still, the gum instability led to infections. These infections usually occurred in Portugal, Greece, France, Jamaica, Majorca, Sydney and Namibia. I only had to so much as tentatively reserve an air-ticket before, on arrival in foreign parts, a little man with large biceps and a baseball bat would start playing the percussion track from Money, that’s what I want on a loose root. I particularly recall one holiday in the Algarve when a somewhat shady German doctor prescribed pain killers to help me. They removed the pain, and also any connection I had to a 3D Universe. The trip back by air was uneventful apart from the fact that I didn’t need a plane.

It wasn’t until 2013 that things got so bad, chewing anything beyond risottos was a painful rather than pleasurable experience. So I began internet research as the overture to what I thought might be a solution. I quickly discovered that the entire world was rushing to take advantage of tooth implants….and it seemed that Medical Tourism was the new black.

MT was being feted in all the social magazines and smart colour supplements as the way to avoid ripoff dental fees in England. Whereas I’d been quoted £56,000 to ‘fix’ my mouth by a charlatan in Lyme Regis, it seemed the same job could be done in Greece for €6,000. This was a happy coincidence, because I was due to return to Greece to cover more events in the Great Troika Gang-rape – and there was also some romantic potential on the horizon.

As I’ve explained before, it is part of their cultural mentality that, when asked if they can perform a service, the Greeks tend to answer with “Of course”. This is their polite way of saying “No”, but most foreigners don’t understand the tradition. I went to a prominent dentist on the mainland and she gave me the “Of course” shtick, after which she removed nine teeth in three minutes, with no N20 involved at all. I was impressed by this, but even more so by her close resemblance to Katie Melua.

So began three months of stitches, mouth-rinsing, jaw-drilling, screw-fitting, fix-mounting, trying to understand Katie’s English, and almost incessant pain. Followed by three weeks during which all four implants fell out. The love-interest having gone back to hubby, I packed up the car and drove back to Blighty for Christmas with my daughter.

Once again, my speech had been affected – I could now do a Bogart impression that would’ve fooled Lauren Bacall – but No 1 daughter hadn’t seen fit to give my son-in-law the heads up on what had happened; so when I arrived and began speaking to Damien, he asked ever so casually if by any chance I’d had a stroke. Those of you who by now think it couldn’t get any worse should stop reading, down a large Scotch, and then return suitably prepared.

On my return to France, I was pointed at a dentist in Villeneuve who – I’m bound to say – had a largely unblemished reputation, and a beautifully located surgery overlooking the River Lot. More X-rays were taken, a prognosis was offered (“Your last dentist was an idiot”) and then the fixed sum of €11,000 was quoted as the cost of building and fitting an implanted bridge. This seemed to me logical, given that the absence of most of my teeth in the bottom row did point to a suspension sort of solution.

One thing I need to point out at this juncture is that, whereas doctors never, ever criticise their fellow members of the BMA (Belligerent Monolithic Antimatter) dentists are the most bitchy professionals you’ll ever come across. “Who on Earth did this?” is a common opening question to any patient changing dentists. That’s hard to square with logic, given that by the age of 50 most of us have had at least seven dentists, all of whom claim that the one before was a clown. Why, for instance, does nobody ever meet the last dentist first?

And lo, a further nine months of pain, drill, extraction, moulds and fixation followed. In the middle of this, Vigur made an unadvertised appearance. As in – literally – I pitched up expecting Antoinette to do the job, and there he was – all the way from Bucharest…..Vigur.

Vigur had the bedside manner of a scorpion combined with the emotional engagement of Richard Nixon. But he was efficient. He fitted four new implants, and topped them off with keys ready to slot into the prosthetic bridge that would soon be ready for me. Up until February 2015, it was all looking good. Antoinette fitted the bridge, then adjusted it, then adjusted it again, and as the winter began to fade, I walked out into the pale sun a new and younger man. It had been a long haul, I told myself, but worth it.

A fortnight later, one of the implants fell out.

After another five weeks, I was down to two, with the bridge jumping in and out of sync alarmingly. Then there was one.

“Don’t worry,” purred Antoinette, “we’ll get Vigur back, and find a solution”. This sounded to me like a triumph of hope over dynamics, but I shrugged and started buying Fixodent to keep the prosthetic under control.

I never heard from Antoinette again. She’s in Holland somewhere, I’m told. I thought I was paying €11,000 for the Golden Gate, and I wound up with the Bridge over the River Kwai. Today I’m thirteen teeth and €17,000 lighter….the proud owner of half a set of false teeth I could’ve picked up in a joke shop for twenty quid.

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It’s a mordant tale, is it not? And, let’s be fair, funny in parts. But there is a moral to it: I might have been scared witless by Messrs Green and Batten, but they were sound professionals who enabled me to have normal teeth….at no cost, under the 1950s NHS. The culture that produced such men and women of laudable ethics has gone forever, but nevertheless, throughout Europe now the carpetbaggers are insisting that everyone must have more insurance and cough up out of their own, dwindling post-tax income. This ‘model’ is supposed to be fit for a culture whose professional classes have, on the whole, no calling beyond loads of cash – earning their crust from devious insurance conglomerates who delight in the sociopathic archaeology of small print.

I don’t envy anyone trying to bite into that particular pizza.

21 thoughts on “Anecdotage

  1. Oh, fook. What a sorry tale, Monsieur. Mayhap the Lyme Regis chappie may have known what he was doing? My dentist is ace, been with her 25 years or so, down on Dartmoor. You should go and see her next time you’re over. She cured me of my dentist phobia, common to many folks our age, so she told me, due to what we were put through.

    If only I’d known, I could have sent you a spare pair of Nanny’s… ;0)

    Very, very funny blog though, worthy of 5 Orgasmic Stars, methinks. xx

    Nonny had one of her classmates who kept growing teeth too, Colin. Now, I’m wondering what happened to him. Last I heard, when he was a teenager, they were taking the spare set out…

    Teeth, eh? Who’d ‘ave ’em! x

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  2. My dental implant back in 2012 was the best part of 3 grand but that was only for one tooth. From what I’ve seen that is about average. I don’t know if the French or Greek were being unrealistic or just plain bonkers, given the amount of work and preparation that would have been needed in your situation. The success of the dental implant (“osseointegration”) probably relies on a number of criteria – existing bone loss, smoking, width of gingiva etc etc. May be worth talking to another (British?) dentist to get another opinion. In my experience there is still a culture of excellence.

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  3. I feel your pain John, both physically and financially. Having reached 50 with little dental intervention and having the benefit of regular NHS check ups and if needed, treatment.

    Having chipped a filling whilst being ill I sought the services of private dentist very close to home.

    Two years later having been relieved of two teeth (which did not need removal) and several thousands pounds for work not needed I am now back in the care of an NHS reconstructive consultant who is trying to put right the damage caused.

    Bottom line is the NHS will now provide replacement crowns for the ones fitted incorrectly and again not needed, and try to fit a bridge in the gap left after I was butchered.

    I have no problem paying for a service. What I do object to is paying for a bad service when as always the NHS ends up picking up the tab.

    Wonderful read as usual!

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  4. One thought … profit over quality work like all those purchasing cheap tat from China and selling it at top dollar.

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  5. Impacts are risky. But dentists make so much money from inserting them. These new plastic dentures are not so bad as long as some teeth are remaining on either side. But vanity and or bad advice often stop people considering them.

    A friend had teeth extracted and without him knowing parts of the roots were left behind by a top (expensive) dentist. He found out years later when he became quite ill and investigated everything that might be causing it.

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  6. JW – was not trying to be a smug smartypants in previous posting.

    I have also had my fair share of dental disaster areas over the years. You would think that given the vast improvements in technology and materials things really should be much much better than they are. I remember as a lad in the 70s having a bout of terrible gum pain, but all the lousy cigarette-smelling female NHS dentist could say was “if he’s going to go on poking it, it is going to ache”. Even now I flinch at the sheer ignorance of the woman. Fast forward a few years my later dentist gave an x-ray only to be shocked at the depth of invagination that had occured that had clearly gone unnoticed. Salvaged the tooth with a root canal, which lasted for about 20 years, before that too went kaput, and then replaced with the implant I was talking about.

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  7. Lawks a mussy, that’s a very hard run indeed; really good restorative dentists are not easy to find, I’m thankful I found one in the end before it was too late. You were dealt a bad hand there JW, it was never going to be easy :(=

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  8. Sorry to hear of your periodontal problems John.

    I had an old school chum in Bolton called Martin, whose dentist was a Dr. I. Kilmartin – the poor lad was terrified of him!

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  9. Over here in the Fatherland there is a category of investments which are known, amongst the peddlers of them, as ‘Zahnwalt Produkte’. They tend to be very high-priced and very high-risk – custom-made for folks that tend to have more money than sense. They are most definitely not intended for Otto Normalverbraucher or the man on the Clapham bus.

    So, what is that for a word, Zahnwalt. It’s a typical German composite noun made up of ZAHNarzt = dentist and anWALT = lawyer. Need more be said?

    Many moons ago I too was considering implantations – in the district we have (allegedly) a really expert and experienced dentist that specialises in them. Luckily, a lady friend of my wife decided to take the plunge first, just over a year ago. Suffice to say, her bank account is now reduced by a 5-figure sum and she still has to cut the hard crusts off of her bread! I’m sure she could really commiserate with John, both financially and in terms of pain and inconvenience.

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  10. A diet of soup, scrambled eggs and brandy . Is that so bad given the other bad stories?
    Wear an old beret chap, and you’ll be fine.

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  11. To be sure good dental health is vital for a face to face loving relationship. The wife won’t like the dogbreath so sheila have to be taken from behind everytime with a large cheeze grey haired wanger in the outdoors

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  12. “They had too much room, and were now become wobbly.”
    Dyoo speek ingrish John?

    Joking apart, I loved this article due to your amazing wit (you do know that Jeremy Clarkson gets paid megabucks for having this skill…). The subject matter made me cringe and I feel for you, yet I can’t help but wonder which of the many personnages you will take a contract out on first? Perhaps you should do a Hollande: instead of taking revenge on a handful of perpetrators, just declare war on their entire country, religion, soon to devolve into every kebab restaurant/take-away in the western hemisphere. :)

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  13. Ouch…. horrible tale of suffering and fleecing. Just get some decent dentures John, before you end up both bankrupt and toothless!

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  14. And did those teeth in ancient time

    Gnash about dental debts obscene?

    And was the holely tooth of Ward
    Replaced by unpleasant dentures unseen?
    And did the countersink divine

    Drill out those clouded hills?

    And was JAWrusalem rebuilded here

    Among these darkest dentists’ bills?

    Bring them your bowl of burning gold:
    Bring them your credit cards of desire:

    Bring them your fears:
    iClouds unfold!

    Bring them your chariots of ire.
    He will not cease this dental fight,
    Nor shall he applaud any dentist’s hand

    Till he has rebuilt JAWrusalem

    And England’s once more a pleasant land.

    (With apols to JAW and William Blake)

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  15. A long time ago I worked for a bloke who repaired dental equipment:
    A letter was found in the back of a beautifully made wooden tool cabinet, It was an alert to the danger of low level brain damage to children by the over use of gas…..some evidence had come to light!…this letter was passed around the workshop in a flash.
    Also some mention was made regarding the over heavy use of probes …. causing trouble, by damaging the tooth enamel!
    Never did see the msm pick up on this……we could all remember instances where a probe was left twanging like a tooning fork in our mouths!
    happy new year all.

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  16. Wow so many cliched stories,I hardly know where to start. The first thing is it’s never the patients fault for their predicament,always someone else’s . Sound like you had some polydontia of your deciduous teeth. If they rotted it was because of your diet,ie too much sugar and inadequate cleaning,no arguments please.
    Then having tried to decipher the prose from fact you had an accident and lost your lower anteriors. You don’t mention the state of your gums but I suspect unless you were a regular attender of either the dentist or hygienist you had gum disease. That’s point 2 in your teeth’s demise.
    Then you went on the tourist route for the cheap fix. Buy cheap ,buy twice. I see lots of failed implant cases especially from the likes of India and Turkey etc. E European can be good but like here it’s a lottery. You are buying on price not recommendation. You have no idea on experience and as you have told us ,no redress.
    If implants fail it’s usually catastrophically with lots of bone loss. Immediate failure is likely to have been due to incorrect technique. Late onset failure poor maintenance on the part of the patient. However all dentistry eventually fails.
    So you had another go. I remember suggesting you sent me the rads so I could give you an opinion ( free) but heard nothing.
    No matter. I’m not sure when you say you had 4 new implants placed whether you had a denture / bridge placed just on the 4, a technique known as ” all on 4″ but if so it’s not an easy option to maintain . I won’t go into it.
    Your original quote of 56k was probably a bit high but difficult to say without the facts but alarm bells should have rung at 6k . Still hey ho ,sorry to hear of your problems but it would be nice to read something less Daily Mail about dentistry.
    Cheers John

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  17. I have not been to anywhere near a dentist since 1979 after the thieving tow-rag insisted on an x-ray which revealed that there was nothing at all wrong with my gnashers and then had the gall to charge me £34 for the privilege – I was a student at the time and bitterly resented the loss of booze money. So here I am at 60, I still have all my own teeth and I still smoke and consume enough sugar to sink a battleship. The rest of my body is a complete and utter wreck, of course, but my teeth are things of beauty.

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  18. Excellently told story, I enjoyed reading that. John dear, most of us get wise to the world by the time of ten; it seems you shouldn’t be allowed out alone. Whatever, my commiserations.

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