Thursday, 4 September 2008

I inadvertently eat half my own lips for dinner

Dentists, they say, have the highest suicide rate of any profession. And it’s little wonder when you consider how universally they’re feared and loathed.

When I was growing up, either anaesthetic wasn’t invented yet or our family dentist was at best heartless, at worst sadistic. I wondered for ages why my mother didn’t find us an alternative to the bastard whose questionable ministrations we were forced to endure every six months, until, years later, she admitted she’d had a crush on him. Well, all I can say is, it must have been a doozie – befuddling enough, anyway, to withstand all four of her children howling in pain and misery while in his clutches.

This monster of the mandibles used to say, ‘Tell me to stop if it hurts,’ before launching himself into our dental caries (as we then knew them). There we would lie, utterly defenceless, mouth clamped open and unable to verbalise anything, never mind the instruction we so dearly wished to give, while he powered down with his drill. Once, my sister, driven half crazy with pain, and getting no respite despite the distress gurgles she was emitting, was simply unable to stop herself and wrenched her head sideways in an effort to get away from the agony. He drilled straight into her lip.

Over the years I’ve amassed a wealth of my own personal dental horror stories, from being forced by a set of unfortunate circumstances to undergo root canal without any pain relief whatsoever, to having an extraction in the chair that almost ripped a hole in my face. These are regularly complemented by any number of similar nasties experienced by friends and acquaintances. (Do you have one? Please share it.)

Not necessarily painful but very embarrassing was when I had to have four wisdom teeth extracted. They were impacted and beginning to displace the other teeth in my mouth, so I opted for a general anaesthetic and had them all out at one go.

When I went back a couple of weeks later to have the stitches removed, the dentist’s nurse gave me a funny look, and kept on glancing at me and grinning in a very unsettling way while I waited my turn (because dentists, like doctors, always run late).

Finally, she ushered me into the dentist’s lair, where I found him laughing fit to bust, and the nurse had a fit of uncontrollable giggling of her own.

‘What?’ I said, and they both just laughed harder.

Finally, over fits of mirth, they told me what was amusing them so much. Most people are confused when they come out of a general anaesthetic, and a few become aggressive and abusive – and, apparently, I was one of this latter group. According to the dentist and his nurse, I had spent a good 15 minutes tongue-lashing anyone who came within a metre of me, using astonishingly bad language which included making allusions to people’s mothers and their private parts. I, of course, remembered none of this.

Although I liked that dentist – he was one of the few I’d come across who actually understood that having your mouth operated on hurts, and was generous with pain relief – I never went back.

My most recent dentist is also an understanding and empathetic fellow, so when he told me yesterday afternoon that he had to replace the fillings in two of my back molars, and I asked him to fill me to the top with pain medication before he began, he cheerfully complied. Soon I couldn’t feel the entire right side of my face, and although the procedure took over an hour, I didn’t feel a thing (although the sound of the drill still makes me wince).

My face remained numb well into last night, and I ate dinner with half a mouth, dribbling water becomingly out of the paralysed side between bites, to the hysterical excitement of my kids.

It was only this morning when I woke up that I realised I’d gnawed pretty thoroughly on my own lips while eating supper last night. But that wasn’t the dentist’s fault.

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1 comment:

Audrey said...

Ok, now I’m going to make you nauseous, and hate me. Sorry Muriel :-)

I heart my dentist. Heart him, I tell you. This is not some silly crush, this is true love. I swear to god if he wasn’t married I’d have made off with him and his, erm, drill, long ago. Sigh.

He has extremely twinkly eyes and I get to gaze into them (speechlessly, yes of course) while he lovingly NEVER EVER hurts me at all EVER. It’s for him, that I go to the hygienist to get nicotine and red wine stains removed six monthly. I want my mouth to be pretty when he does whatever it is that he does in there, so gently and so kindly. He is the exquisite manifestation of dental mercy. He is a god. And he always reminds me, afterwards, not to chew through my lip, now. He says that people should go and have a lie-down after going to the dentist. And dear god I absolutely have to (in dreams, he has a lie down with me), because after I’ve been in his chair I’m so blissed out that I walk into walls.

He gave me two new front teeth recently (I’ve only had one and a half since childhood) and they are my favourite things. They are the prettiest two front teeth in all the world and get this: I didn’t feel a thing. Not a thing. I have subsequent photos of me smiling toothily, surrounded by dashing young men. Ok they’re all gay but still. One of them said my new teeth almost converted him, said it was difficult, stopping himself from licking them.

I heart my dentist. Does anyone want his name? 