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Life Chez Dee Episode #100: My dental chronicles

I’ve had quite a bit of dental work done recently … this weekend in fact. So much in fact, that the story has been more of a saga. My entire dental history is a saga and a half to be honest, and as such I have felt that all too familiar compulsion to write a blog. Never did I imagine journaling my dental history in a published piece of writing, and yet here I am, and as I begin, I remember so much of my long history with great clarity.

I blame 1970s dentistry for the state of my teeth. Yes I’m one of the unfortunate victims of the awful dentists that used to be around.

My first memories of the dentist are not happy ones. The NHS surgery was located above our GP practice building. The dentist, and her nurse, were two of the most sour and unkind women you could meet, both of whom wreaked of stale coffee. Filling after filling I’d have, some as soon as they broke through the gum; filled straight away just because I apparently had poor enamel.

Years later, I was taken to a different dentist … Harvey Showman his name was. I don’t remember then needing fillings, but regularly he’d give me fluoride treatment. Orange tangy gloop would be poured into horseshoe shaped moulds and shoved in my mouth for the teeth to absorb the fluoride treatment.

I don’t remember at what point we moved again, but I do remember my next dental practice being that of Mr Lee in Ashton-u-Lyne. The first work I remember here was when I’d needed to book an emergency appointment for them to fix my three front teeth which I’d broken.

That weekend was much of a drama to be honest. It was Easter Weekend and I was away on camp in Sheffield with Venture Scouts. We’d been hanging out and larking around in one of the local parks. Being spun round on one of those spider’s web type roundabouts, the larking about soon came to an abrupt end as the force of the spinning meant I was struggling to hold on. I screamed for it to stop, but this was interpreted by others as me having fun and joking with them … and so they just carried on. I couldn’t hold on any more, my fingernails ripped, and I was flung off, and as I landed heavily on the concrete, I saw my teeth lying on the ground in front of me.

Easter weekend in Sheffield A&E wasn’t much fun, and they had to call an emergency dentist in. She patched up what was left of my front teeth to stop air getting to the nerves, and sent me away to get the next available appointment with my own dentist. I don’t actually remember the name of my own dentist but he managed to save my smile by fitting veneers.

Shattering my front teeth was excruciatingly painful, and to this very day I still cannot walk through a children’s park if I see one of these spider’s web roundabouts. The trauma I experienced is still very real and the mere sight of these roundabouts instantly transports me back and I relive the whole experience, and even the sensation of being flung off.

Just a few years later I had trouble again as the nerve in one of these teeth died, causing an abscess. I remember being in so much pain with this, and there just weren’t enough painkillers I could take to offer any ease. That night I remember trying to stuff the duvet cover in my mouth I was so desperate for anything to try and rid myself of this pain.

By this time I was under Mr Lustman, a lovely and quietly spoken dentist in the upstairs room at the same dental practice. I got an emergency appointment with him that morning and I quite clearly remember sitting outside his room, feeling dizzy with the pain. He gave me anaesthetic, again and again. I remember him saying I can’t give you any more, but as soon as I drill into the tooth the pain will ease. He did, and it did.

The nerve had died, and a post needed, and it was at this time that my veneers were replaced with crowns. Other work was needed and I knew that I would be paying the maximum ceiling amount on the NHS as I was facing some major dental work. The maximum payable at that time was £500. I remember my conversation with the dentist, with my asking that since I was already paying maximum, could he also remove the two wisdom teeth I had. I wanted to try and get as much work done as I could under this one payment. I knew I only had two wisdom teeth (… and you can all refrain from making any jokes about this!) and even though there was nothing wrong with them, I knew they weren’t necessary, and given my dental history, I thought that if I was rid of these that would be less to worry about in the future. He agreed.

My only disappointment is that in the midst of all the work being done, my gold filling was replaced by a crown, and I wish I’d asked for my gold nugget back. It would have fetched a nice price to weigh in at some point.

Mr Lustman did brilliant dentistry. I often wonder where he is today. The beautiful crowns he did for me are of such quality that several dentists I have seen since have all commented on how good they are … recommendation indeed. I had these crowns fitted in 1993 and they are still looking good today.

I’ve seen dentists that have faffed and faffed, resulting in my insistence of being referred to the dental hospital. It might have taken students (under supervision of course) more than three hours to do the work, but at least they sorted the tooth and stopped the pain. I’ve seen dentists who have tried to do unnecessary work … on more than one occasion!

Another awful experience was when I lost a crown on a big molar, ended up going to the emergency out of hours dentist ... taken there by my good friend John, because I wanted moral support and Justin was working away in the US. Fast forward to getting things fixed at my own dental practice on Richmond Hill, Bristol. Duncan Grossett was the dentist I saw, and I hope to God I never come across him again. The work he did on fitting my crown was dreadful, and it never felt right, but worst of all was the pain I endured as he carried out the work; he really hurt me. He dismissed me when I said I could feel the work he was doing, and he just carried on, telling me I was imagining pain. Never have I forgotten this ordeal, and we're now 20 years on!

Even as I sat in the dentist's chair this Friday, this was still on my mind, and I told Tom (my current dentist) all about it, and how he must make sure I don’t feel anything. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a nervous patient, whatsoever. I’ve had so much work done in the past that I’m far from nervous. I just don’t want to feel anything.

After testing that my nerve was indeed alive and well, he gave me anaesthetic, and more anaesthetic, yet I could still feel the tooth. I was worried this was going to be a repeat of my bad experience. He said it was unusual, but not unheard of, that I could still feel the tooth, and probably just down to anatomy. He gave me more anaesthetic, and all went numb; everything including my tongue and even my ear. He’d managed it and I relaxed straight away. By just listening to his patient, Tom had made sure that my experience was a good experience, even making notes that in future dentists should try to go higher to find the nerves going to my bottom teeth.

This brings us pretty much up to date with current proceedings, which actually began in November time I went to see Tom as I was experiencing dreadful pain in my first upper right molar. The pain was awful, and I could feel the ache in my jaw, my cheekbone, and even in my eye socket. Two courses of antibiotics later, the next plan was to do root canal treatment, but unfortunately the root canals weren’t showing up clearly on the xray, and therefore he didn’t want to tackle the work himself, but would refer me to a specialist. Matthew (the private dentist in the same practice) thought he’d be able to do the work and so I booked an appointment with him. An hour and a half of drilling later, Matthew could only locate the entrance to two root canals in the tooth, and couldn’t find the third, and would have to refer me to a specialist who would be able to do this work using state of the art equipment and microscopes. Hence my drive over to Sanj at Endo61 in Cheadle on Monday.

The saga is ongoing as I’ll need a new crown when the tooth has settled itself (hopefully) in a few months.

Today, dentists do their utmost to save teeth. I’m fortunate to have a great dentist now, and it’s nice having the confidence to go to see a dentist who you know really does have your best interests at heart, and won’t do work unnecessarily. The tales I have told aren’t great, but I’ve heard so many tales far worse than my own.

My dad tells tales of how he had all his teeth pulled out, in the days when they did this. He’s even experienced the dentist putting his foot on his chest as he levered the tooth out, almost pulling him out of the chair. It’s utterly shameful behaviour, and they couldn’t even manage to do that work properly, he tells of so much trouble he’s encountered ever since, even discovering that this ongoing pain was due to the dentist leaving shards of tooth and roots still in the gum. And if that weren’t bad enough, he said he was shoved out of their back door into the street behind, probably so others in the waiting room didn’t see! Thank god things have changed.

Hopefully I’ve not frightened you all too much, or bored you all for that matter. Hopefully if nothing else there will be others my age who can resonate with my experiences, and who may think that they are alone, living with the aftermath and long term damage their dentists have done over the years. Hopefully, I’ve given praise where praise is due, and have given you all a heads up as to which dentists I’d recommend avoiding too. And just to finish I'll just give a big shout out to my lovely dentists Matthew Holyoak and Tom Kerr of Woodlands Dental, Ansdell who are fabulous.

And if you’re still reading at this point, and you’re happy for a bit more, I’ll leave you with a Pam Ayres poem which I love, and which always pops into my head as I lie in the dentist’s chair:

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