Magazine article The Spectator

Tinkling the Ivories

Magazine article The Spectator

Tinkling the Ivories

Article excerpt

Three years ago, when I couldn't put off going to a dentist any longer, and had to make an urgent appointment, I discovered that the closest NHS dentist was in north Devon. I live in south Devon.

Devon is a big county. It has more miles of road surface than Belgium. So I was forced to enrol for a course of treatment with a private dentist in the nearest town.

Every time I visit this private dentist's surgery I am reminded of the old saying that only the rich know the difference between being rich and being poor. In the waiting room, soothing, digitally recorded Mozart wafts you into a deep leather sofa. There is a choice of daily newspapers and up-market magazines, including The Spectator, and free tea and coffee from the machine. And there is only ever one other person waiting, at most. Assuming you to be comfortably wealthy also, this expensively dressed person invariably looks up from their BlackBerry or Condé Nast Traveller and welcomes you cordially and conspiratorially to the world of private health care. The smiley receptionist looks like a young Sophia Loren. The expense is of course stomachchurning. Most people work to live, to bring up kids, to glorify God or Allah. For long periods I have to work to stop my teeth falling out.

I hadn't visited a dentist for over ten years when I made my first appointment with this private dental practice, concerned that my perennial gum disease now seemed to be embarking on a policy of aggressive expansion. My fear was justified. My teeth were fine, said this dentist, after taking a look, but my gums would have to come out. My breath was so vile, he said, that, of the two of us, he was the one who was going to have the anaesthetic.

During the next 12 months I spent more time in that waiting room than I did at home. But he arrested the gum disease and tidied up my gob with a couple of extractions, some structural renovation, including fixing a false tooth directly on to my jawbone with a titanium peg, and some interior decorating.

Another thing bothering me at the time was the amount of mercury I was carrying around in my teeth. I took a tablet of the hallucinogenic drug LSD at a party once, and for the next six hours I was disconcertingly conscious of my fillings, which filled my mouth with the taste of metal and hummed and vibrated like an electricity substation. …

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