Posted on September 18, 2019
I have always had a pathological fear of dentists and dread the sound of drilling as you flick through your copy of Hello in the waiting room. It all goes back to my childhood when our school would file into the state dentist near the bus station in the centre of St. Helens. Being Walker, I was always at the back of a long line of lads all equally terrified by the site of limp, ashen faced boys staggering out of the surgery at the end of the corridor, blood pouring from their mouths. By the time my turn came, I was almost rigid and dreaded the door opening. There was no smile, no welcoming hand, just a large dentist, wearing a mask with a rubber overhaul tied across his front covered in blood. His assistant, a huge, bulbous woman held the rubber mask in her hand and pulled me towards the chair.
He had the extraction tools ready and the sudden smell of ether was a welcome relief from the terrors that awaited me. I always remember never getting past the count of 3 before that horrible smell of rubber overwhelmed me. Recovery was quick and you were woken with a slap, handed some cotton wool and pushed out, dazed and incoherent into the broad daylight to a sea of boys laughing and poking their fingers into holes were the former teeth used to sit. How many? They would ask, trying to gauge who had lost the most. I would return home with huge, yawning gaps, leaking blood and tuck into the sweets my Mum would give me to recover.
I rarely went to the dentist as I got older or an emergency forced me to go. There were no check ups, no alternative therapy just extractions sometimes using cocaine rather than the dreaded gas. I preferred the latter since the sight of a needle being thrust into my mouth was too much for me. At 18, I was at College in Manchester and had a sudden toothache. I asked my flat mate, Dave, if he knew of one and he said Sure, Frankenstein’s just round the corner. I tried to laugh but the pain was too intense and I staggered round the corner into the pouring rain. There was a thunderstorm and flashes of lightning illuminated the sky. I looked at the address he had scribbled on the piece of paper and stopped in front of a very large house with a gate in front. I walked through the grounds, up the steps and stopped abruptly at the front door.
It opened suddenly and large lady in a white coat smiled and spoke. Doctor Frankenstein will see you now. He is expecting you. I tried to turn but she grabbed my hand and led me down a dark corridor towards the light seeping out of the bottom of a door. It creaked open, revealing a small man beckoning to me. He was quite small, in a white coat and wore those little pince-nez glasses. He led me to the chair and spoke. ‘Zoh, we haff problem.’ I pointed to the tooth and he probed it, pulling back when I showed any pain. ‘Crown. You need crown. Can save it, but suggest gold.’ I nodded. I looked up at the ceiling expecting electrodes to come down and be attached to my head, but he was gentle so gentle. I left with one of the largest gold tooth ever seen, which lasted for almost 50 years.
This did not allay my fear of dentists. I moved to the Solomon Islands in the Western Pacific and visited the local dentist in a hut near the sea overlooking Iron Bottom Sound, famous for its Second World War sea battles. A local girl with a Fuzz haircut and a very short mini skirt greeted me. The dentist was a New Zealander who looked like he had had one whisky too many. His teeth didn’t impress at all. So what have we got here? He sniggered. I winced as he pressed against the decayed tooth. That hurt? I nodded. He smiled. He turned to the girl and asked her to get an instrument from the lower drawer and noted my reaction as I saw right up to her knickers. He sniggered. Better give him an extra dose, he said as he filled the syringe deliberately placing it in front of my eyes. The big ones are always the worst, he said to the girl, ‘cry like babies.’ He hurt, my god did he hurt and seemed to savour every moment of my agony. He finished, nodded and showed me the door. I never went back. I would have taken a plane to Australia rather than visit that sadist again.
Throughout the rest of my life, I have travelled endlessly and always dreaded that moment when you knew that you had to use a local dentist. In Syria, a colleague recommended a very good dentistwho had done all her teeth for $500. I only needed some minor repair work, so was not unduly worried. I took a taxi to a small street behind the State Planning Commission and stopped outside a large metal gate. I rang the bell, but there was no answer. I waited and waited until a car door opened nearby by and a huge man slithered out. He walked towards me, held out his hand and spoke, Woka? I nodded. He opened the gate and I followed him into the surgery. I wanted to leave but he sat me down and stared into my mouth. No Engleesh. He picked up the drill and held out the suction tube. I stared at him and he placed it in my hand and pushed it into my mouth. I held it tightly till my mouth filled with blood. He stopped and shook his head. Need stop. He withdrew, gave me a handkerchief. Morrow. Come morrow. I left, took a taxi back and stared into the mirror. There was a large gash in my gums. For some reason I did return. He stooped the bleeding, finished the job and asked me for $15. I smiled and tried to get up. All teeth? $500. All gold $1000. I declined and left. The idea of returning home looking like the assassin from the James Bond movie would have finished my wife off.
In Jordan, things were much better. The surgery was modern, very modern and the owner trained in the USA. He said his daughter would look after me. She peered into my mouth,No Engleesh, she said and put clamps into my teeth. As she turned, one caught on the strands of my moustache and pulled it tight. The more she twisted the worse was the pain. She smiled ‘No pain?’ I nodded. She stopped and removed the clamp. My eyes stopped watering. No need cry, she whispered as she attached it to the other side of my mouth, trapping the other side of my moustache. No pain? She asked as I closed my eyes and thought of that awful scene in The Marathon Man, where Dustin Hoffman is tortured by the evil dentist, Lawrence Olivier.
Finally, Belgrade, where Dr Frankenstein’s tooth eventually fell out after 40 years. I took it to a dentist recommended by the receptionist at the hotel. I entered a somewhat run down building and pressed the bell. The door opened and a large woman appeared and nodded. Com, she commanded. She led me to small room and took the tooth from me. She peered into my mouth and spoke. No Engleesh. Only Deutsch and Francais. Ca va, I responded and she stared at me. Leetle French. I smiled and nodded. Je t’aime, she answered. I tried to rise but she pushed me back and dialled into her phone. A woman appeared and stood in front of me. Alo, speak good Engleesh. The dentist put her fingers on the woman’s lips and held her mouth open. She kept nodding. Ees good. I nodded. $500. She moved her hand across her mouth. Do all. I shook my head. Just the gold, please. She tried to persuade me but I was not impressed by the over-sized molars in front of me. She gave up, cleaned the tooth and smothered the crater with glue. She pushed it in, then pulled back and smiled. I tried to close my mouth but the filling was too high. I tried to explain, then watched as she took a small hammer and proceeded to bang the filling. Each time she stopped she would smile. OK now. Another woman appeared. Daughter, said the dentist. I smiled. Speak very good Engleesh. The girl spoke.My muther think you very handsome man. I nodded. She like do all teeth. Only $500. No thank you, I smiled and tried to rise. The dentist leaned across me pushing her large breasts against my cheek. The daughter continued. She like take you out for dinner. I stared at her. Visions of Dick Emery came to mind. I realised there was no escape without serious injury. The hammer was still very close to my head. I smiled and she clapped like an expectant child.
I rose, asked how much and handed her $100, almost a month’s salary in Serbia. She opened the door, both women shook my hand and she pierced her lips. Her daughter spoke, You come back later, say 7.00. I smiled, moved slowly down the stairs and ran back to the hotel. I turned off the lights, took the phone off the hook and sat in terror expecting the knock on the door. I never ventured down that street again and the nightmares still continue to haunt me.
The gold tooth unfortunately disappeared last year in Mongolia at a banquet. After being forced to eat Soup of Seven Internal Organs including a testicle look-alike and drink large volumes of Genghis Khan vodka, I was grabbed and forced to jive with a somewhat robust lady. As the music intensified, she moved closer and closer, forcing her breasts into my chest. I tried to extricate myself but her arms were incredibly strong. After numerous dances, I managed to extricate myself and escaped by jumping through a window. I returned to my hotel, locked the door and sat there whimpering. In the morning, I woke on the floor, fully clothed and went to brush my teeth. That’s when I noticed the large gap in my tooth where the gold one had been for nearly 50 years.
I can only assume that she kept it as a souvenir of our evening and thought about confronting her. Then I learned that one of her relatives was a wrestling champion and very mean. I decided that discretion was better than valour and returned home trying to explain to my wife how I had lost a tooth.