Written by Ashley Davies


The mouth of Hell

According to NHS figures, half of adults and a third of children in England have not been to a dentist for two years. Ashley Davies has her suspicions why that might be.

tooth extractionThere was a time not that long ago when Steve Martin’s sadistic dentist on Little Shop of Horrors (“You’ll be a dentist / You have a talent for causing pain / Son, be a dentist / People will pay you to be inhumane”) didn’t seem all that far removed from reality.*

Before the tools of their trade got as precise as they are now, presumably the guys with the drills had to be the kind of people who could happily carry on with their work without being too bothered that the person they were operating on was in pain or discomfort, or simply terrified.

Dentist training now involves techniques designed to help calm nervous patients, and the good ones give you such wholehearted praise and feedback when you’ve been practising good dental hygiene that it’s almost like having a life coach – albeit one with access to all manner of weapons and drugs. (*makes note to investigate this as a career path*)

“The dentist, whose name was just one vowel away from ‘Dr Fang’, slammed her tools down and bellowed: ‘You don’t complain. You just CRY.'”

Damn, but I’ve had some messed-up, shitty dentists. One killed himself, one thought I was a bloke, one actually laughed when I cried, one yelled at me, and one hurt me so much that I threw up on him. One caused me so much trauma I sort of hugged her, and one refused to use anaesthetic, opting instead for clove oil.

On my way to the dentist the other day I met someone who told me that when he was a kid it was common for women about to get married to have all their teeth removed – in order to spare their future husband the expense of dental treatment. Sometimes women would be treated to a set of dentures for their 18th or 21st birthdays. Lucky birds. Lucky, lucky birds. And it wasn’t unusual for a dentist to be puffing away on a cigarette while he (for it usually was a he in those days) was doing his awful bloody business.

And yet, when I submit to my current dentist, when she puts her latex-clad fingers in my helpless mouth and I lie there at her mercy, knowing I’m about to be charged the equivalent of a couple of great massages, I am so very grateful. Grateful that she has small hands, grateful that she doesn’t scrimp on the anaesthetic, grateful that needles are so tiny these days, and, above all, grateful that today’s recruitment process for dentists seems to weed out the psychos.

old dentist's surgery

The good old days: not Ashley’s current dentist’s surgery.

Most millennials of my acquaintance are lucky enough to be unaware of the crappy treatment many of us over 40 experienced in the dental chair. Admittedly, most of my harrowing experiences took place in other countries, where the process was hampered by a language and/or cultural barrier.

In the Philippines, as I lay on my back having a badly installed filling replaced without anaesthetic, my eyes started filling with pain tears. The dentist, a sturdy woman who probably sounded like she was furious even when declaring tender love for a sweetheart, and whose name was just one vowel away from ‘Dr Fang’, slammed her tools down and bellowed: “You don’t complain. You just CRY.”

The filling in question had been put in many years before that by an old man in a small town in Java. He used clove oil instead of anaesthetic and when my siblings and I cried out in pain he’d giggle. That’s really not a cool bedside manner.

Thankfully, those bad experiences as a child mean that I am now obsessive about looking after my teeth, and I suggest you jolly well do the same. And if you don’t already have one, get a female dentist. Seriously – the smaller hands make ALL the difference.

*Don’t watch if you’re of a nervous disposition dentally…


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Written by Ashley Davies

Ashley Davies is an Edinburgh-based writer and editor and the human behind animal satire website thelabreport.co.uk.