‘A little discomfort?’

OuchMe and the dentist are strangers but I know I’m in good company there. It’s  not the childhood memories – though these linger  and range from the  scary  whine of the drill to  the dull ache which often followed.  It’s not the  money  either (okay,  it is) – dental work these days is  brutally expensive.

If  I hadn’t kept the dentist at such  a safe distance,  I’d have saved two  extractions  and so  after  the  second  tooth had broken off I  drove  for three and half hours to stay in a backpackers, and try my luck at the Dunedin School of Dentistry.

I didn’t have to wait long before being called in to see a female dentist. She’s Asian,   she’s pleasant and  she seems to know what she’s doing as she examines me and sends me for an X-ray. I go,  accompanied by a young female student who turns out to be a Palestinian New Zealander from Auckland, (I found this out later when I talked to  her before my lips went fat ).

I see two more woman in the X-ray department, one a student. Back with the dentist, she tells me there’s an infection under the tooth so it’s going to be an extraction. Someone else would do that later in the day. In the meantime she puts a filling in an adjacent tooth. All painless and efficient.

Lunch   then  back   to the Murder House for the main event.  By now my Palestinian friend now seemed both guide  and protector as she led me there. Lots of people and cubicles but, reassuringly, no groaning.

I don’t have to be a dentist to know that since my tooth broke off leaving hardly anything to grip onto, it will be one  hell of a job to extract it.   I’ve noticed that medical people use a comforting euphemism for pain. They say, “There may be a little ‘discomfort’. Oh aye! So I’m tense as she dabs jell on my gum before giving me the needles, two of them. But she does a good job with  surprisingly little ‘discomfort’.

Still, she’s not going to get this old stump out, not with those slender  wrists. I’m glad to see supervisors floating around, checking progress. But this old stump of mine has been serving its purpose for over seventy years and  is determined to stay put.

I can’t help feeling a little proud of it. But in the meantime the young lady apprentice is struggling to move the stubborn old bugger –  she’s trembling with the effort. I know she hasn’t got a hope in hell of shifting it and after a while she knows it too and calls in the boss.

The boss is the lone NZ representative at the United Nations of dentistry and a Pakeha. He brings two students with him to observe. So now four young women have gathered to  gaze into my mouth as he talks about the tools he’s using. He makes an exploratory assault. Nothing doing.

He mutters about it being set in concrete while deciding on a more suitable weapon for the battle. I can see he’s enjoying the challenge but I can’t see what instrument he chooses. Not that want to think about but I imagine a rather  large  pair of pliers. Now someone  is holding my head from  behind – this is getting serious, but there’s no pain.

The boss  works away and suddenly I see a gnarly old root passing  before my eyes. “Is it out?” I ask,  through blubbery lips voice. It is, and no more than spot or two of blood to show for it.   I’m impressed, for a start  the place  was undergoing renovation  when I  went  and the gear  dentists use is not that modern by the look of it.  And the people, students, supervisors and God knows who else, are everywhere. Not quite like a shopping mall on a Saturday morning but . . . despite the initial impression that it’s all threateningly chaotic, they seem to glide around one another like a well-oiled  cogs in a machine that works well.

Forty-eight hours later:  No discomfort which means  me and my dentist might yet  get to know each other.

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Chris Horan

Chris is a former social worker, probation officer and Family Court counsellor, living in Hawea in the South Island.