Me 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.