Friday, May 05, 2006
Modern Dentistry Offers The Smile Of Mr Cary Grant To The Wealthy And A Toffee Hammer To The Rest Of Us. And Go Easy On The Courgettes!
As a gentleman of a certain age, I have survived several different dental fashions, and I now find myself caught between them, with the defiant smile of a circus boxer.
As a young man, I was led to believe in progress. In dental terms, this meant aspiring to false teeth from the earliest possible age, and replacing them with teak incisors. These could be maintained by gargling with linseed oil, and bufffed with a squirt of French polish. By the time I was in my teens, the National Health Service offered the prospect of falsers for all, regardless of income.
Sadly, my dentist in those years was a gentleman whose resolve was not equal to his thirst for communion wine, so many of my teeth were left in place, albeit with crowns and caps fashioned from various alloys and household plastics. This did not add significantly to my good looks, but it did allow me to chew toffee with confidence, as long as I rinsed with a cocktail of Sqezy and Mr Sheen.
Later, my dentist was a Mr Jock Wallace, who seemed to have borrowed his techniques from his namesake, the former manager of Rangers Football Club. As such, he believed that dental pain could be cured by running over sand dunes, followed by a flick to the rear with a wet towel. If that failed, he would lift his patients up by the ears and shout at them until they cried or went away. It was a tough regime, but effective. You knew where you were with Mr Wallace.
Sadly, since his incarceration, the Surgery has been without a regular Dental Surgeon, and has been reorganised along the lines of a Labour Exchange from the 1970s. I presume this has been done to make the patients feel at home, as most of them look as if they have been unemployed since the Three Day Week.
All patients are given a raffle ticket on entering, and invited to wait until their number appears on a screen above the reception area. To add a level of intrigue, a system of Dental Bingo is enforced: the numbers are called randomly, and winners proceed to another room, where they are prodded and humiliated by students wearing white coats, fly-stained welding goggles, and rubber gloves. Rumour has it that they are trainees from the cheese counter at Galbraiths, which might explain the Ritz crackers.
From here, the patient ascends a narrow staircase, then a rope ladder and a tangled vine strung across a crowded car park. One must swing and aim for a trampoline at the edge of the car park, from which one is bounced into the actual waiting room and ordered to read copies of Golf Illustrated magazine for several hours. Only on completion of a written test, in which one must be able to distinguish between a cleek, a mashie niblick, and a packet of Refreshers, does one qualify for NHS care.
Here, too, chance intervenes. The Surgery employs six dentists, none of whom has a name. To discourage familiarity, one cannot choose which dentist to see, and each patient (though they are now known as "contestants") must be x-rayed several times, so that the dentist and the dental nurse may run playfully from the room, laughing like hyenas.
Thereafter, the dentist will explain that all manner of wonderful techniques could be employed to give one the smile of Mr Cary Grant, but only as a private patient. NHS treatment, by contrast, will involve a toffee hammer and a pelican bib, to catch the bits.
I read today that scientists at Dundee University have discovered that ratotouille - an accident involving courgettes - is as dangerous to the teeth as a carbonated soft drink. I note, also, that a legion of Poles has been employed by the Scottish Executive to solve the dental crisis. As I digested this news, one of my molars exploded on a clump of sultana bran. I have kept the fragments, in the hope that the tooth fairy will supply me with a more sympathetic approach to dental care.