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About A Week: Tooth

Peter Hinchliffe tells of a journey to Leeds in search of a root canal.

This was top of the list of things you don’t want to hear as you settle back into a dentist’s chair.

“I hope I don’t do anything wrong,’’ said the student nurse. “This is only my third day here.’’

“But you’ve practised on each other haven’t you?’’ the student dentist demanded.

“Oh yes,’’ said the nurse.

“So you know what to do,’’ said the dentist.

My wife was the “victim’’ in the chair at a Yorkshire Dental Institute, there to have a tooth filled.

The Institute trains dentists and dental staff. It also treats difficult cases.

Joyce - I hope she doesn’t mind me saying this - is a difficult case. We’re talking dentally of course. The tooth which has been hurting can be filled and saved. The problem is finding the entrance to its root canals.

She was referred to the Institute because it has equipment and experts capable of spotting a hair’s-width opening.

Had I been in the chair when the student nurse made her opening confession I’d probably have leapt up with a loud yell of “Let me out!.’’

Joyce stayed put. The search for the root canals began.

Meanwhile I was in the Institute’s entrance hall/waiting room, sipping cappuccino, minding my own business.

A woman of senior years approached me. “Can you tell me how much the coffee costs from that machine?’’ she said. “I’m blind.’’

She had an extremely loud voice.

I guided her along the corridor, got her a 40p cup of Nescafe. Then she joined me in the entrance hall.

As we sat and sipped the woman suddenly bellowed, “I’ve had a lot of trouble with my back passage.’’

“Oh,’’ I said.

Another woman sitting close by put down her newspaper and turned an ear in our direction.

“I waited six months but it didn’t go away,’’ said the blind lady.

“Oh dear,’’ I murmured.

“I went to see a surgeon. He said ‘I’m going to have to enter your body. Through the navel’.’’

“I really must see how my wife is getting on,’’ I said, hurrying away.

The student dentist was making slow, methodical progress. A tutor examined her work, step by step.

The young dentist revealed that she was from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Joyce tried to say that we lived in that fair city for five years. By that time though there was a metal clamp around her tooth.

All she could manage was “Ar argh argh ar ar.’’

How boring for dentists. All those fascinating folk in their chairs - and no possibility of conversation. This at a time when a chat would take a patient’s mind away from metal probes and buzzing drills.

Perhaps a dentist should begin by announcing “I will be talking to you as we proceed. Don’t worry, it won’t affect my concentration. If you wish to respond say argh for yes and argh argh for no.’’

At one stage during Joyce’s treatment a consultant was called in. He pointed to a textbook. “A good book,’’ he said with a self-deprecating smile.

He wrote it. Very reassuring.


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