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In Good Company: Gluttonous Soup-Sucking Noises

...Dental visits are so undignified. No make-up, my front tooth staring at me from his tray; rinse and spit, the slobbery battle with stubborn salivary strands that won’t let go. The suction tube that makes gluttonous soup-sucking noises you’d rather not be associated with...

Enid Blackburn shied away from the dentist's chair.

‘They had a right job with me last time, took four of ‘em to get me in the chair.’

These words drifted towards me as I persuaded my ice-filled shoes into the dentist’s waiting room. Every visit my heart beats so fast it’s like having a frog in my top pocket. Suppose you were Anne Boleyn, I try to kid myself, things could be worse. But even head removing has the edge – it’s quicker.

All right then, suppose you were about to face a serious operation – but it’s no good, what could be more serious than having a tooth filled? Pregnancy is a good tranquilliser, if someone had removed all my teeth at the same time I probably wouldn’t even have noticed.

On five occasions I have cuddled a new baby and promised myself no more dentist fright, but it never works. Once I get my strength back, I weaken. Still, dentists have changed. Apart from looking younger, their surgery equipment has shrunk. You don’t feel as if you are on a building site with overhanging cranes and pneumatic road drills. Everything is so sophisticated nowadays; a diminutive high-speed drill that also squirts water up your nose.

Instead of sitting with neck clamped upright, you can take it lying down and contemplate your eye-level shoes.

A long way from the ghastly wooden steps which children used to have to climb with someone else’s mother at Huddersfield’s old school dental clinic. They probably had a theory that being accompanied by preceding patient’s mum cut out tantrums. In my case it just meant crying louder so my mum could hear downstairs.

I remember once opening the surgery door, sniffing the fumes, and introducing myself with a piercing scream. The two nurses and dentist carried on conversing. ‘We hope to try there one summer,’ a nurse said as she dragged my forlorn shoulder-heaving figure to what looked like the electric chair – a signal for higher pitched yelling. ‘Peggy’s going up to Scotland, next month.’

The dentist prised my mouth open and jacked-up my jaw. This did not quieten my voice, but took his mind off Peggy’s holiday long enough to mutter ‘Stop that nonsense.’ Peggy smiled charmingly before she blotted out the universe with what looked like a dustbin lid.

My new dentist sometimes masks his lovely smile. On my last visit I caught him spraying his throat like a prima donna, and when he bent over me, his breath was sweet and cool. Wish I could have returned the favour; my daughter reminded me too late as we stepped off the bus, ‘Ugh, mum, garlic.’ Secret garlic eaters should always carry mints.

Dental visits are so undignified. No make-up, my front tooth staring at me from his tray; rinse and spit, the slobbery battle with stubborn salivary strands that won’t let go. The suction tube that makes gluttonous soup-sucking noises you’d rather not be associated with. Try to remove it and you feel like Humphrey Bogart taking of the leeches in ‘African Queen.’

Dentists have this tormenting habit of talking to you with your mouth full. They tuck two plugs of cotton wool up each cheek, screw a clamp on to your tooth, fix the vacuum under your tongue, and when your nostrils are beginning to flare like Dizzy Gillespie’s, he’ll ask politely ‘Where did you get to this year, then?’

I suppose it’s a gift!

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