THE last Monday morning of January, and your correspondent is clutching her swollen mouth, trying to find an emergency dentist in Edinburgh. If you were to colour this column blue and add a limp, it would basically be a Lars von Trier film.
The fact is, I haven’t been to the dentist for two years. OK, three years. Hmmm, let’s call it four. Look, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that all grown-ups lie about the dentist. It’s in our DNA, like debating independence and predicting Oscar-winners. Lying about our dental hygiene is one of the few acceptable fabrications of adulthood, along with “what a beautiful baby” and “there was no mobile signal”.
To, ahem, tell the truth, I subscribe to the head-in-the-sand philosophy of dentistry, otherwise known as the school of Shane MacGowan. This pretty much means ignoring the contents of your mouth until they drop out. In the interim, you brush, you floss (probably less than you say you do) and, if you’re actually Shane MacGowan, you go on a Pogues tour every Christmas. And once in a while, usually on a Monday in January, you get a nasty reminder of the dangerous game you’re playing with your gnashers.
I wake up to throbbing on the upper west side of my mouth, counterbalanced with a dull ache and an unpleasant sensation of shame. First, I call the dentist on my street that I have been walking past for three, four, five years, promising each time that tomorrow will be the day I register. “I’m afraid we don’t have anything for a week,” the receptionist informs me. And that’s just an appointment to register. “When did you last register with a dentist? I consider screaming “THERE IS NO MOBILE SIGNAL” and hanging up.
Next stop, the dental hospital. “You do realise you have to pay?” the receptionist informs me curtly. Yes, I say patiently, even a rotten-toothed idiot like me is aware that treatment isn’t free. “It’s a walk-in clinic so there’s a long wait,” she goes on. Interesting concept, I think. It looks and acts exactly like the NHS, but you have to pay for it.
Nevertheless I make my way there. And, actually, it is quite wonderful; a sanctuary for feckless folk clutching their jaws and battling their shame on a Monday morning. Each person walks in and has to say out loud to the receptionist and the assembled crowd, “No, I am not registered with a dentist.” This is basically like being given a dunce cap and told to stand in the corner.
We all offer crooked smiles of sympathy and relief. It appears to be true in this sanitised corner of the world that misery loves company.
In the treatment room, I open my mouth obediently and am injected, drilled, suctioned and filled. This is the problem with going to the dentist only in an emergency. You never get a polish and a gold star. It is always a worst-case scenario.
On the way home, I walk past the dentist on my street for the millionth time. “Now accepting new NHS patients!” a banner announces, as it has done for so long.
I could walk past, keep calm and carry on, come back tomorrow. Or I could embrace a future of adulthood and pearly whites. And just like that, I go inside and register.