At present there is just one man I allow near my teeth. I won’t give his name. He’s from South Africa. A dentist of Boer extraction. A likeable man. Very patient-savvy. He is also a skilled hyperbolist. “You need a crown there.” And, “You’ll need a crown there sooner or later,” adding, like auto-correct, “Sooner than later.”
A visit to him usually involves pretence. To protect my jaw, I have ready a gleaming row of white lies. Like I now live abroad and am just here on holiday, a very short holiday, not long enough, unfortunately, for him to prepare, fit and provide after-care for a new crown.
He has his own tray of professional tricks. When I refuse the crown, he plays Marc Antony to my Caesar. Then he offered it to him again, then he put it by again. His repertoire includes an old favourite. Before any complex treatment, he will talk down the chances of success. A lot of dentists do that. They’re a pessimistic crew.
I’ve had a lot of dentists. There was Dr Fang once. Don’t laugh. Long, white-haired Dr Fang. I mean his hair was long. He himself had no length to speak of. I saw him in his Taipei shop, I mean surgery. Next to the butcher’s. (Difficult paragraph, eh?) It was just before Christmas. When I think about that one visit, as I do quite often, I picture him sitting with his metal instruments, a row of nasty, sharp-nosed, little things, like toddlers queuing up for Santa.
In Adelaide, there was Dr Suave. I’ve altered the surname slightly. He made alterations to me. I went to him several times in the 1980s. He was the first of my tooth men to propose a crown. But I was leaving the country two days later – really – so he had to settle for a giant, leaden filling. How easily a life-long deception is born from one, convenient truth! This filling, which he said could drop out at any moment, lasted thirty years, longer, in fact, than he did. Don't laugh.
And Dr Thingy of Upminster, whose name I don’t remember. (They’re all out of order, too.) I sliced through a front tooth years ago, a corn chip bitten badly, and have been patching it up ever since. Now there was an ugly gap again, not a good time to put off a crown. Dr Thingy did one for me, half-price. I don’t know why. Perhaps he thought I was poor. Perhaps I was. I didn’t ask him for a discount. You don’t haggle with a dentist over his fee. I just found the meagre total on the bill.
‘Twas not a crown neither, ‘twas one of these coronets. It fell out a few weeks later. It abdicated. Now you can laugh.
Dr Thingy winced from time to time, doing the budget crown, as if he suffered from some inner pain. I was fine. I don’t know if he saw the irony. He retired from his dental practice after finishing my treatment. Again, I don’t know why. It was probably just a coincidence.
Although there are several question marks over this man, I do know that I could make him angry. I seem to annoy certain people without even trying. Sometimes just by sitting in a chair. The crown was a bit high. At the follow-up appointment, I told him he had missed it. The good Doctor winced and gave the old excuse. The winces were like drawing pins, pressing down something inside. His nurse looked aghast. I hope he wasn’t too hard on her after I'd gone.