Dentists

There is an article on the BBC website about a girl who was so scared of the dentist that she died of starvation and dehydration. This was in a hospital (why was she not on a drip?) None of us like going to the dentist, so I thought it worthwhile to relate my experience on Monday. I know that most reading this know exactly what's involved - but there are a significant number who never go to the dentist. This is for you.

A few weeks ago, I chipped a tooth and went to the dentist. There was no pain, but I wanted to be sure that I would not get pain in the future.

They had a look and said 'yep, it's okay for now, come back soon and we'll arrange a slot to fix it'. Where this has happened before, they used a temporary filling - this gets you through a few weeks, but no longer.

I went to see Dr. Patel on Monday - we exchanged pleasantries - and it began. Steve Wright was on the radio - this was the most unpleasant thing about the procedure.

I had to have some anaesthetic. This was in such a place that my lips did not go numb at all. Usually that happens, but it depends on what facial muscles are nearby. There is a little scratch, but I'd had worse when a shreddie has gone in the wrong way.

The injection seemed to take ages. Afterwards I asked him why, he said it was as he did it slowly. Doh. The reason was that this minimises any discomfort, as it gives the anaesthetic time to spread out - there isn't an increase of pressure in the gum.

I never like the thought of the anaesthetic, for me, ahead of a procedure, the anticipation is the worst bit. Afterwards, it's no big deal. If you're the same, I'd advice simply closing your eyes to avoid seeing the needle - my dentist is very good about the direction the needle comes in, despite my having my eyes open, I've never seen it.

I was having a white filling (as the need arises, I'm replacing amalgam with white), and so he needed to drill. This isn't difficult - but the noise isn't pleasant. The worse part of it is that water collects at the back of the mouth - but most dentist are very good about this, and you can arrange a system 'i.e. wiggle your eyebrows if you need a break'. There are various types of drill, roughly divided into coarse ones which take out material and high pitched whiny ones. Your dentist will use both.

What he's doing when drilling is removing any unstable material, any decaying tooth.

Then it's time for the filling itself. This is the easy bit.

With amalgam they mix it and have to shove it in. You then bite and they shape it based on the impressions

White fillings are nicer, but a bit more expensive. They are made from an adhesive material which is put it into the tooth. Then an ultra-violet light is shone on the tooth to cure the cement. This is done in layers.

Finally they put a thin strip of material between your teeth and you're asked to gently bite - I think this leaves a colouring on prominent places which gives information about the shape of your particular bite and allows them to shape the tooth to fit.

As the white material sticks better than amalgam, I got away without having to have a pin inserted in the tooth (which I would have needed for this tooth with the amalgam).

I had to avoid eating on that tooth for 3 hours - this is no big deal.

If you have an anaesthetic which numbs the lips, you may find that you cannot seal your mouth properly, which makes the act of using the mouthwash entertaining. As the anaesthetic wears off, you will get a tingling sensation - this is normal. Whilst under the anaesthetic, resist the urges to pinch your lip - that could hurt once it wears off!

I had my wisdom teeth out a few years ago. This was under a local anaesthetic with a heavier sedative alongside. My memory of the event was about 15-20 minutes. Apparently it was longer, I'd fallen asleep in the chair.

Dentists these days are really good with nervous patients. Make an appointment, explain that you're nervous. Talk to the dentist beforehand about this, and ask that he explain, or not explain as you think best - 99 times out of 100, they'll help you a lot - they're used to putting people at ease.

In my case, they think I'm more nervous than I am, as I tend to cross my legs in the chair for comfort, and they think I'm tensing up - as I say, they're very sensitive to nervous patients.

The golden rule is the sooner you go, the easier it is.

Of course, that doesn't all mean that I'll be hop-skip and jumping to the dentist, it's not the best way to spend time, but it's far better than toothache.