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January 06, 2005

The Uber

Tuesday Angus and I took a painful, honest step forward. Embracing our fears and with a quiet lump in our throats, we admitted it was time to make a foray into a frightening area. Laughing nervously, we got our coats on and tried to keep up the chatter and small talk as we faced the distress together. I wanted to hold his hand to try to bite back the bitter panic, but I didn't want to seem needy or desperate, much like I always do. In solidarity, we would try to take this next move and survive both as a couple and as individuals.

That's right.

We went to the dentist.

It had to be done. I hadn't been in a year, and neither had Angus. And unlike Angus, I've had a terrible toothache in one of my bottom molars which lead me to horrible fears that should I not book an appointment to get the cavity filled people would take a look at my gaping blackened smile and point, sniggering and say: If only she'd bothered to floss. And we're talking about flossing her teeth, not the other area. To which I'd say: Bite me. Flossing is boring. And you can never take away my thong.

England has a similar system to dentists that Sweden did, in that you can join dentists on the public health care system (which is called the NHS here in England). The problem is, most dentists are full up with NHS patients (for which they don't get paid very much money) and so insist on only taking new patients privately. This costs an arm and a leg, and to be honest, who wants to blow their dough on the dentist when you could be doing things like going on holiday? Not to mention that if you do find a dentist who can take you on, they can't see you until October 29, 2008, from 7:45-7:48 am. And this time is not negotiable.

In order to find a dentist in England that will take you on NHS you have to do one or more of the following:

1) Promise your first-born child to be trained as a London bus driver when he/she grows up.

2) Sing "Rule Britannia" 20 times while standing naked in the middle of Picadilly Circus while hopping on one leg and wearing leg warmers over your ears.

3) Wait until there is a complete planetary alignment, and if Lara Croft has taught us anything, it's that such an event only happens once every one thousand years. Well, that and that silicon can be injected almost anywhere.

4) Hover around the offices for planning permission to find out when the next dentist office is being built, and then kill people in the queue ahead of you to get your name on the list first.

Since Picadilly is already heaving with people trying to get their names on lists, I decided my best option was to go about this two ways: to Google until I found a nearby office still accepting NHS patients, and once I did, to try to charm our way into the patient load. So the second to the last week of December, I did just that.

Imagine my surprise when I found a dentist's office had recently opened just down the road. And they were still taking NHS patients. And I was able to get through the first time I rang them.

"Blah Blah Blah Dentist's Office." said a female voice on the phone. I could tell from her accent she was Australian.

"Yes, hi." I said. For some reason this is my standard greeting to office staff. I have to say the yes. I will never understand why. "Are you still taking NHS patients? My partner and I live nearby and we need to book a dentist appointment."

"We're pretty booked right now." slangs the Aussie. "We can't take you until...." and here I flip my diary open to 2009, fearing the worst. "January 4, 2005 at 12:30." says the receptionist, with a tone anticipating an outrageous reaction from me.

"Excellent!" I crow. "We'll take it!"

Aussie seems taken aback that we are so willing to be satisfied. "Really?" she asks, surprised.

"We're easy to please." I reply.

We book the appointment, and with dread, we go. When we get there, we find it's a massive house in a nearby neighborhood that has been converted to a dentist's office, and judging by the names on the plaque outside, all of the dentists are foreign. And when we get inside, we find that nearly all the staff is foreign.

I could fit in here.

There is a huge squealing sound emanating from upstairs, of tools being used on something hard and resistant. A sound of torque pervades the hallway, followed by a hammering and thumping sound. Then the sound of intense drilling. I look around. "Now that guy has a tarter control problem." I breeze. "I'm really not happy going to a dentist who's tools say 'Black and Decker' on them." One of the receptionists laughs.

Aussie looks at me. "We're renovating." she says bluntly.

10 out of 10 for the bleeding obvious, honey, I think.

We are handed pages of documents to fill out, documents which look old and which I suspect were reproduced via mimeograph, which I think is cute and quaint and makes me want to sniff the pages. One of the items that we have to check yes/no to is the question: I want to be sedated.

Stopping myself from singing the words to the 80's song and doing a Snoopy style shoulder dance there in the reception, I ask the Aussie.

"I want to be sedated?" I ask, and there is a hint of that melody in the way I ask it. "What does that mean? Like, if I'm having a rough day I can pop by here? That I can opt to be knocked out if I feel a little insecure?"

She just stares at me. "It's for treatment. If you want sedation."

Right, I think, looking at her. You are only the second Australian I have ever met who has had a humor bypass, the first being a guy with an action hero name and a beer gut the size of Montenegro.

I check yes. Why say no to sedation? Besides that, no one is getting near my teeth without anesthetic first. I was offered that in Sweden-did I want my cavity filled with anesthetic, which will cost more? Hmmm....let me think about that. Does the pope have a balcony?

We are led to the waiting room where there are numerous magazines draped around chairs, all happily from 2004 but a disturbing number of them are dive magazines with enormous Great White Sharks jumping up on the cover, rows of fish-filled triangular teeth aiming for the headlines of the glossies. A disturbing vision of the orthodontic possibilites behind Door Number 2, really.

The dentist comes out to get me first. Long black hair, big eyes, and a cute South African accent, she puts me at ease smiling and telling jokes. She asks me how often I brush my teeth, etc., and I find myself striving to prove I am a worthy dental patient. I always do this. It's like I am still expecting a gold star to be stuck onto my sweater for good oral hygiene, as opposed to just good oral.

She looks at my form.

"You want sedation?" she asks.

I usually ask that people buy me dinner first, but yeah. I'm game. "If you have a caivty or something, then yes. I do want anesthetic." I reply. "I'm a bit of a chicken. I won't pass out or anything. But I don't want to feel you drilling. Not that you'll need to. I have good dental hygiene."

God. I just said the words "dental hygiene". I have had a brain transplant and I am now Strawberry Shortcake.

"Oh that's different. Sedation means we use gas to knock you out. Of course you'll get anesthetic." she says kindly.

"That's good. " I reply. "But do sedate me if you need to take out all my teeth or something. I mean, in case it all goes horribly wrong. But it won't as I take good care of my teeth. I swear." Shut up, shut up, shut up you absolute fucking moron.

She starts poking and prodding at my teeth. "Do you floss?" she asks.

I hesitate. Do I lie and tell her daily, or do I tell her the truth, which is that I floss if I have to dress up fancy and look nice or if I have a popcorn husk caught in my teeth, whichever comes first? "Not really." I reply. "Sorry. I know I should do it daily."

She laughs and leans forward. "Let me tell you something." she says in that gorgeous South African accent of hers. "Not even dentists floss daily. It's too boring."

I laugh.

"In fact," she continues, snapping on rubber gloves. "I eat sweets. Constantly. But don't tell anyone."

I love her. I briefly debate going gay for her, but then realize that perhaps that's an ianppropriate response of gratitude. Overkill and all that. Besides, she's into sweets, not beaver.

She takes X-rays using those bite wing things designed by a sado-masichist who gets off on damaging pink gums and laughing at the drooling trolls it turns us into. She leaves the room as my face gets exposed to a splash of X-ray, and when she returns she pulls the bite wings from my mouth, leaving a trail of saliva from my mouth to the trash can so long that Hansel and Gretel could have used it to find their way home. I am horrified my cool dentist will think me a dribbling idiot, but she laughs again.

"You should see me!" she giggles. "Fountains of saliva!"

This is the coolest dentist ever. I never want to go to another dentist again, no matter where I will be living, I will drive to see this chick. This is the Uber-Dentist.

In the end, Angus and I wearily finish up our appointment. As NHS patients, we pay a grand total of £30 for the X-rays and the check-up. But we don't get off that easy-I do indeed have a cavity, and Angus needs 4 of his older fillings replaced. We get to go back next week for dental work, and this time it will be out of pocket, as this dentist uses the new white enamel fillings to replace the old silver mercury ones. The silver ones are covered by NHS. The white ones aren't.

It sucks to have to pay for non-fun things.


PS-I watched the first episode of Desperate Housewives last night as it's come to England now. Oh yeah. I'm hooked.

Posted by Everydaystranger at January 6, 2005 09:37 AM .

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Helen in Oz-oh I would've settled for angelic OR humorous! Just something with a pulse! Maybe she was having an off day or something...

Roger-Man I needed my dictionary for that one. I LOVE that.

Posted by: Helen at January 7, 2005 12:01 PM

I love my dentist. We are IN australia and the receptionists are angelic rather than humorous. it's Axel the dentist who has a sense of humour. He is a tubby, garrulous, cute German-NZ guy and he just goes out of his way to be lovely. For instance he says to my daughter, "I know, I like to see you more than you like to see me." and they both crack up. It's worth the money to have kids who aren't fearful of dentists.
My childhood dentist was Mr Plumber and he was aptly named.

Posted by: Helen at January 7, 2005 11:41 AM

Amy T I'm with ya - I also don't mind the dentist at all. I've also had *loads* of work done to my teeth and wonder if it is a chicken and egg thing. Do I get the work done because I don't mind the dentist or do I not mind the dentist because I'v ehad so much work done?

Posted by: Flikka at January 7, 2005 05:49 AM

As the wise old sage (Monty Python) declared: "Always look on the bright side of life..."

Posted by: Solomon at January 6, 2005 09:29 PM

Roger: I don't even know what "baroreceptors" are, but that was funny.

Amy T and Helen: Using Listerine is as effective as flossing. At least that's what Listerine claims in their commercials...so it must be true, right? I floss anyway...but like the Uber-dentist, not every day.

We pay nearly $1500/year for insurance and still have to pay most of the bill ourselves. The Super-Model Mrs. Solomon is very unhappy every time we get a dental bill in the mail. I'm thrilled we all still have healthy teeth though.

Posted by: Solomon at January 6, 2005 09:26 PM

I've had an endodontist ask politely if he could tie off the salivary glands with a suture around my neck till he got done lowering the gum line.

The thing that always pissed me off is when they insist that the chair be way back and then they get to drop crud into the back of yer neck and exclaim, "Hey! Your a gagger!" No shit. You just dropped a piece of gauze on the baroreceptors placed there by design so that I can detect when you do something so clumsy and commense hacking it back out albeit in this tough incline.

I always thought they should be in the chair and we lean over them while they work. Then crud would be going outward as it should.

I know there are better fixes for streptococcus bacteria but they won't go for absolute solutions because then they couldn't lay on the guilt trip about "Your not massaging your gums!"

Anybody notice I have some issues?

Posted by: Roger at January 6, 2005 08:54 PM

I like my dentist well enough, but yours sounds much funnier. He's great and all, but no sense of humor whatsoever. I've made a couple of quips but he just looks startled and confused, so I stopped. Now we talk about the weather..or rather, he talks and I mumble and spit. Oh well...he does do a good job and doesn't nag me. That's what counts; no nagging.

Dan has a horrible story about his childhood dentist who used to make Dan and his sibs chew these tablets that turned your teeth red wherever you hadn't been brushing properly, so the dentist can tell whether you've been good or not..

Dan said he looked like a vampire every time. Which brought on much humiliating scolding by his dentist. Needless to say, Dan didn't go to the dentist at all as an adult until very recently when one of his teeth started to hurt.

Glad you found a good one.

Posted by: Amber at January 6, 2005 08:15 PM

I have to find a new dentist for my children and myself. I always say "Yes" also. I think it is because most (if the have a personality and are good at their job anyway) will say bla bla bla...how may I help you?
I am so not looking forward to finding one. I have tried several in the past five years with no luck. I am so chicken I bring my kids in and check them out that way LOL. Hey, the kids HAVE to go every six month or I would be a bad Mommy, right?

Posted by: Justme at January 6, 2005 04:45 PM

I HATE the dentist. I have this huge irrational fear of them. But I'm thinking of catching a plane and seeing your uber-dentist. I wonder how much that would end up costing me? It sounds like it would be worth it, though.

Posted by: Catt at January 6, 2005 04:41 PM

I think I'm the only person on the planet that likes going to the dentist. I don't really like it so much as I start to get that itch to go. I've had a lot of work done in my mouth (spacers, braces, retainers, wisdom teeth out... along with 13 other teeth that have been pulled (all baby, by the way)), and I intend to keep my teeth looking good. I refuse to floss, but oh well.

Speaking of dentists, it has been almost 8 months. My teeth suddenly feel extremely slimy. Must. Call. Dentist.

Posted by: amy t. at January 6, 2005 03:45 PM

Ach, fillings! I have problems with my dental bill, actually. My insurance only pays for the white filling stuff if it's a visible tooth. Not in the back. But my dentist only uses the white stuff. Should I tell my insurance I have a smile like Julia Roberts'? Think they'll pay for the white then?

Posted by: scorpy at January 6, 2005 03:09 PM

Oh, right...dentists. Forgot about those. How far can I count backwards... Nope, can't count that high.

Guess it's time to check out the provider list. Drat.

Posted by: Jim at January 6, 2005 02:15 PM

a good dentist... heck, doesn't even have to be a good dentist... a nice dentist is essential. Glad you found one there on your first try, even if the receptionist is completely humorless.

Posted by: martha at January 6, 2005 01:37 PM

I love cool dentists. My dentist was the one who introduced me to Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

Posted by: Marian at January 6, 2005 01:22 PM

I have gone to the same dentist in the States since I grew teeth. Even though I live in the UK now I still fly back to see my dentist. I simply don't trust anyone else.

Posted by: angel at January 6, 2005 11:38 AM

Always say yes, huh? Does that make you the girl who can't say no? Is kissing one of your favorite things?

Terrific post, Helen. Sorry about the cavity. My wife was at the dentist yesterday, too, getting a new crown. When I got home, I gave her a kiss on the corner of her mouth/cheek (mindful of the work) and she said that the entire side of her face was numb. Now that is a dentist who understands the proper use of anesthetic.

Posted by: RP at January 6, 2005 11:15 AM

"To be a dentist..."

Posted by: Helen at January 6, 2005 10:44 AM

Sounds like you have found a great dentist - mine is like Steve Martin in Little Shop of Horrors.

Posted by: lostdawill at January 6, 2005 10:40 AM
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