A long holiday

To tell the truth
there is nowt as bad as
a pain in a rotten tooth
hallway with window


When I worked in a dental practice near Portobello Road in west London, I met a lot of ‘colourful’ characters, many of whom I might have avoided had I saw them approaching me by chance in the street. One fellow, Ted, a large patient whose nose had been broken at least once and been badly fixed, said to me once: “If anyone ever causes you trouble in the street, just say you’re a friend of Ted. That’ll warn them.”

One day while I was standing in a queue at a takeaway counter waiting to order lunch, someone standing near me, a patient of mine, said: “Need a motor, doc?” I answered that I did not need a car at that point of time. “No problem, Doc,” he replied, “when you need one, just tell me what you want, whatever colour and make, and I’ll get it for you.” Not willing to sound ungrateful, I thought that when he said “get”, he really meant “steal.”

I had many patients who had been in and out of trouble with the law. Often, I would be told: “Look what the prison dentist did to this tooth, doc. Bleeding butcher, he was. Ought to be put behind bars.” I never asked why my patients had spent time ‘inside’. I felt it would be better not to know.

The last patient before one lunchtime was an aggressive young man. He was accompanied by his friend, a slightly older man. Before I had time to ask the young fellow what was wrong, he told me. Pointing to a lower left premolar tooth, he said: “Get it out. It’s f…..g killing me.” I looked at the chap. His mouth did not seem to close properly. “Don’t just stand there. Get it out, man”. I looked at the tooth. It looked alright. It was neither decayed, nor wobbly, nor tender. That strange mandibular posture bothered me.  


“You’ve broken your jaw,” I said. “Don’t give me that crap. Just take it out.” I said: “If I take it out, you will still be in pain. You need to go to a hospital to fix your jaw.” This only angered the patient more, and I began to fear for the integrity of my jaw. “I’m not leaving until you take it out.” “Then,” I replied, “I’ll ring for an ambulance.” The patient’s friend said: “Come on, mate, let’s go.” Reluctantly, the patient allowed his friend to drag him out into the street. I locked the practice for the lunch break, relieved to see them leave.

Some days later, I met the patient’s friend in the street. I asked him whether the young man had been to hospital. He did not answer my question. Instead he said: “He’s gone away.” “On holiday?” I queried innocently. “Yes, on holiday.” “Long holiday?” I asked, beginning to understand what he meant by ‘holiday’. “Yes, very long holiday”.


Photo by Jimmy Chan on Pexels.com


Ouch! Pull it out!

dent 1

When I qualified as a dentist back in 1982, there was no vocational training period during which the newly qualified dental surgeon worked under the guidance of an experienced practitioner. Like others who graduated at that time, I was plunged into the ‘deep end’. I was fortunate that the owner of the first practice where I worked was understanding and helpful. He provided me with much valuable advice.

However, nothing can prepare you for the unexpected.

One day, a new patient sat in my dental chair. He spoke English with an eastern European accent. He may have been Ukranian. He said to me: “It is my philosophy that when I am having pain from a tooth, I remove it from my mouth.” Having just spent five and a half years training to save troublesome teeth, I asked him whether he was certain that he did not want an attempt to be made to save the tooth. He was adamant: he wanted the tooth out.

When he pointed at one of his upper incisors, a tooth that was visible when he spoke, I asked him again whether he would not prefer to save such a prominently visible tooth. Once again, he explained his philosophy.

With some reluctance, I administered the local anaesthetic to render the proposed extraction painless. While his jaw was going numb, I asked him once again whether he was sure that he wanted to lose the tooth. He did not change his mind.

It is usual to check for numbness the area around a tooth that is to be removed. This is done by prodding the area with a sharp-pointed probe. As I began to do this, the patient pushed my hand away sharply. Before I could ask him why he did this, he grabbed the offending tooth with his thumb and forefinger, twisted sharply, and cleanly extracted the whole incisor with its root intact. My assistant and I stared at the man, totally surprised.

He said: “All I needed was the injection. The rest I can do myself”. Needless to say, I did not offer him a discount.


dent 2


Pictures from “Der Zahnarzt in der Karikatur” by E Heinrich, publ. 1963