Teeth

I had something stuck between my teeth. While I was fiddling around with dental floss in front of the bathroom mirror, I noticed what appeared to be a hole in one of my molars. Uh oh. How long had it been since I last went to the dentist? Er… about three years. I quickly got the name of a good dentist and made and appointment.

Growing up in the small rural hamlet of Matangi meant that the water we drank came from a bore in the ground. Before y’all start getting images of wells or cranking pump handles, it was an electric pump and if you turned on any one of the taps in the house, water came out. The difference was that because this water came straight from an underground stream, it hadn’t been flurodated. So the dental nurse at my school recommended to my parents that they give me a fluoride tablet every day. I objected to these F Tabs and thought I was getting away without taking them, but it turns out my mother used to crush them up and mix them in with my milk.

I never used to brush my teeth, either. I’m not sure why. But I started when one day I visited the school dental nurse and got a filling.

Like a lot of schools, the dental clinic was affectionately known as the Murder House. This name goes back to the dental clinics of my parents’ generation’s childhood. Where the drills weren’t electric, but foot pedal powered, so if drill essentially only went as fast as the dental nurse was pedalling. If she got a bit tired, the drill would go slower. And back then dental nurses would grind down and fill the molars of everyone. Not because they were decayed, but as a preemptive measure, as someone had decided that molars were somehow imperfect and only modern dental technology could improve upon nature.

Fortunately by the time I got to school things had changed. Not only had electric drills been introduced to the dental clinic, but someone had realised that molars aren’t the cavity traps that they were previously thought to be. Fillings were only done when they were needed, and when they were done they didn’t hurt as much.

So off I went to the Murder House and I had a little bit of the side of a molar drilled away and filled with some amalgam. It wasn’t incredibly painful, but on the other hand, it wasn’t pleasant either. The dental nurse told me to relax, so I did and it wasn’t that bad.

After that I started brushing my teeth, but interestingly enough, after I started brushing I eventually ended up getting two further fillings. I eventually moved to the city (a whole 8 kilometres away) and could drink all the flurodated water I wanted. I was also seeing a proper, grown-up dentist by then, and he used to tell me that I had “disgustingly healthy teeth.”

My teeth were healthy, but my bottom jaw was crowded. I already had one tooth that was sticking out at the front, so my dentist pumped me full of novacaine and yanked it out. It’s such a cool feeling to have a tooth pulled out when you’re conscious. It make a sort of scraping, creaking noise. The best part was, I got to keep the teeth.

When I was 17 I had to have two of my back molars removed so make room for my wisdom teeth. I was totally knocked out for that. I would have much rather been conscious for that which, incidentally, is an option with today’s modern medical technology. There’s this anaesthetic that makes you not feel anything, but you remain conscious throughout the whole operation. That would rule.

I had kept up with the regular six-monthly checkups, and my teeth remained healthy. Then I moved up to Auckland and forgot to get a dentist. But the sight of a hole in one of my teeth was enough to remind me of the need for dental care.

So there I was, lying back in the chair, watching a tennis match on the TV up above the chair. The lower left side of my mouth, including the left side of my tongue and the left side of my lip were numb with novacaine. My dentist was packing the newly drilled hole with a compound named Fuji 9. His assistant was operating the sammy sucker. Another dentist was watching as my dentist explained the “unorthodox, but effective” technique he was using.

So now I have a new white filling, and one of my older amalgam fillings has been replaced with the white Fuji 9 stuff. My only minor complaint is that the filling white doesn’t match my teeth colour, but that’s another story for another time.

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