Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Drowning At The Dentist

You learn something new everyday. Today I learned that you can drown at the dentist.

My dentist is one of those rare creatures, an NSH dentist. He is based in the grounds of a now eerily deserted hospital that is slowly being converted to 'luxury' family homes. Once a bustling mix of health and community service buildings, residential homes, wards, mental health facilities, nurseries and all manner of disparate NHS bits and bobs, set in several acres of tree dotted green fields, the site is now littered with sealed up buildings and groups of yellow helmeted surveyors measuring up the space for development. Here and there the odd service survives; the wheelchair service occupies a building and my dentist another. The dental surgery was once part of a complex that included a GP surgery and a physiotherapy department, but they have been relocated and so the dentist and his assistant occupy a huge building all by themselves. This will be my last visit to the site before the practice moves to another location and the echoing building is razed to the ground to make way for 2 or 3 bedroom executive residences.

When I arrived the waiting room was empty so I was denied the chance to read three year old magazines and was instead ushered straight in. I positioned myself adjacent to the dentist's chair and tilted my wheelchair back. The dentist, an Asian gentleman with reassuringly spectacular white teeth, positioned the light and said, “let's have a look.” A few minutes of probing later and he declared that all was well apart from a little tartar that he would now remove.

Armed with the dental equivalent of a pressure hose he proceeded to blast the offending calculus from my teeth while his assistant wielded a mini vacuum cleaner to suck away the debris and excess water. And therein lay the problem. Suck as she might, water trickled to the back of my throat as I lay back in my chair. Whereas normally I would have swallowed the excess water I found that in my prone position I couldn't. And when I breathed I found that I was breathing in the water. Not wanting to make a fuss I endured this for as long as I could, before having a coughing fit and shaking the various implements from my overflowing mouth.

We tried again but it was no good. Each time I ended up coughing and gagging on water, being looked down upon by an anxious dentist. Eventually we resorted to old fashioned scraping. Slightly more painful but better than drowning. Less embarrassing too.


  1. I have the dubious pleasure of seeing my dentist, who sounds remarkably like the man you describe, in a couple of weeks. I have to say that I choose the reliable, old way of having tartar removed, by scraper as I find the high-tech ,ultrasonic zapper somewhat more painful in his hands. Perhaps it's just me being a bit of a dinosaur. Do hope you are fully recovered from your ordeal now.

  2. Oh dear!

    That sounds like a really awful experience and I hope you are feeling better now.

    But you know, reading this post, I thought how English of you to try and (ahem) "suck it up" and not make a fuss. I would have been the same way in the same situation 15 years ago (although I am Irish), but have definitely adapted the American model these days.

    I mean, think about it:

    option A: drown and choke for the sake of not inconveniencing the "poor" dentist.

    option B: mention you can't actually swallow and find an alternative.

    Most English people choose A. It's quite mad, really. Americans take the attitude that they are paying for a service, they deserve to live through it.

    Maybe the whole NHS thing blurs the lines?


  3. My dentist is Polish.......and so any form of complaining or wincing is viewed with utter contempt as she gives you a "You don't know how easy you've had it pal...if you had suffered like us Pols have suffered you wouldn't whine over a little dental discomfort".

    I am talking about a women who did my last filling without giving me any anesthetic what so ever...and got the hump when I involuntarily nearly kicked the drill out of her hand!

    Needless to say...I take my dental hygiene very seriously indeed.

  4. I HATE GOING TO DENTISTS. Even though my dentist is great. But the nurse knocked me twice with the x-raycamera and had to retake the pictures four times. (I am sort of glowing green right now)

    Anyway came upon your blog when I as depressed and anxious this summer and googled. (Don't laugh) For INSPIRATION and LIFE in troublesometimes.........
    ......or something..like that...........oh, great.....this blog will give me things to live by......

    Haven't got much inspiration and lifewisdom so far:) but have got many good laughs. :) So, bye from a laughing but not so much inspired reader. (Not depressed anymore, by the way.)

  5. Carole I hope you are feeling better now.

  6. Oh! Hope you don't experience that again. I have good Memphis dentists who do procedures gently every visit. One of them also takes care of my kids' teeth. He makes sure none of us would feel a bit pain everytime. And their assistants are all careful too.

  7. Superb blog post, I have book marked this internet site so ideally I’ll see much more on this subject in the foreseeable future!

  8. I went to a new dentist today. The dental hygenist gave me sunglasses to wear while she cleaned my teeth. I must have been really tired because I fell asleeep and woke up because she had sprayed water into my mouth and I started drowning. I aspirated the water and starting choking, and like you I spit out the implements in my mouth, spewing water everywhere.


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