My first real memory of going to the dentist was as a young lad having an impression made of my teeth. They got these large metal denture-shaped things, put some kind of Plasticine material in them and stuffed them unceremoniously into my mouth. I’d have to sit there for an eternity while the plastic set, drooling endlessly, then they would remove them and the next time I’d come in there would be a plaster-of-Paris mould of my teeth. Another early memory was the dentist about to clean my teeth with a power-drill brush asking me which flavour of paste I’d like. I knew that it wasn’t anything like the toothpaste at home and no matter which flavour I chose it would taste absolutely terrible and I’d want to be sick immediately. Lovely.
My parents were lucky, they managed to get my brother and myself to be patients at our local Dental Hospital. This meant free, top-class treatment and the occasional group of students watching while the dentist did the work. We went there for years and got to know one senior dentist in particular, a Mr. Erskine. At first he seemed like a scary bloke with a beard and a harsh way with words. But as we grew older and got to know him we realised that he was the perfect gentleman with excellent manners and a great sense of humour. Except when there were students around where he would change into being more of a Gestapo-style character (which was why we’d originally thought he was intimidating). We always found this schizophrenia highly amusing.
I remember the day that he suggested I was going to need to wear braces. I’d had overcrowding in my mouth and had previously had four adult teeth removed (I’ve still got them somewhere, maybe I’ll post a picture). Everything was going fine but my teeth were growing in a bit squint and now was the time to sort it out. So we agreed that I would have the dreaded “Tram Tracks” fitted and a week later they were.
Tram tracks (not the medical term I’m sure) are the type of brace where a small metal piece is glued to each tooth and then a wire is fed around the upper and lower teeth and they are gradually all pulled into line. It’s a slow process and requires you to have them for months and months. I don’t know if the technology has improved any since my day, but it was hell for me. I’d have to go in periodically and have the wire replaced and each time it’d be tighter and I’d spend the next few days in pain while my teeth started to feel the strain. Then that would be replaced with slightly less pain and then a bit less than that. Once I was almost used to it, I’d have to go in and have the wire replaced and on it would go.
Eventually it came to the point where I was happy with the alignment of my teeth, they were good enough. Actually, scratch that, it’s a lie. Eventually it came to a point where I couldn’t take any more – I’d had enough and I wanted the bloody things off. They used to cut up the insides of my mouth like eating broken glass and I’d had probably a year of constant pain nagging away at me. So we agreed that I’d have them removed (my teeth were in a good enough state anyway). But my adventure wasn’t over yet. Not by a long shot.
You see, having the tram tracks removed meant that my teeth would start to move back to their old positions requiring me to have to wear plates for a while. No, not dinner plates, these are plastic things with a single wire that you wear on the roof of your mouth and at the bottom in front of your tongue. They tend to make you speak with a lisp and make eating a nightmare (for the record, I just took the damn things off when I ate). However, they reduced the amount of movement from my teeth and were nowhere near as bad as the tram tracks. I gradually phased out wearing the plates until my teeth stayed where they were and are still there today. Not perfect but good enough for me.
I don’t know why I dreamed about the braces the other night (hence this article) but I’m glad I had them, even though they caused me a lot of grief at the time. And Mr. Erskine, thanks for sorting out my teeth. Prior to my having some adult teeth removed he assured me that in the long term it was for the best and he was confident that my mouth would turn out all right. He was right and I am eating a mince pie right now just to prove it.
I was never scared of going to the dentist despite having a total of nine teeth removed under local anaesthetic and having a filling without any anaesthetic at all (my request, I just wanted a reminder of why I should take care of my teeth – the pain is seeringly sharp, by they way and I can well understand why torturers do it people). However, I can’t say that this feeling was extended to hospitals – only in the past few years have I managed to get to grips with them, but that’s another story…