Postcard from the Edge of a Root

Two things you need to know about the German dental system:

  1. It ain’t cheap
  2. You have to pay (at least some of the bill) by yourself.

So, with a bit a of toothache, I naturally first checked my bank account and then went over to the dentist. He is a pleasant chap and greeted me with a cheerful “how are you?” – but I was not going to fall in to that trap. You need to avoid having any audible exchange with German doctors, as the conversation invariably appears on a subsequent bill as €35 line item of “in-depth consultation”, so I smiled nonchalantly, slid in to the chair and pointed to the hurty tooth.

He started by adding €50 to the bill, followed by a quick check which involved pressing some freakishly cold pellet to my tooth and then started smashing around a bit, going “does this hurt?” – my immediate reaction was “of course it does!”, but actually, and surprisingly it didn’t. “Hmmm” he said, “that’s not good”, but his eyes lit up, obviously with the idea of a luxurious week away in a posh hotel somewhere foremost in his mind. The tooth in question already had a filling and after a couple more bashings and and yet another ice test it was confirmed the nerve was dying and I needed a root canal.

Somehow this very term has always filled me with dread and now I was facing up having one, the reality was terrifying and Mr. Dentist, realizing I was likely to bolt from the chair and never return, casually turned round, dropped the holiday brochure for the Maldives he had been flicking through, and said ominously, “we’ll start it now”.

Desperate for an excuse to get out of there and reappraise my situation, I panicked and blurted out the first thing that came to mind, which, with hindsight, was probably not the intelligent phrase on the planet. “But I have a dentist appointment”, I stammered. “I know”, he replied, smiled and inserted the needle.

I had foregone the high-tech entertainment gadgetry my dentist has on offer (video glasses to watch movies, sound systems to distract you) as I like to see what is going on and this was no exception. The rack of pointy files was placed in front of me and looked like something straight from Dante’s 7th Circle of Hell – an impression that was emphasized when a seemingly huge pink sheet of latex-free rubber was placed over my mouth “for my protection”. There was a slight disagreement because I didn’t like the colour, but Mr. Dentist won out. Before things got serious I managed to bark out the question “you have done this before, haven’t you?”. Mr. Dentist smiled and the drill bit whined, but I could still hear his assistant outside asking to be sent some brochures for a QE2 cruise.

There was very little pain (hardly surprising as the nerve was extricated on the first visit), however, the feeling of having 12mm of drill bit inserted in to the tooth was not the most pleasant experience I have had. This feeling was repeated with anti-biotic treatments, sodiumhydrogenchloride paste paste, rubber sticky-things and the final core filling. Luckily, this tooth only had 2 canals that needed cleaning, disinfecting, stuffing and filling over the following 3 appointments.

Having so many appointments gives you real time to reflect. Why are dentist instruments so pointy? Couldn’t they have some nice rounded ends to make them look less threatening? Why does the drill whine like that? Surely there are noise suppressors available to drown out the sound. Questions, I fear, that will never get a satisfactory answer.

Credit has to be given to Mr. Dentist, who was excellent, and put up with my whining and moaning, complaining and penny-pinching. I have not yet had the final bill, but driving past his praxis today there was a rather nice shiny new Volvo sitting outside…

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