For as long as I can remember I have been to a dentist for regular check ups. My earliest memory of a visit to the dentist is as a young child fighting with my brother for who would be first to get into the dentist's chair for as ride up and down. I must have been about four years old when the dentist suggested that I stop sucking my thumb or my front teeth would stick out. Not wanting rabbit/buck teeth I stopped sucking my thumb, but it was already too late the damage had been done. When my second teeth came through they stuck out slightly. Both the dentist and I hoped that they might put themselves right, but they didn't. Shortly after my fourteenth birthday the dentist decided that it was time to tackle the problem. He started by making an impression of my teeth and from it he made a cast of my teeth. I can still clearly remember my father taking me to the dentist to see the cast and make a decision about orthodontics. No child volunteers to wear a brace, but I took one look at the cast of my teeth and decided that I could not go through life with teeth that looked as mine did and so began around two years of orthodontics which involved frequent and regular visits to the dentist to have my brace adjusted. I lost all fear of the dentist and to this day I would rather go to the dentist than the hairdresser.
In May last year when the date of my six monthly check up came round, I didn't bat an eyelid. As far as I was aware my teeth were fine. After the usual pleasantries and initial look at my teeth and mouth the dentist started poking around with a variety of different implements. He was no longer making small talk and the expression on his face was serious. Being slightly cynical I though that he was looking for work as I had not had anything more than a check up for some time. He told me that he needed to take an X-ray. Whilst that was developing he explained that he had found a gum boil which indicated that the root of one of my back molars had died. My options were a root canal filing followed by a crown or if I left the tooth until I had toothache and a full blown abscess his only option would be to extract the tooth. That would leave a gap requiring a denture, bridge or an implant. I was not totally surprised by his finding as I had noticed a small swelling in my mouth the previous week but it was not bothering me and I had been too busy to even look at it to see what it might be. The dentist commented that this must be quite a shock to me as I had no obvious symptoms and suggested that I think about it. The shock was the cost of it all. None of the options was cheap. The decision on the course of action was obvious, regardless of the cost. I had not endured two years of orthodontics as a teenager to end up with dentures!
Four weeks later I presented myself at the dentist's to have the root canal filing done. After an injection which numbed all of he right side of my face, my mouth was clamped open for the duration of the procedure by a plastic guard. The process was slow and fiddly and at one point both the dentist and his nurse tried to put both of their hands plus implements into my mouth, at the same time! Another four weeks on and I was back again. This time for the dentist to check that all was well with the filing before he proceeded to crown the tooth. A few weeks later and it was back to the torture chamber for me. Another numb face, four impressions, an array of drills and eventually my temporary crown was fitted. Another two weeks and the permanent crown had been made and was ready to be fitted. The ease with which the dentist removed the temporary crown was unnerving. One quick flick and it was off. For two weeks I had been happily chomping away on it. Hopefully the permanent crown had been fixed with stronger cement. No more dentist appointments for six months now, or so I hoped.
In between my check up appointment and actually having the root canal filing I read this article in The Times about root canal filings. They are a very skilled procedure. Some dentists no longer do them preferring to refer patients to a dentist who does. Others continue to offer the procedure but it would be better if they did not. I was lucky in that the problem was picked up at a routine check up. I had no toothache and consequently no need for painkillers or antibiotics. However, I have not been so lucky with my current problem.