AIDA AUSTIN: ‘It’s kind of a fur-coat-no-knickers-smile’

I HAVE lost a filling, and my dentist of 20 years has moved away.

So now I’m standing in a new dental surgery, chatting to a strange dentist, breathing like a box-bellows; it seems my fear of dentists has suddenly resurfaced after two decades, totally intact.

I wonder whether or not I’m going to deal with fear in my customary fashion, which is to say, by talking rubbish with no thought for sense, personal dignity or consequence at all.

“I feel like I’ve just climbed [nervous tic] into a kennel to have a chat with a Rottweiler about her fear of dogs,” I say, by way of introduction.

“I’m not suggesting you’re a Rottweiler,” I proceed, “it’s just, personally, I feel going to the dentist [nervous tic] would be so much easier if you … say … got a baby out of it.”

Definitely — I sense with sinking heart — my customary fashion.

I have the terrible feeling of someone who’s driving a train at top speed and laying down the tracks as he goes.

Feeling unaccountably hot, I shed my coat. “What I mean is,” I say, “with labour, a baby gives you something to focus on…” I continue full steam ahead; my fear has its own particular momentum.

“I didn’t mind labour,” I say, “even my husband — who’s always nearly killing himself on bikes — even he’d tell you I was brave in labour.”

“I did it four times,” I say, folding and re-folding my coat, “and I was like, a stoic. I was like, ‘bring it on!’

“If you’d like to put these on,” he says, handing me glasses, “and lie back for me there,” he says.

For reasons to do with nothing I can think of apart from momentum, I advise him not to be fooled by my smile.

“My front teeth are fine,” I confide, swinging my legs up on his chair and lying back with buttocks clenched, “and thank God for that — but it’s all show.

“It’s very deceiving. In actual fact, it’s kind of a ‘fur-coat-no-knickers-smile,’ if you know what I mean.”

My new dentist doesn’t look as if he does. “You know,” I drive on, for the train is unstoppable now, “all posh on the surface but underneath… you know… like a tart in a fur-coat, who’s got no pants on…”

“If you could just bring yourself up towards me a bit,” he says.

It strikes me suddenly that my analogy is ill-chosen. “I’m not saying that I don’t have any back teeth,” I say, “of course I have my back teeth — I have all my teeth, it’s just…”

“Open wide for me now,” he says.

“No knickers,” I say.

His eyes pop above his mask.

I’ve stopped laying the tracks down altogether now but that doesn’t impede me.

“I mean no knickers, not no pants. ‘Pants’ means ‘trousers’ in Ireland, doesn’t it? I’ve lived here for 25 years but I always forget that.”

“Open wide,” he says, looking relieved, “and let’s take a look.”

“Gown da back,” I persist, “my ceef are weally, weally shoft. I wook after dem, an I flosh and flosh, buk all my back ceef are filled. Evey shingle one. And I have fwee woot canals…”

“Yes, I can see that you’ve had quite a bit of work done over the years,” he says, poking about.

As someone to whom the nickname of “rubble-mouth” could rightfully be ascribed, I am touched by his tact.

“Ga filling gat fell out is on ga wight and I fink I have a bwoken coof....”

He continues with his delicate poking.

“Just relax now,” he says, “while I numb things up for you. Take a few deep breaths.”

Once again, it strikes me that the command “relax,” could not feel more counterintuitive than when it is being issued by a strange dentist holding a needle next to your head, unless of course it is being issued by a strange gynaecologist clacking a speculum about next to your bottom.

“Va fing is,” I say, “ish wery hard to welax when I’m shcared you’re going to take the wong coof out.

“It happened to a fwend. He wenk in for a filling and came out wivouk a coof.”

“Nice and wide,” he says.

“Sherioshly, I’d wuvva have a baby,” I say.


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