Before the fact of dentistry all gods flee and all poetry turns to ashes. What is to be done?



The dentist should be dressed as a Viking or Attic sea-rover or Klingon warrior. At any rate there should be muscles and leather. He should laugh mightily as he looks into your mouth and clap you on the shoulder. He should say:

"This is a man's mouth, a mouth that gladdens my heart. Surely this is the manliest mouth I have seen. This is a mouth that has been lived in, that has torn greedily at the marrow of life. I can see you have pulled deeply at the wine that is red and the Silk Cut that is purple. You have savoured the honey that is sweet and the lemon drop that is bitter, have bitten into crackling and chewed at nougat with a savage unreflecting glee and dissolved Cadbury's Dairy Milk upon your tongue with a deep judicious relish.

"You have, perhaps, torn at the flesh of your enemies and drunk of their bubbling blood. Certainly you have gnawed at house bricks for the sheer joy of the thing. Sa. It is good. And now you have manly scars. It grieves me almost to hide them."

He should fix you with big manly tools like blacksmith's hammers and crowbars and big iron pitons and rivets, cranking your jaws apart with a car-jack, singing baritone battle-hymns as he works and casting the filling from melted-down cannons in his own forge. You should rinse with rum and then he should say:

"Sa, and now the shark is ready to swim again. Go forth and once more partake of the honey that is sweet, and the lemon drop that is bitter, and feast on the flesh of your enemies."


He should pretend to be more scared of you than you are of him. He should say, "Please don't bite me." You should snap at his fingers every time he comes near.


By sleight of hand the dentist should discover and pull out a little pirate map from one of your cavities. A tiny little one such as a Matchbox pirate doll of my childhood had stashed in his pegleg. My parents never bought me one. I have since forgiven them.

The dentist should say, "As a young man you must have been treated by Blackbeard McTeague, the notorious pirate dentist who stole gold teeth and buried them on an island. This is a map to his treasure!"

You, him and the nurse should go off and have an adventure looking for it. Afterwards they should tell your mother how brave you were, if you were.


The dentist should be a moody and uncompromising artist dentist. At first he should sneer at your mouth and sullenly say, "I can do nothing with this, it does not inspire me." Then, grudgingly, "Although, perhaps, the upper right maxillary canine and the hole at the lower left have possibilities." Finally, in excitement, "Yes, yes! I see what might be done!" In a fine fury of inspiration he should carve your teeth into sculptures of the first 32 British prime ministers or the first 32 members of the Latin American pop group Menudo.
  "Umf umf umf umf umf!" you should say.
  "Philistine," he should say, signing your palate.


If it's a practice where you are forced to put goggles on before being drilled lest you be maimed by flying fragments, the dentist should at least pretend the goggles are magic truth-revealing glasses like the ones in that film. Him and the nurse should pull on lizard masks as soon as you put them on and remove them and look innocent when you take them off again.


Furtively and after much hemming and hawing the dentist should offer to sell you a teenager's unspoiled teeth, never mind how he came by them. Or Osmond teeth. "Osmond teeth, freshly killed. Clean, strong, you could bite through steel." He should show you one in a little jewel box, with blood still on it. Or perhaps have lots of them hung inside his white coat. "Check it out," he should say after glancing out the window. "What do you need, I've got molars, incisors, canines, wisdom. I got wisdom teeth so wise they bought bitcoin in 09 and canines so canine they lick their own balls."
  When you say no the nurse should mutter, "Do we have to kill him too now?" The dentist should tell her, No, it's OK, I'll fix him, and then make strange would-be hypnotic gestures in front of your face, wiggling his fingers like a squids's tentacles, while whispering, "Forget, forget."


A law should be passed that dentists have to stop being intimidating figures with waiting rooms and surgeries and become subservient and itinerant ones, like shoeshine boys. They should come up to you in bus and train stations with their tools in a box and beg, "Fix your teeth for you, mister?" in a whining wheedling importunate voice.

"What the hell," you should say indulgently, "I have a few minutes spare."

If he hurts you he should go, "Did I nick you, sir?" like a barber, but more anxiously and as if fearful of being beaten. You should reassure him that it's nothing and that he should carry on, unless it really bloody hurt, in which case you can clout him round the ear and tell him to be more careful in future.

If he forgets himself and tries to do the dentist thing of starting a conversation he is able to dominate because you can only reply, "Guh," firmly remove his implements from your mouth and say, "Shut up and fix my god-damned teeth, Demosthenes, and if you're quick about it maybe I'll buy you a soap-box."

You should probably be smoking or at least chewing a big cigar while he works; he should apologise humbly every time he has to move this.

Afterwards you should grandly toss him some spare change and he should knuckle his forehead and say, "Thank you, mister, thank you." He should also be able to supply racing tips and underworld rumours; if his information is good you should tip him a whole dollar, especially if you don't live in America. His eyes should grow huge at the sight of it. You should tell him not to spend it all at once and that if the tip turns out bad you'll be back to beat the shit out of him.


By means of a video screen on the ceiling or just some imagination and the dentist and nurse shaking you and making rumbling noises it would be possible to imagine the chair is actually the acceleration couch of a mighty spaceship powering through the heavens to soar off into the cosmos.

To continue the fun they could then put on 1980s springy head-bobs and make beeping noises and pretend they are aliens probing you.

If it's a practice that still uses gas-delivery masks to put you out, radiophones could also be put over your ears and dogfights from the Battle of Britain projected on a screen, or the dentist and nurse make machine-gun and plunging plane noises, and you could drift off to a soothing panorama of burning Messerschmitts.

Afterwards you and the nurse could do a routine like, "Where am I?" "The hospital at Biggin Hill. I'm afraid you had a prang." "How bad is it?" "Prepare yourself. We had to take out your rear right upper molar." "Dash it. Will I still be able to eat?" "I'm afraid only Spam." "I feel like half of me is gone." "It doesn't make you any less of a man." "Doesn't it? Could you love a man who was missing a molar?" "God no, why should I, the country will be full of GIs soon, they all have perfect teeth." "Whore!" "How insensitive. I shall send for the doctor." "Yank-fucking molar-whore!" "A whore who can still chew steak properly, gummy."

Or something nicer.


Remind yourself that it was in a dentist's waiting room that Philippe Petit first saw a picture of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in a magazine and decided to walk on a tightrope between them.
  Decide to walk on a tightrope between the first two things you see in a magazine in the waiting room, even if it is a pair of reality-show sisters or celebrity silicon breasts.


The doctor and the nurse should carry on like flighty 1920s bright young things. They have just come in from a costume party that started the night before. They offer you cocktails and gossip about people you don't know. But most of these people should barge in one after the other while you're being worked on, an astonishing collection of flappers and dowager Duchesses with pekinese and men called Algy and cabinet ministers angry about pranks and missing documents, and spiritualists and chorus girls and heiresses in pierrot costumes and at least one bootlegger, until the surgery is crowded like a sardine tin with interesting people all talking at once. They should all get into the ether, novocaine and sterilising alcohol and drag you into their complicated lives. You should manage to supply a zinger from time to time, solve all their problems, be offered a newspaper column by an impulsive tycoon and become engaged to the prime minister's featherhead daughter, all without leaving the chair. Then you all fly to Rio.


The dentist should have a really absorbing and somewhat disreputable life story which he reveals in fragments on each visit, offhandedly and with incredible nonchalance in between tinkering with you or cryptically dictating your tooth-measurements to the nurse. "Then there were the elk-penis-trafficking years... lower-P3 A1... that was after my time in the harem... upper J2 ZX... even at the height of the cold war the Warsaw Pact borders were always porous to the Romanies, of course, but that option was ruled out to me because of the blood-feud... Molar crown to Queen's Bishop 3... and the chief of the secret police had got it into his head that elk penises were a badge of counter-revolution... Right incisor versunk... of course his mistress might still be in love with me if she had forgiven me for selling her the fake Ark of the Covenant... THX-1138... so the only option was to travel with the circus again and hope the Five Flying Waldensteins could trapeze me over the barbed wire... pearl one knit one... of course they might not have forgiven me for deflowering Rosa... a story for another time and one I'm not really proud of, although considered merely as an acrobatic feat perhaps I ought to be as the only time we'd been left unchaperoned were brief moments spinning together in mid-air..." Like Sheherezade he should end every episode on a cliffhanger so that you look forward eagerly to your next visit, even sabotaging your own teeth if he's run out of things to fix. Eventually an obscure terrorist faction, one of the lesser-known mafias or a family of irate circus folk should burst in and kill him before your eyes.


The dentist should keep a pig in a corner of his surgery, a really fat but beguiling one with a red ribbon around its neck. It should watch all the procedures interestedly, oinking nervously at the tricky bits, sometimes splashing joyfully up and down in an artificial mud-wallow in appreciation of his dentological skill.
   "What's the story with the pig?" you should eventually summon the nerve to ask.
   "I like to look at pigs!" he should exclaim impatiently, in fact downright indignantly, high-pitched with outrage and boggling at you as if it was the most idiotic and impertinent question in the world and he would like to stab you for it. "Is there anything wrong with that?"
   "Nothing at all," you should eventually admit, thinking about it, somewhat abashed. "Nothing at all." You should go home and write a story inspired by him, either a treatment for an uplifting Hollywood film celebrating the individual pitted against a conformist world or a blind item for your local paper's gossip column entitled, 'Which dentist may be fucking a pig?'


The nurse brightly asks, "Can I try doing a tooth?"
  "That would be most improper," the dentist should say. "You have not been to dentist school."
  "Meanie," she says. "If you were a real man you would teach me the secrets of dentist school."
  She variously flirts with him and you and pouts and looks sad until you give in and agree she can do a tooth. He tells her what to do and even lets her read his dentist instructions book.
  She fixes your tooth OK but now she knows his secrets she instantly does a Nimue and Merlin number on him, trapping him forever in the cavern of your mouth, or at least clamping your jaw shut with his fingers inside.
   "You can't get the staff," he says as she runs off cackling.


The dentist should say, "You have a real purty mouth, boy," and unzip himself. However he should then say, "Only kidding," and merely pull out a bunch of flowers and the flags of all nations. Everything afterwards will be a relief. For extra points he could go on to pull flags and flowers and such out of your mouth, or merrily cry, "A vortex, a vortex!" at a really deep cavity and pretend his hand has been pulled off, concealing it up his sleeve or if really dedicated to your entertainment amputating it before your visit and replacing it with a trick glove. Eventually you should all get into the ether and so on as per Decca above and the nurse do a striptease, or you should grab him and punch him and tell him to fix your goddam teeth as per strategy Zeppo.


The dentist should act like a big game hunter, crying, "Ivory!" when you open your gob and attempting to bag your teeth with an elephant rifle. After you wrestle with him for it and force him to use pliers instead, he should then either mount the ripped-out tooth on a wall, or the nurse and receptionist should carry it off slung between poles while dressed like native bearers. Alternatively he could pretend it is rhino horn and sell it to a Chinese man who grinds it down and eats it and then grins and gets an erection and nobs a geisha in the waiting area while you book your next appointment.


The dentist should announce, "This is not tooth decay. It is cosmic rot, the same which gnaws slowly at the whole world. All that is made or born will fall prey to it one day and even the stars are not immune."
   He and the nurse should hang their heads and look sad. Then say:
   "The only cure for it is to stay cheery!"
   Then raise their heads grinning and put on a song and dance routine for you, with top hats and canes and lots of synchronized moves, on a theme of always look on the sunny side.
   The last step should kick you in the mouth in such a way your bad tooth comes flying out. Then they should high-five each other and repeat, "On the sunny side!" one more time while a trumpet blares.