Until I met Siddhartha Mehta I used to dread visits to the dentist. Just looking at the array of drills, usually ominously but prominently on display, would fill me with apprehension. Even after 20 years, the memory of my two root-canals still has the power to make me shudder. Feeling your nerves being extracted — even if it wasn’t exactly painful — is discomforting and disturbing. Actually, hugely so.
Now, although I’ve known Dr Mehta for almost two decades, it was with a certain trepidation that I entered his clinic last week. An old crown on my right molar, covering one of the root-canals at the far end of my jaw, had come out. I knew at once that I had a problem but what I did not realise, until the good doctor pointed it out, was that part of the root-canal stem had also snapped.
I guess it was the smile on Dr Mehta’s face that first alerted me. “Ah,” he said, as he peered into my open mouth. “This calls for a bit of carpentry. But first, let me show you what’s happened.”
Pulling up a stool and sitting down beside me, Dr Mehta started to sketch the damaged tooth. Initially it looked like a cliff face badly eroded by the lashing waves of the sea. Then it seemed to approximate a thin Tower of Pisa. As I watched in silent horror, Dr Mehta explained: “There’s not very much left of the tooth. So, to begin with, we’re going to have to rebuild it.”
Oh dear, I said to myself, from carpentry to architecture! I’m in for it. I suspect the dismay showed on my face, because Dr Mehta was quick to reassure me. “It won’t hurt at all, but it will take a little time.”
Continuing with his sketch, the good doctor illustrated how he would drill holes into the old root-canal base and insert two pins. “Think of this as the foundation”, he said, pointing at the bits of the root-canal buried deep inside my jaw. “The pins I’m going to insert will give us a little purchase to build a new tooth. Then, on top of the new structure, I’ll give you a new and shining crown.”
Dr Mehta not only made it sound simple and easy, but the portrait of the finished product looked quite fetching. Although I was scared stiff, the picture in his hands was encouraging, even tempting. I wanted a new tooth that looked as smooth as this one, rather than the rough protuberance I could feel with the edge of my tongue.
Over the next four sessions, as the good doctor and his excellent colleagues proceeded to re-construct the inside of my mouth, my anxiety give way to curiosity and, finally, turned to discovery.
Some of what followed was obvious. For instance, the most common thing dentists say is “Open wide please.” When they’re concentrating intently, that’s reduced to a peremptory “wider”. But some discoveries were truly eye-opening. Did you know there are two ways to close your mouth? On your front teeth and on the back ones. We switch between the two instinctively, usually without realising it.
But what I will always remember is the discovery that Dr Mehta administers a surface anaesthetic before giving an injection. It’s called Xylonor and works like a charm. I only realised that I had been injected when I saw the monstrous steel syringe being extracted from my gaping mouth. Isn’t there a lesson here for other doctors?