I LOST an old friend recently.
While I may shed a silent tear, I wonít make a fuss about it because we
capital citizens, with flinty stoicism, can bite the bullet.
just say that, for the greater part of my life, we were together - in the
belt, slap, shake and shove of old-time Scottish education, enlivened by
the Buddhist-like chants of multiplication tables, right through my
adolescence, even unto the Army where, when I was promoted to temporary,
acting lance corporal, my friend helped when I drilled squaddies in the
exotic and near-balletic movements of porting eating irons for inspection
and changing salutes on the march.
In journalism, we were close
when I walked with captains of commerce but kept what I call my virtue,
and talked with town councillors and adopted, in protective mimicry, the
Oh, the toothsome morsels we had when we feasted
across gourmet Europe - the Hungarian goulashes we saw off, les viands,
les poissons, die wurste, das sauerkraut - you name it correctly, we
probably had it, all washed down with a crafty Chateau Lafitte-Rothschild
or a cheeky Pol Roger, Pommery, or other wines, courtesy of expenses-paid
press trips to imbibe the atmosphere of holiday destinations.
it comes to the crunch, my friend has had his chips. "Thatís it," said my
dentist, and there he was in a mouth-rinsing bowl - my upper-left,
pre-molar, for long a grim, unswerving bastion of my bite, felled after
heroic attempts to save it from demise. In the resultant gap, my tongue
slithers like a seal, seeking food morsels in an unfamiliar landscape.
THE pull-out was precise and painless; I expected that, since my dentist
is a highly-skilled chap, at the cutting-edge of dental technology.
private Edinburgh practice is about as different from old-time dentistsí
surgeries as the Wright brothersí flying machine to a jumbo jet. For one
thing, he has a £40,000 computer-activated system that, in a sense, gives
patients engaged in filling-in time, mouse-to-mouth treatment.
may be entertained by seeing on screen their new-age ceramic fillings
formed in a high-action, micro-precision, restoration drama. For another,
the practice includes reconstructive surgery, bone growing,
teeth-whitening, tissue regeneration and teeth implants - a set-up
spreading in Britain as dentists, dissatisfied with inadequate government
funding, leave the National Health Service for private practice.
lacks around 215 health service practitioners. Aberdeenís last fully NHS
practice, with 3,000 patients, will become private and with health service
dentists disappearing like snow off a hot dyke, growing numbers of
patients are being told that their dentists are shaking off their NHS
shackles for more shekels to improve their practices.
aches but, thanks to my mouth-maintenance man, not my teeth, for
Scotlandís decaying NHS dental service. The British Dental Association has
called for Scottish Executive dental funding to be increased from GBP 172
million to GBP 520 million - money that might temporarily fill a deep,
financial cavity but is unlikely to halt the drain to the prosperous
uplands of private work.
I HOPE that National Health Service dentistry
survives, especially for those who cannot afford private practicesí
comparatively high charges. I have had experience of some great, old-time,
traditional tooth tuggers and fillers who operated - perhaps not with the
exuberant alacrity of the Italian monk medico, Brother Giovanni Battista
Orsenigo, who, between 1868 and 1903, extracted 2,000,744 teeth, an
average of 185 teeth a day, but with the strength and persistence against
offending biters of leading tug-of-war men and who regarded gum-numbing
jabs when filling cavities as cowardly, effete un-British.
Meanwhile, Scottish children, largely because of poor diet and dental
hygiene, have the worst teeth in Europe, Glasgow children the worst in
Scotland and so many of the gap-toothed generation have cavities they are
said to create echoes when they speak.
At the other end of the dental
scale, people are spending vast sums on cosmetic dental surgery such as
My bite and my smileís allure have suffered
slightly from my friendís departure, and my dentist has implanted in me
the idea of a realistic substitute. I gave a weak, spaced-out smile on
hearing the price - doubtless appropriate, considering the work - and
while I could bite off financially more than I could chew, I may grit my
teeth and go for it.