Jonny McCambridge: Bad dental health – for years I didn’t visit the dentist, now the neglect has come back to bite me

Bad dental health – for years I didn’t visit the dentist, now the neglect has come back to bite me.
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It had always been my ambition that I would like to write for a living, but being then painfully shy and unfocused, I had no idea at that time how to make that a paying reality.

Deciding that I needed to take a step in a forward direction (even if it was not the correct one), I went to a recruitment agency where I was promptly signed onto a graduate management training course.

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It was likely as clear then as it is now that I was spectacularly unsuited to business, but, facing up to the prospect of having no obvious career path, I attempted to adapt. Part of the programme involved attending several training sessions.

While not welcoming the dentist’s drill and injection, I do not possess the terror which paralyses some peopleWhile not welcoming the dentist’s drill and injection, I do not possess the terror which paralyses some people
While not welcoming the dentist’s drill and injection, I do not possess the terror which paralyses some people

Anyone familiar with the professional world will likely have endured such occasions. Motivational talks, group discussions and (horror upon horror) roleplay scenarios.

At the end of the session, a man in a sharp suit addressed the group, summing up what we had learnt and the qualities that we would need to succeed in our future careers.

"There are two types of people in business,” he told us. “There are those who are proactive and those who are reactive. Those who identify problems and solve them before they arise, and those who prefer to put things off until the next day.”

Then our guru turned towards me.

“Jonathan, what sort of person would you say you are?”

This was the easiest question I had faced all day.

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“Oh, I’m the type of person who puts things off until the next day.”

This answer seemed to please him in that it suited his narrative. With the excitement of a scientist on the verge of a huge medical breakthrough, he went on.

“And what sort of person would you say you’ll be after completing our course?”

I gave this answer a bit more thought.

“Well,” I responded. “I would imagine I’ll stay much the same.”

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This answer caused much mirth among my fellow students, although it did nothing to further my career in the cut-throat world of business. Unsurprisingly, I drifted away from the programme a short time later and my life went in a different direction.

Randomly, I remembered this distant episode last week when I was driving to the dentist suffering from severe toothache.

The direction of my thought processes are not always clear (even to me), but I suspected I knew what the linkage was. I was worried about my sore tooth and also aware that the ailment was my own fault.

The uncomfortable admission was that I had not been to the dentist for several years. As I demonstrated at the business training programme all those years ago, being told what the right pattern of behaviour is provides no guarantee that I will follow it.

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I have had bad dental health for most of my life. I was deficient in caring for my teeth as a child and I’ve never been able to catch up. Compounding the problem is the fact that I often allow long periods to build up between visits to the dental surgery.

As now, I generally only go when I have developed toothache rather than going for the check-ups which would ensure the toothache never develops.

To return to the language of the business seminar, I constantly put off until tomorrow what would be better dealt with today.

I cannot explain this properly. While not welcoming the dentist’s drill and injection, I do not possess the terror which paralyses some people. I don’t really mind going, so there is no logical explanation as to why I don’t do it more often.

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At one point during early adulthood I did not visit the dentist for almost two decades. During this time I suffered a fall which caused me to lose most of my two front teeth – and still this did not persuade me to make an appointment.

My teeth were in this sorry state when I first met my future wife, although thankfully the crooked grin did not scare her off.

It was only when I was in my mid-30s and was suffering from such a severe infection in one of my teeth that painkillers were rendered totally ineffective and I was unable to sleep for several nights, that I finally made an appointment.

The resulting work which I required included crowns for my front teeth, a painful extraction of the infected tooth, root canal surgery and countless fillings.

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I have tried to do better since, with limited degrees of success. During Covid, when I was unable to make an appointment, the state of my teeth declined alarmingly.

Three large fillings became detached and I was aware of several other cracks and holes.

However, the pandemic has long since passed. Often, it has been in my mind since that I really, really need to get my teeth sorted. Yet, I did nothing.

And then the inevitable occurred. Last week I was awoken from my sleep by a persistent pain. I took strong painkillers but it made no difference.

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Not only was the tooth aching, but there was a pulsing pain running up the side of my temple. I have been here before and knew exactly what was occurring. It was the beginning of an abscess.

Luckily, a cancellation meant I was able to get an appointment with my dentist within a couple of days. Despite the obvious neglect of my teeth, she is always positive and reassuring.

She began by telling me how long it has been since my last visit. Five-and-a-half years. We discussed, as we often do, my intake of sugary food.

The x-rays revealed the expected multitude of problems. She told me that extensive root canal work would be required to save at least three of my teeth.

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I squirmed uncomfortably in my chair, cursing the situation I had put myself in.

"We’ll need to book him in for three follow-up appointments,” the dentist told her assistant.

Adding for emphasis: “Three long appointments.”