At the dentist

Amanda from Belgium

There is quite a difference between the waiting rooms of a doctor and that of a dentist.

At the doctor one can sit peacefully and wonder about the other patients – the police officer in his neatly ironed uniform, the very ill lady with a ginger coloured face resting her head on her husband’s shoulder, the blonde with the pink i-phone and the big woman filling the waiting room with her personality who wonders out loudly why the doctor does not make less appointments, because that will lessen our waiting time. I quietly agree with this, because I have never waited for a doctor for less than half an hour! (It is a good time to read, though).

At the dentist, on the other hand, the torture already starts in the waiting room. That is probably why there are so many beautiful paintings on the walls – they must distract one’s attention from what is coming!

I would have liked to talk to the dentist: inquiring about the pieces of art, her children and why she chose to work on mouths and teeth. But I lie in her chair incapacitated, mouth stretched wide open, the aching muscles going into a spasm and my jaw locking! (Maybe I should learn to laugh with an open mouth to strengthen these muscles!) The tools scratching my teeth send a shiver down my spine and my jaw screams to relax. I concentrate very hard to keep my hands relaxed in my lap – my thumb probably pinched purple by now. And the thin stream of air and water spray helping to detect cavities… -this pain seems to spread throughout my whole body. The dentist chats on as if nothing is the matter. She probably likes a monologue, because I still just lie open-mouthed in the chair. I cannot wait for the moment that she gives me thumbs up – because that would mean that I need not come back for a whole year.

My first experience with a dentist was very positive. It was a friendly English dentist, Dr Anderson, who practised in our town many years ago. After that there was the Jewish doctor in Pretoria who uses gas: it swills through your body and you float into a different world of awareness. You never felt the needle prick releasing fluid into the muscles!

Our last dentist in Pretoria, Dr Antoine, received merits for good patient care and I often thought that he deserved a medal for inner healing as well. On leaving, one would not even feel that you came from the dentist – no stiff jaw, no lame lip, no leaking of fluids from the corner of your mouth and no pain! What a difference from the dentist who extracted my wisdom teeth. I am sure he did his training under a tree and received his certificate from a convict colony! He dug trenches in stone and sand: everything groaned and creaked. My mouth eventually healed, but not the rest!

At our daughter Dolla’s dentist in this foreign country there are many obstacles. Even though she is 20, we still accompany her because she cannot talk.

First it is the French receptionist. I use my best French, but hardly understand what this semi-friendly lady is saying. Of course she does not speak English, nor Dutch. Fortunately, due to politics, there is a lady that can speak all three languages: English, French and Dutch!

Then we have to wait. The waiting room looks like a theatre because Dolla’s dentist is a specialist and this waiting room caters for people like our Dolla – wheel chairs, prams, splints, accompanying care givers and tired parents, sign language and nearly always loads of friendliness.

There was the time when a patient went to each person in the waiting room and warned about internet and telephone spying on common citizens. She said we must stand together and talk about this crime, but not involve the police because one does not know who can be trusted these days. Everybody agreed wholeheartedly. Dolla merely crossed her legs and looked around.

And then there was the mother who brought her son of about 16 to the dentist. He was in a world of his own. We heard the deep voice when they came up the stairs. He tried out each chair in the waiting room and mother moved along, holding onto bags and coats, trying to sit next to him whenever she could. It was winter. When he was called, mother got up and beckoned to him, but he remained seated. The student dentist called him, but he just sat. Then the good-looking French dentist appeared. He jumped to his feet, put his arm through hers and with a joyful “Bonjour Madame” they disappeared down the passage, the relieved mother following suit carrying coats and bags. We couldn’t help smiling.

Then came Dolla’s turn. She bounces up, glad to see Madame Dentist, because they know each other very well! Dolla, gesticulating, accompanies her and sits down on the dental chair. Madame gives her a brand new toothbrush, but Dolla is only interested in the masked student dentists. The light is moved into position and suddenly Dolla remembers … she is determined to return the toothbrush and escape and we form a team, trying to hold her down. She fights against the gas mask that has to be put on her face. She tries to escape and then vomits. As usual Madame has to make haste to try and detect cavities. A quick brush of her finger on Dolla’s gums confirms our suspicions: a wisdom tooth! We return to the waiting room for another half an hour, because the pale Dolla keeps on vomiting – in her spittoon satchel – the culprits being a lot of gas and the accompanying fear. The rest of the day she remains quietly at home.

Our next appointment is with Madame Dentist ánd the anaesthetist.

Originally published in the Spring edition of My Child and I, 2014.


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PO BOX 40526, Arcadia, 0007
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