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Sorry, I don't do teeth

Dental problems are naff-all to do with Phil, as everyone knows – except those with toothache

Dental problems are naff-all to do with Phil, as everyone knows – except those with toothache

Teeth hold a strange fascination for me.

I'm attracted to the subject because it is the one, tiny, area of the human body over which I hold no responsibility or expertise.

Teeth are naff-all to do with me. They don't tell us about them at medical school and they don't expect us to deal with the little white buggers afterwards. And that's just dandy.

There's an entire other profession charged with the remit of sorting out these troublesome little enamel-lined timebombs, and I'm happy for them to get on with it.

Having said that, I don't entirely trust them to do so.

There was a bunch of them at Newcastle University when I was there, and a shifty lot of chancers they seemed to be.

Five years to study teeth? How hard can it be? There are only 20 or maybe 30-odd teeth, and only two diseases that can affect them – and one of those died out with the ancient Egyptians.

There are allegedly around 10,000 known maladies that can affect the rest of the human frame, all of which I am expected to recognise and deal with. No wonder the dental students had more spare drinking time than me.

Maybe I'm prejudiced by my own early experience. I was an exemplary child, dentally speaking. From the time I could hold a toothbrush I did the business twice a day, and still do. And yet twice a year without fail, when my mother dragged me along to the dentist, that bugger would point at a tooth and say: ‘That one needs a filling.'

By my late teens, I had a filling in every single tooth. Our family being as it was, it would never have crossed our minds to question the judgment of a professional, and it is only now that I wonder why I have a mouthful of fillings without ever, even once, having experienced the slightest twinge of toothache.

Could it be that he was paid for each procedure? Might he really have drilled a healthy tooth every time he saw me? If he were still alive today I would be keen to ask him.

Awful toothache

Anyway, as GPs, we don't do teeth. This is well known and recognised by everyone except people with acute dental problems.

I've had a couple of them in to see me today. A quarter of the population of this city are not registered with an NHS dentist. It is not their fault; there are just not enough NHS dentists.

‘I've got awful toothache,' says the first.

‘Is that right?' I say, wondering what it has got to do with me.

‘Yes, it's dreadful,' he confirms.

‘Where do I shine in?' I parry.

‘You've got to do something about it!' he pleads.

I don't, actually. I only have to deal with dental emergencies like post-extraction haemorrhages. (‘Bite on this Benson and Hedges fag end wrapped in toilet paper,' I might tell them, given that that's all I've got – but luckily that's never happened.)

Out of misplaced sympathy and on very thin professional ice, I give him antibiotics, painkillers and the phone number of a friendly dentist who helps us out from time to time.

My second dental problem patient tells me: ‘I've just had a tooth out, doctor, and it's killing me.'

‘What does your dentist say?' I ask, but he doesn't know because they're shut, and nobody is answering the emergency number.

‘Would you like to wait and see a specialist, or would you prefer some scatter-gun analgesia from a rank amateur who has no idea whether your extraction has gone wrong or not?' I ask.

Guess his answer.

Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland

PS Apologies to my sister for this column – she's a marvellous, gifted dentist who never charges me

Five years to study teeth? How hard can it be?

Phil Peverley

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