My tooth: a cautionary tale

I was sitting in a particularly pleasant cafe in Hoxton a couple of weeks ago eating bread and hummus and drinking a glass of white wine. If it helps you picture the scene in your mind's eye, here is said cafe.

An altogether convivial spot to while away the time you'll no doubt agree. The only real trouble on my mind was not looking cool enough to blend in with the local East London clientele.

But this middle-class idyll was about to be shattered. I bit down on a piece of bread and heard a crack. This was not the type of crack one might expect from a crispy crust giving way to a firm bite. This was a guttural, base sound that could have emanated from the centre of the earth. Reader, my tooth had broken. A wedge of a molar was lost and swallowed among some pitta, hummus and hideously overpriced tepid pinot grigio.

The odd thing was, this wasn't at all sore but early investigations with my tongue suggested a significant portion of tooth was missing. I was beating the metaphorical door of my dentist down the next morning, but was told they had nothing for a few days. Given - and this is gross so if you're of a sensitive disposition you might want to skip to the next paragraph - that I could feel what was left of my tooth was soft I felt I should probably see somebody sooner. I booked an emergency appointment at a private dentist not far from work for later that day.

The dentist was half-motherly (she told me I was dealing with the pain really well which I LOVED) and half-stern (she was very annoyed with the work of my previous dentists which made her seem all the more like she knew what she was doing). She seemed brilliant. As she drilled and prodded and poked she kept saying how she was surprised my dentist hadn't done this or that, and from time to time suggested I consider swapping to join that practice. Being somewhat orally incapacitated, I made seal noises in response. She patched me up with a temporary filling and told me she she'd only charge me a bargain price of £150. However, as that filling would only last three weeks, she recommended I come back for a crown (£500) and a further filling (£150) asap. She was so good, so convincing, and so damn MATERNAL that I very nearly agreed.

However £800 is a lot of Jeremy Vine scripts, so I went back to my regular dentist this week. She took a look, took some x-rays and looked at the photos and the notes from the private dentist (I had to ask for them to be transferred - it doesn't happen routinely). As she gave me her verdict I arranged my face into a position which I hoped conveyed penitent acceptance of how awful my teeth were, and a reluctant admittance that I would need to suck it up and just have a crown. Her words when they came could not have been sweeter had they been spoken by the Honey Monster himself. "You don't need a crown. You don't need a filling. The temporary filling she gave you is actually permanent. She was only trying to get more money out of you. That will be £21 for today, and see you in six months."

When I pressed her, my dentist said she sees this quite a lot. Private practices try to lure you to their surgeries by telling you need treatments you don't and by claiming to have superior insight to your regular dentist. I mean I guess it's obvious - they make loads of money out of it if they convince you. But if I ever thought of it, I guess I just thought surely no dentist would actually do that.

So what's the moral? Don't be conned into shelling out loads for a private practitioner who seems to know what they're talking about. But also don't be too smug when you're eating hummus and drinking wine in East London.

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