Open Wide

May 31, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Let me take you back 43 years to 1972. Little Jimmy Osmond, Slade, T-Rex, Alice Cooper and Rod Stewart all had number one hits. Mastermind was first broadcast, protesters burnt down the British embassy in Dublin, Leeds won the FA Cup, the final stretch of the M6 was opened and of course America was still fighting the Vietnam war. But for me, aged 5, the only concern I had was a visit to the dentist.

In many ways that visit was to define my relationship with the medical profession for the next 43 years, though there were benefits to the visit - half a day off school and a toy tractor.

Dentist Alan BairstowDentist Alan Bairstow

My mother didn't like dentists; later in life she would prefer almost daily painkillers rather than have her wisdom teeth removed. She would accompany me to the dentist and sit in the waiting room or sometimes at the end of the dentist's chair to give me moral support. Looking back, that was probably hard for her to do. I remember on one occasion lying on the chair with three or maybe four people looking down on me and one of them lowering a rubber mask over my nose and mouth. The smell of the mask stays with me today and when I can think of it, I can still feel the world slowing around me and becoming blurred. When I woke up, my mother wasn't at the end of the chair and I was stood up and pointed towards the door by the nurse. I wandered out dazed and unsteady, like an old drunk making their way from the pub door to the car door (this being 1972 when driving home from the pub was normal). I found my way to my mother, though whether she was in the waiting room or the car across the road I can't remember.

Later that year and still aged 5, I remember opening the large white door that led off St Peter Street into what seemed like a confusing warren of corridors and doors. My mother had gone shopping and left me to the mercy of the dentist again, and here I should tell you his name, Dr Wilde. Anyhow, I sat in the chair and he poked and prodded and then told me I needed to have nine teeth removed. Nine! I was only 5. And it wasn't that they were rotten or anything, he just felt my mouth would become crowded as I got older. "You should go and tell your mum and get her to come in and book you in."

Now, I think this is where self preservation kicked in and when I crossed the road and climbed into the front passenger seat of the car, my mother asked if everything was ok. "Any work needed?"she said. My reply was a lie and I knew it, "No, everything is ok." She drove off and took me to school. Later she was of course rung by the dentist. I didn't hear that conversation but I didn't see Dr Wilde ever again.

Dentist Alan BairstowDentist Alan Bairstow My next memorable experience was about five years later when, at boarding school, aged 9, I decided to use the curtain rail in the school hall as a monkey bar. I slipped and hit the deck, and smashed my two front teeth. My trip to the dentist that day had me in the chair with the dentist dangling something that looked like a small worm in front of my face happily telling me it was a nerve he'd just taken out. I'm sure this was meant to be educational and in a way, it was, for it confirmed to me that all dentists were sadistic torturers.

New capped teeth fitted during my trips to the dentist after that were reduced to a pain-driven, needs only basis. By the time I was 15, the front teeth caps needed replacing after falling flat on my face on the way back from the pub. Well, it was 1982. I don't remember much about the fall or the dentist.

Skip forward to 1996 and after weeks of pain, real pain, I was persuaded to visit a dentist who was my then wife's family dentist. It turned out I had an abscess that had formed under one of my front teeth caps. Something in the metal used for the pins in 1982 had oxidised and was causing major problems. This resulted in what I can only truly describe as the most painful dental work I've ever experienced. Despite multiple injections I still ended up having near complete feeling during the procedure. With the work complete and painkillers given, I went home and later that night the dentist phoned to see how I was doing. This was the first act that led to me having total trust in my new dentist, Dr Alan Bairstow.

Dentist Alan Bairstow.Dentist Alan Bairstow.

We now skip on nineteen years, during which time my visits to see Alan weren't what you'd call frequent. On one visit he told me he'd had to go into his garage archive to find my records as it has been eight years since my last visit! But after that the visits became more frequent and the trust built. Last year (2014) Alan told me one of my front teeth really needed to come out, something to do with those old pins again. He suggested an implant. I, to be honest, couldn't afford one so ended up with a temporary denture. I lived with that for about 12 months before I just couldn't take it anymore and booked in to see Alan. "I've decided to have that implant" I said. He looked a little surprised, and this I think was because he knew what it involved. He started explaining the procedure. "We'll meet here and go to the hospital together....."

"Wait a minute, the hospital?" I thought I must have heard it wrong. I hadn't.

When the day arrived, I met Alan and he gave me some injections and we walked to the hospital. Sitting in the waiting area while he met the surgeon, (that's right, surgeon) I was having to use all my strength not to act like it was 1972 and do a runner. The door opened and I walked towards the awaiting chair with all the glee of a condemned man on death row walking to his fate.

Why dentist and doctors have to explain in detail what they are about to do I have no idea. They show you the tools and tell you what they are going to do with them, in much the same way as I imagine the Spanish Inquisition might have done. Alan had happily shown me photos of previous patients but I really didn't need to see them.

"Then finally I will use this ratchet to tighten the implant before fitting the tooth." The ratchet looked to me like something I would have used on my car,  back when cars had things you could use tools and not computers to fix of course.

But a few months on and I have my implant and I have to say it was all worthwhile. Alan is retiring soon and I will miss him. Thanks to him, trips to the dentist have transformed from something to be feared to something that, while not looked forward to, is relatively painless. I know Alan only does work that is needed, and that he really cares about his work and preventing problems for me in the future. I only wish my first experiences of dentists had been with someone like Alan. He has given me the confidence to continue seeing a dentist regularly and I look forward to building a relationship with his replacement...who has been warned that I am not an easy patient!    

My last visit was a simple check up that also allowed me the opportunity to take these photos. Images I had pictured and wanted to take for the past couple of years. I hope to see Alan after his retirement as he has some interesting projects in mind and I would like to photograph the results of this work.

I don't know how many people Alan has helped over his long career but I am sure I am not alone in wishing him a very happy retirement.

Dentist Alan Bairstow.Dentist Alan Bairstow.


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