Teeth are trauma

The idea that one should take good care of one’s teeth is drummed into us and we try to pass the message on. Boy, do I believe it now. The water in Kenya, where I was born and spent my early years, and Swaziland, where I grew up, did not have fluoride added. As a result I have more than the average number of fillings and crowns. It is likely the lack of brushing and eating sweets that were significant contributors, but I would prefer to think that fluoride was the issue.

I had wisdom teeth taken out, but that seemed reasonably normal! Six years ago, showing off in the surf in Durban, I tried to bodysurf, was severely dumped by a large wave, and hit the seabed with such force that I was lucky not to break my neck. I immediately knew that impact knocked a filling out and I later had it replaced.  Two weeks later I started having toothache. The dentist took an X-ray and found the offending tooth had been split in two by the bang. He immediately took it out. This was a milestone in bodily failure – that tooth was gone forever.

The dentist in Durban has hi-tech equipment that can mill porcelain teeth with ease. He has gradually and, conservatively, been working on my mouth. There is so much to be done that I think he needs planning permission. However, to have a tooth with fillings replaced with a supposedly indestructible one seems like progress. Interestingly the dentist in Norwich and Waterloo do not have the same level of technical equipment or sophistication. So, of the three countries, I would prefer to have dental work done in South Africa.

This essay is to describe a recent bad spell.  A crown came loose. I had to locate a Canadian dentist urgently. This is not hard: the state health care cover does not extend to eyes, teeth or psychological support.  The private sector operates here and there seem to be more dentists, opticians and therapists than patients. The reality is that you can be poor, blind, have no teeth and be depressed (as indeed you would be), but there is a good health system for the rest of your body.

I made an appointment and a Waterloo dentist replaced it, but warned me that I would need a bridge. Two weeks later, while at a meeting in Nairobi, I noticed a swelling on the gum above the crown. On my return to Norwich I was able to get an appointment to see Colin the Norwich dentist. He is Afrikaans and trained in Stellenbosch and I trust him totally. He informed me this swelling meant the root was cracked; the tooth would have to come out; a temporary bridge put in; and, after at least four months, a permanent bridge could be inserted.

The next day I went in for the extraction. The usual parking garage had a level sealed off. As a result I was late and ran the half kilometer. There were no delays that day, so when I got in the chair I was stressed and sweaty. The anesthetic meant I felt faint (but knew exactly what was going on). He had a hell of time getting the tooth out; it took 30 minutes, a variety of pliers and other instruments, and a lot of effort. He did not have to put his foot on my chest for leverage, but I think he would have liked to.

The temporary bridge lasted 10 days, until I got to Amsterdam airport on my way to a meeting in New York. A KLM business class lounge bread roll did for it. I bit; there was a sharp crack that reverberated in my skull, and the crown tinkled to the table. So the next step was to get it replaced in Waterloo – having spent the entire meeting in NY feeling self-conscious, and whistling on certain words when I spoke. With the application of cement and hope, I was able to walk out with a gapless smile. This latest workmanship lasted fewer than eight hours. That evening at dinner the tooth came loose again which was further ongoing embarrassment.

I went back on Friday and the dentist exclaimed charmingly, “Oh I should’ve cemented it to the root?. Apparently, as the teeth on either side of the gap are porcelain, the glue does not stick. So, for the next couple of months I have temporary work, and it really is annoying.

I enjoyed the meeting in New York. Two odd but interesting things happened. One, at a dinner event one of the waiting staff overheard me talking about HIV and how having people on treatment prevents transmission. He took me to one side; informed me that his partner is HIV positive; they don’t use condoms, and he asked if this was safe. The other was on the plane from to Toronto. When the cabin crew came through with the drinks trolley I asked how much the wine was.

“Seven dollars.”

“Is it worth it?” I asked.

“No not really”, she responded.

I thanked her for her honesty and asked for fruit juice, and she went to the front and gave me a bottle of their red wine! Wow, perhaps it was the winning gap in the teeth that did it.


Patrick Gale, Rough Music, Harper Perennial, 2000 375 pages.

This book took me quite a while to read, I left it in Canada and returned to it after a month. It is the story of a family over a period of 40 years. The mother is beginning the terrible journey into Alzheimer’s disease. The other themes are Cornwell; relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual; and interestingly, prisons and prisoners. Patrick Gale’s father was a prison governor. When I came to the end of the book I found myself wishing it were longer as it is so astutely observed. I also appreciated the fact it has a happy ending. This is not the case with the second Gale book I just finished and which I will review in the next blog!

John Sandford, Silken Prey, Penguin books, 2014, 453 pages.

This is a crime novel. It is written to a very high standard. The main character in this book is Lucas Davenport , a senior investigator in Minnesota. It is the story of corruption in a Senatorial election which begins and ends with murder. Perhaps unusually, the brains behind the crimes get away with it. I particularly like the way Sandford has developed books around a group of people, and the main character varies from novel to novel. It is possible for this type of writing to become formulaic but it is not the case here.

Elly Griffiths, The Crossing Places, Quercus, 2010.

Set in Norfolk this is the first of a series of books featuring Dr Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist at the University of North Norfolk, and Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson. I had read the later books in the series before I managed to find the first. It is quite exceptional how Griffiths has built up her characters. We meet them in this book and they become lovers. The crime is entirely believable and the denouement well observed.

Michael Lewis, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, WW Norton and Company, 2014, 274 pages.

Lewis is one of the best observers of the rotten side of capitalism and the greed and immorality that goes with it. I would strongly recommend one of his earlier books, Liars Poker. In this one he goes into great detail on high frequency trading and, while I have to admit to having got lost in some of the technical parts of the book, it is a good read. Unusually for financial stories it seems that the good guys win at the end of this. Perhaps there is some morality in the capitalist world, what is most important for me is reading this and trying to work out how to tap into that in the future. It is clear that we cannot go on as we are so finding the right buttons to push to make change is really important.