When I was little I had a Swedish dentist in Highgate, North London. We lived in South London but my mother seemed to think it worth the trip accross the Thames and up the Archway road to see Mr Bay. He was blonde and beautiful. He smelt of nothing. He wore latex gloves as he slid his fingers and tools around inside my mouth. His wife, also blonde and beautiful and smelling of nothing, hoovered my tongue with pink liquid, as if she were a housewife on a fifties postcard. When the Bays finished and I was gleaming as new like a polished stone, he smiled a perfect smile and said “You have wonderful teeth.” That was what a Swedish dental experience was, until yesterday.
Julian, unfortunately, has not been so lucky with his teeth, and twinges that have been bothering him for several years turned out to be a nasty infection dangerously near his sinus.
“There’s a new Swedish dentist in town” said a friend. My heart leapt with suppressed childhood fantasies, and perhaps even those of my mother, which may have entered me by a process of osmosis. “He seems to have all the modern equipment.”
My check up took three seconds. No polishing, no gloves. I noticed he was a smoker. “ You have wonderful teeth.” he said, wiping his hands clean of me.
Mr Erktan, though clearly married to the Mrs Danvers look-alike at the desk, flirted with Julian; tousled his hair with his nicotine stained fingers and pinched his cheek. “We’ll have to have it out or otherwise, if the sinuses get involved, they might have to go in through the top of your head”. He was dark and sallow, and his voice had a very strong Provençal flavour. ‘Dent’ became ‘Ding’, and I’m sure that is not Swedish for tooth. When he jerked Julian’s head back and forth Julian thought he could, behind the dentyne gum, smell whisky on his breath. (It was almost the aperitif hour and we had been late. Time for a quickie, perhaps?)I had to leave the room. When I returned I saw the blue paper bib scattered with bits of abscess, infected bone and blood spots. I saw the pink bulb wobbling on the end of his root. It looked like the selected remains of mice Manon brings in to decorate our sofa at night.
Julian drove home with a renewed sense of smell, insisting the car smelled of fish. When his mouth woke up, he had some pasta with olive oil and a half a bottle of Tuscan wine, posted his painting and slept. Today, though there is a big hole where he used to have a tooth, he feels fine. I am still praying Swedish dentists are good in whatever shape or form they come. So far so good.