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Mark Dapin

Sydney Morning Herald

Saturday March 12, 2011

It's only 17 years since he last paid a visit to the dentist, so there's absolutely nothing to be anxious about, right?The last time i went to see a dentist, Alexander Downer was the leader of the opposition, Malcolm Fraser was a conservative, and Peter Garrett was an environmentalist. The only thing I remember about that visit - which apparently reconfigured the face of Australian politics - is I promised I would be back in six months. This was in 1994. Justin Bieber (whoever that is) had only just been born.When I was young, my mum's cousin, "Uncle" David, was my dentist. David moved to Israel - although not, I suspect, because there was any shortage of dentists there - and left me with crossed front teeth that he predicted would somehow "grow apart" and a mouth so thoroughly basted in fluoride that I've only ever needed one filling. At this point, I'd like to say to those people who campaign against the fluoridisation of our water supply that, although I respect the strength of your convictions, YOU ARE COMPLETELY BLOODY HATSTAND! YOU'RE A BUNCH OFTALKING TEAPOTS! However, I am amember of the Marathon Man generation, which believes all dentists are escaped Nazi war criminals. I'm not sure how I reconcile this with "Uncle" David's background (which seems to be shared by 96.8 per cent of dentists) but it has always kept me out of the torture chair. Until this afternoon.i had finally decided to see a dentist because my gums seemed to be growing down the back of my teeth, more and more bits of food were getting stuck between them, and I'd become used to a soft ache in my molars where I used to bite the caps off stubbies. On the internet I found a directory of local dentists and their philosophies, but I didn't want a dentist with a philosophy. I didn't even want one with a drill. Through a selection process too secret and exhaustive to detail in the national press, I chose the dentist closest to my local pub. I turned up at the surgery with two books, expecting to wait several hours, but was seen within five minutes. The dentist didn't introduce himself, and he wore a mask over his face so he couldn't be identified at war-crimes trials.Unlike "Uncle" David, he didn't make slightly spooky small talk or ask after my nan. He simply said, "Check-up?"I nodded, as if we both did this all the time, although it's quite difficult to nod when you're lying on an articulated table designed to keep your head lower than your neck. Perhaps he thought Iwas attempting a sit-up, or trying to escape.the dentist had an adolf-and-eva thing going on with the receptionist, who turned out to also be the dental nurse. Together, they bombarded me with commands - "Open wide!" "Rinse!" - with which I meekly complied. He prodded through my mouth with a nasty little pointy thing, trying to make me scream, then announced he was going to add a bit of enamel where the tooth had broken around my filling, and give my teeth a clean, then I was free to leave.The whole process lasted less than 15 minutes and cost nearly $150. Afterwards, I didn't know what to do. It was a welcome outcome, but totally unexpected. I wondered if I'd even be able to write a column about it, but then I remembered I'd made far more out of a lot less.* As I left the surgery, I promised the receptionist/nurse/Stellvertreter-Gauleiter that I'd use a softer toothbrush (which she actually gave me), floss regularly (yeah, right) and be back in six months. But, of course, they won't see me for another 17 years. And, by then, Tony Abbott will be an environmentalist, John Howard will be a socialist, and Justin Bieber will be the leader of the opposition. Just you wait and see. * Columns about the time I couldn't find a dry cleaner in Byron Bay, and the day I washed the barbecue plate in the bath spring instantly to mind.

© 2011 Sydney Morning Herald

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