Broken Tooth

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs

Submitted: May 23, 2017

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Submitted: May 23, 2017



Right from the start I didn’t much like the dental nurse tinkering with my teeth! There was a clinic at my primary school and she used to come into class to pick out her victim on what I reckoned to be a random basis. Everyone sank down in their desk when she was on the prowl! My turn to sit in that hard, wooden chair came around and I eyed the treadle-sowing-machine-driven thing she called a drill! The bloody thing slipped and cut the inside of my cheek! Ok, maybe I was squirming, but as well she had to power the drill by pumping her foot on the treadle at the same time holding a mirror in one hand and the business end of the drill in the other! Anyway she let me off, supposedly until my cheek healed! I guess she didn’t have another hand to mop my precious blood. To keep me quiet, she gave me a couple of drops of mercury to roll around in the palm of my hand, which was fun, but a bit of a health risk as well! After that episode every time the nurse popped into class looking for someone to victimise, I would puff out my cheek to let her know it was nowhere near healed.

As students do, I graduated to intermediate school where there was an upmarket dental clinic with an ancient, maiden dragon in charge of the welfare of our molars. Any wonder we called it the murder house! The drill wasn’t exactly pneumatic, but powered by electricity with strong cords and pulleys driving the grinding wheel in her hand! It had the whirring sound of speed that gave us all the creeps! Perhaps the designer hoped the machine would reduce the pain, but the sound of it became my association with pain! The maiden dragon didn’t like any of us, that was plain, to her we were all pests, so digging into our teeth seemed to give her a perverse pleasure!

Fast forward some forty two years: I was on the busy streets of Stonetown, Zanzibar looking for a battery for my camera, when in an electrical appliance shop window there was an image of Princess Diana with the dates 1961 - 1997 below! I realised then that she was dead! The next day morning we were booked on a daladala to travel to the east coast, to our beachside ‘resort’ called Page Ndame. White sand, azure sea and waving coconut palms was indeed a peaceful and pleasant setting. Women were out in the sea in their long dresses harvesting seaweed, for which they were paid a pittance. But it was their only source of income.

The staff at Page Ndame went to a lot of trouble to cook for us, because we were their only guests! Tasty and all as it was, there was an unfortunate, undisclosed bone in the meat, which snapped off my incisor tooth at ground level! We were well aware of the dentist sign along the road we often trod on our walks between The Haven Guest House and the CBD of Stonetown. So we piled into a daladala and headed into town for the repair job that was insisted upon by those with me but had my mind working overtime thinking of excuses not to have it done.

The large gate was closed, but there was a one-person-door, which was easily negotiated. Inside was a long, shady alleyway, I had to walk alone with my thoughts. Into the valley of death rode the six hundred… I knocked on the door to be welcomed inside by a pleasant Indian woman in traditional Indian dress. Cautiously I stepped inside, hoping she would not close off my escape route. She did! I scanned the surgery and was immediately taken back to the fifties and the maiden dragon! The pit of my stomach lurched and my brain screamed, ‘Run!’ The chair was the same cream-yellow colour and there was the power-drill, the same colour with the same cords that eventually drove the over-size grinder-bit! I have seen people back home nowadays using these machines to carve bone into shapes for the pendants sold at craft fairs.

The woman recognised my body language and wild eyes so she set about to calm me. She told me that she had trained in the UK and had worked in a dental surgery in London for a dozen years. So what? The machinery here isn’t being used in London these days, I bet! She told me that although she could afford a modern, high-powered, water-cooled drill the Stonetown water supply was not clean or safe enough. She didn’t even trust boiling the water so instead she used pure alcohol to sterilise her implements!

Despite all of this I bravely opened my mouth a wee bit for her! Tense I was! She didn’t offer an injection, I would have refused anyway! The drill bit was sharp and yes, the grinding was painful! I had trouble holding my head still, but concentrated hard to avoid injury to my cheek or tongue! She didn’t have the gadget the maiden dragon called, Johnny-round-the-fence, the sharp thumb-screw thing they put around your tooth before they pour in the metal that becomes the filling, so she packed it and shaped it with her fingers. No, she didn’t use amalgam, it was that flash, white stuff. Anyway, it felt comfortable and she did a good job because the mock-tooth she installed that day is still there doing its thing. The really good thing was that it was cheap!

I have a dental check-up due in a couple of weeks’ time! I will try my best to avoid it because I still don’t like them poking their way around my mouth hoping they will find crevasses in my molars to fill, which invariably empties my wallet!

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