10 minutes reading time (1953 words)

Stripped of Dental Super-Powers

Stripped of Dental Super-Powers

Stripped of Dental Super-Powers

Stripped of Dental Super-Powers


Retirement from dentistry isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

It’s not all waking at ten, eating a big breakfast bowl of Rice Krispies while you listen to PopMaster, taking a leisurely shower, eating lunch and in the afternoon watching the wife working in the garden while you keep an eye on Trump via YouTube.

Actually, it IS all that, PLUS you don’t wake up every morning with a sickening feeling of impending doom in the very depths of your soul that you experienced every week day, for the previous 31 years in dentistry.

The other plus, is that I currently don’t have to dress up in sweaty, heavy PPE that looks as if it’s been designed by a chef specially for roasting joints of beef. The main aim of the PPE being to keep the juices in.


Stripped of Dental Super-Powers


The other advantages of retirement include being able to take the dogs for a walk, going for a cycle ride (if I’m not too knackered from taking the three-legged mutt for a walk) and taking a pleasant drive into town to see what delights are in my Amazon locker at my equally beloved Co-op. My memory is so bad currently, it’s always a lovely surprise when I tear open nine cubic metre packaging to find (ironically) a memory stick which I’d not only forgotten ordering, but why I’d ordered it, nestling at the bottom.

I normally shop at the Co-op mainly because there’s hardly ever anybody in there and even if there are other punters about, the spaces are so wide as to be able to socially distance effectively without other shoppers being able to smell the Jakeman’s Throat and Chest Sweet I am constantly sucking in the supermarket to supress the persistent tickly cough I have had since December 2019.

A couple of days before Christmas I went down with a sudden cough that came on without a preceding cold. I’ve never experience that in my life, and the cough was so bad, I re-broke a rib and it even put me off Twitter for a week. At that time, the Wuhan outbreak of COVID-19 hadn’t been identified or named. Unbeknown to the world, the virus had already been spreading in Europe. My youngest brother visited us over Christmas and he went back to Austria with my cough. He has recently had to see a chest physician due to persistent breathlessness and his consultant is pretty sure that he had COVID. By extrapolation, since I am also knackered most of the time, I assume that I had the coronavirus too.

Yesterday having had no urgent messages from Amazon asking me to collect a package from the Amazon Hub, I went to Tesco Express, which is nearer to my home, to pick up full-fat lactose-free milk. (Yes, I’m a medical mystery).

Not being as familiar with the automatic door-opening mechanism at Tesco as I am with the Co-op, I somehow failed to notice that the doors hadn’t actually swooshed open and I marched nose-first straight into the closed doors like a kamikaze pigeon. My pride was hurt slightly more than my nose. Fortunately, my glasses, although they were dislodged, escaped unscathed. Although I managed to knock them off, they landed in the bag-for-life I was fortuitously carrying.

There were only a few people in the shop, but as luck would have it, one of the few people who witnessed my embarrassing moment was an old patient. Being familiar with my appearance in a mask, she recognised me immediately (and oddly, vice-versa) and she came over to check I was ok. I am pretty sure I would have sworn loudly at the point of impact, but she didn’t let on.


Stripped of Dental Super-Powers


She was very sweet and asked how retirement was going. Mercifully, she didn’t ask for any advice or opinions on her current dental problems. I also didn’t ask her about the state of her mouth, though I did ask about her husband (dead). After all, I am now a ‘civilian’ and try and steer clear of soliciting tooth-related information if I possibly can. In fact, I don’t EVER solicit discourse on oral health without being asked first. I’d hate to be dragged into some vague GDC charge of vicariously practising dentistry.

Having said all that, I keep on getting dragged into dentally-related matters.

Before I go any further, I have to say, deep down, I really don’t mind people asking for advice remotely, it’s friends and relatives I struggle with. The point is, when you were a dentist and are no longer able to do anything practically for friends or family, you feel…well…emasculated, for the want of a better word.

When the pandemic was at the height of its popularity around March time, just after the dental shutdown, my youngest issue developed toothache. He had been warned previously about his horizontally-impacted lower left eight, but preferring to “see how it goes” whenever I suggested I referred for an opinion and treatment. But now, having moved 25 miles away, he effectively cast himself adrift and had to find a new dentist away from the safety of my ex-colleagues.

My boy rang his new practice and was met with a “Sorry we’re not here at the moment, ring 911” sort of answerphone message. That message was continual for a couple of days.

Out of desperation, my youngest rang me for suggestions. I panicked.

I couldn’t do anything practically or in the line of antibiotics, obviously.

I suddenly felt like Superman in the face of Green Kryptonite. All my powers and abilities to help, had been removed.


Stripped of Dental Super-Powers


The only thing I could think of doing was throwing myself on the mercy of one of my former colleagues, who practices on the Cotswolds border, some 50 miles from where my son now resides. Mercifully, my friend triaged him and I then had to go to the pharmacy in the town where she works and to which prescriptions were sent, and pick up his antibiotics.

I then had to drive and meet my son. We decided to meet up on a pub car park, at dusk, at a point halfway between the practice and my son’s home. Anyone watching would have thought we were carrying out some sort of drugs deal, us both emerging from cars in the gloom of an unused car park and me handing over a stash of Amoxycillin 500mg. On reflection, I perhaps shouldn’t have worn my baseball cap back to front.

That happened on a further two occasions and as far as I know, the little bugger still hasn’t done anything about seeing his dentist with regards to a referral.

Even closer to home, the other day, my wife broke a crown I made on an upper six I made over a decade ago. The crown was in a lovely aesthetic material – it may have been zirconium but wouldn’t put money on it – but whatever,  it was an unusual choice of material for me, being a steadfast precious metal bonded man.

Living with me, it’s probably not surprising to learn that she is an inveterate bruxist and has in the past few months mashed through her nightguard. Anyway, halfway through a cheap crunchy pizza a couple of weeks ago, the palatal wall and half the occlusal surface of the crown came away and as I write, she is at her new dentist’s practice, having (I hope), some sort of temporary restoration put on it pending the resuming of normal dental services. I’m guessing she will use GIC.*

Again, I feel like Clark Kent swimming in boiling Kryptonite – totally useless and not even having the strength to take my glasses off or catch them in a bag-for-life.

Being a dentist without a drill feels odd. Having said that, many will empathise with that feeling having been through the restrictions on AGP’s over the past few months. But not being able to do stuff has been something I’ve struggled to get my head around over the past near two years of retirement.

In July 2019, I was asked to be the official photographer at the wedding of the son of a friend. The groom was a bashful sort and I did a pre-shoot with him and his bride-to-be, just to get them used to me and the unnatural act of posing for pictures. During the session I noticed immediately, that the groom wasn’t smiling broadly and showing any teeth. I eventually zoomed in on the fact that he had a very noticeable upper central diastema which he was obviously very self-conscious about, even during conversation. The half-smile was made more obvious in contrast to his intended bride, who had an incredibly beautiful smile which would make most aesthetic dentist cry because they wouldn’t be able to emulate it. By that time, I was retired. If I’d still been in practice, I’d have whisked him into practice and built up his two centrals before I’d ever consider taking my lens cap off in his presence again.

I have bumped into old patients over the past couple of years who have asked me for brief advice on what they should do about this and that and my advice is always the same – go and see a dentist – which is a bit like saying to Superman, “Don’t go near that Lex Luthor. He’s a wrong ‘un.” It’s obvious advice, but it needs saying.

I met a very old patient a little while ago and she admitted to me before I retired, that when I left the practice, she would never go to another dentist ever again. It was a sort of a compliment, but at the same time, it was insane – particularly since she had high treatment needs. When I met her while shopping, she confessed that she hadn’t been to the dentist since I saw her in the autumn of 2018. Again, my only advice was “SEE A DENTIST.”

Often, strangers approach me by direct messaging on Twitter, asking for advice or an opinion. I don’t mind that. More often than not, patients are genuinely very worried about some problem and I reassure them if appropriate. One lady said she had recently been told that her teeth were dropping out. All that appeared to be happening from the slightly blurry photograph she sent, was that she had experienced a bit of occlusal wear from bruxing. Her gums appeared to be healthy, but with all these queries I told her “I can’t diagnose without a full examination. I’m retired. You need to see a dentist.”

I’ve had others who ask if they should have teeth crowned or veneered, where simple bleaching would be adequate and again, I have to say, you need to discuss it with your dentist (who in one case had recommended crowning of virgin teeth). It’s really difficult resisting offering an opinion when every fibre of your being is screaming “NOOOOOOOO!”

I’m assuming that with the passage of time, this feeling of dental uselessness will gradually wear off. Hopefully, the requests for opinions will also reduce in number over the years and I’ll be able to finally, nibble my Kryptonite in peace.

*My wife has just returned. I was right – it was GIC. Also, it WAS zirconium. See, I haven’t lost it.

The Value of Dentistry
Returning to practice after lockdown

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