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The London Eye

Chris Neill receives a glimmer of middle age hope – from his dentist (of all people)

Published on January 31st 2012.

The London Eye

THERE was a man on the radio the other day who confidently asserted that everybody hates going to the dentist. Nothing to query there, you might think; everybody hates going to the dentist. Everybody knows that. Even dentists probably hate going to the dentist. But this clarion call to the virtues of stating of the bleeding obvious lodged somewhere in the back of my mind and over the course of the day sprouted little molars of doubt. 

“The nerves in your gums start to die off in your forties,” he explains, “and will continue to do so until the rest of you catches up with them.”

As I was brushing my teeth before bed that night, I realised the cause of the nagging; you see, I really don't hate going to the dentist. Now, I would be stating my case too strongly if the sight of an appointment in my diary with the fang-meister leads to my heart missing a beat and my taking a Polyannaish view on the world (“hello birds, hello trees, all's right with the world I'm off for a filling”) but in my forties a trip to see Mr Frost in his practice on Peckham Rye doesn't hold quite the same horror that it obviously would do, it seems, for the rest of the population. 

Maybe I'm particularly lucky with my Mr Frost. His soothing tales of dental conferences and advances in amalgam technology coupled with the at-his-fingertips facts and figures he has on subjects as varied as receding gum lines and flossing all of which he employs so charmingly to cajole his patients into cool relaxation may help my sang-froid but for me what really makes my trips to Mr Frost more than bearable is his patter about ageing. 

Over the last couple of years various bits of various teeth of mine have decided to make a break for freedom. Only occasionally, but with a small but unnerving clatter, they have come tumbling into the basin when I'm scrubbing away: quite tiny in size but leaving a cavity in my mouth which my pestering tongue insists on telling me is akin to one of those potholes London councils love to leave unattended for weeks after a particularly cold spell. 


So, off to Mr Frost I go and he talks of crowns, bridges and dentists' get-togethers in his soothing and rather bored voice. I stare at the tops of the trees of Peckham Rye and occasionally try for a glimpse of the shiny metal implement he toys with before it disappears from my field of vision into my gaping mouth and then he starts to tell me the things that almost make me look forward to seeing him...

You see, I have reached that age where if my body hasn't actually started failing me I anticipate that moment's arrival most keenly. Being pretty medically illiterate my self-diagnosis tends to be clunky and unvaried. That ache, that twinge, that groan I have to emit to let me and the world know that I'm standing upright after crouching down are all signs to me of terminal illness. I have, thankfully, no evidence for this and as there's never really been a bone of hypochondria in my body. I see this mindset more a condition of middle-aged as opposed to actually having anything seriously wrong with me but nevertheless Mr Frost has marvellous news. 

As he prises and pokes, peers and opines, he tells me how lucky I am. “If this had happened twenty years ago, you'd have been in agony,” he'll say.  He starts on the necessary repair and continues: “As it is, at your age you can barely feel any pain at all. And the older you get the less painful it will become.” What wondrous news this is. “The nerves in your gums start to die off in your forties,” he explains, “and will continue to do so until the rest of you catches up with them.” Some might find this grim-reaper routine a little too much from their health professionals. Not I.

This is marvellous. In a society so focused on youth, elasticity of skin and a full head of hair, being told of the advantages of ageing is as rare as a movie detailing the sex lives of the inhabitants of an old people's home, and what a pleasure it is. With any luck, by the time I'm fifty I'm hoping I'll have lost the capacity to groan when I get up from looking for something in the cupboard too and at seventy I might not even feel a twinge of agony at the sight of an evening's programming on BBC3. Bring on that root canal work, I say. Really, there is everything to look forward to. 


Chris Neill is a comedian, broadcaster and native Londoner. You can make him feel more popular than he actually is by following him at @chrisneill on Twitter.

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