Peter Casasola is my favourite dentist of all time. We had one final checkout with him today before we have to find us a new doctor in Miami Beach. Peter was my wife's dentist in Harborne, Birmingham and she said I should check him out. That must have been in late 2004. I haven't regretted it since.
Forming a relationship with any dentist is difficult: it's based on a combination of trust, quality and affordability. Peter scores high on all fronts – especially compared to the other crooks I've been dealing with in my life.
First there was Frau Doktor Mangold, my first dentist. The entire family went there, and I mean seriously how much choice have you got when you're 6 years old. My Mum was always looking out for my teeth, in part because she was suffering badly from major bouts of parodonthosis and all, so she made sure I'd brush a lot and take fluoride tablets from an early age. I went to Frau Doktor Mangold until I was in my teens with twice-yearly checkups and not a single filling.
This relationship lasted well until my orthodontist decided that it would be beneficial for my jaw to have four strong healthy teeth removed, all of them molars. Apparently my jaw wasn't big enough to accommodate all of them, especially looking ahead to when my wisdom teeth would eventually materialise. “Either we take those out now, or you'll the painful consequences later” he said, and being 15 or so I happily obliged.
Of course I was sad to see all those healthy teeth go, and I would have thought Frau Doktor Mangold was too. However without as much as lifting an eyebrow she went to work on giving me an injection, pricked my gums, and upon me not feeling those pricks anymore she ripped the first tooth out on our next date. She told me she couldn't do them all in one sitting so we made three further appointments in rather quick succession every week until the job was done. Other than a bit of crackling in my ears I didn't feel a thing – even after I went home and the anaesthetic had worn off.
On our third appointment I felt a sharp pain when she took my penultimate tooth out. I thought it was extremely uncomfortable, but trusting her to know what she was doing I didn't question this. I can't quite remember if I've even told her. What was to follow on our final ever date nothing could have prepared me for.
Let me say that up to this point I thought movies like Marathon Man were rather funny, basically because I had never feared the dentist. I never had my teeth drilled, apart from a couple of my baby teeth, and I've never had a filling or anything nasty done in my mouth. Besides, I was seeing someone as calm and qualified as Frau Doktor Mangold who had been treating my Mum for over two decades prior. What could possibly go wrong?
So I showed up for my appointment, my Mum sitting in the waiting room as always, and Frau Doktor started giving me that syringe as usual. Then she pricked my gums to check that the position in question was completely numb as it should have been, just as last time. Turns out that today my cheek was all limp and non-responsive, but not the gums which held my final tooth that was to be removed.
“Nope, I can feel every bit of pricking you're doing there” I said, smiling with the one cheek that was permitting to pull an expression, sounding slightly drunk. Puzzled faces all round until eventually that syringe came out again. After another half dose or so she says, “I can't really give you any more of this stuff, because that would be seriously harmful”.
Was there a sly smile on her face? Certainly not – this woman is a qualified doctor, I'm sure she's just looking out for my best here.
We waited a few more minutes until she pricked my gums again. No change in how I felt about that. “Ah well, this happens sometimes – I'm sure the anaesthetics are working fine deep inside your jaw, there's really nothing to worry about.” – “OK fine, if you think it's safe to pull the tooth then go ahead” I admitted, slurring slightly more than before.
So Frau Doktor takes out her pliers, gives me a smile, pulls up that white mask and starts pulling. Then I felt what only Dustin Hofman's character in Marathon Man must have felt, you know that bit when he had his teeth drilled. Agonising pain probably describes it best.
I was screaming from the top of my head, I didn't even know humans can feel that much pain without passing out. She literally pulled out that tooth, slowly, bit by bit, without that syringe having had any effect on my nervous system. Worst of all, I think she enjoyed it.
I must have blown several eardrums while I was looking at those big dark eyes behind the sterile white mask, staring at me like a Nazi criminal on a mission to extract secret information from a spy. Glass must have shattered somewhere in that building, and my Mum had tears in her eyes as she later told me.
When Frau Doktor Mengele was finished I was bleeding like a pig. The complete absence of anything like guilt, or perhaps something along the lines of an apology made me think I had perhaps chosen the wrong dentist.
Needless to say this little incident lead to a slight dent in our doctor/patient relationship. I never saw her again.
Heavily scarred by this experience I spent the next decade in Dentist Limbo, or just having one visit every 2 years with random dentists.
First there was a guy in Verden, Germany. Think he was a schoolfriend's dad or something. In my three years in Berlin I completely skipped the dentist, and I can't remember where I went during my 5 years in Hamburg.
Settling in London in the late nineties I visited some rip-off merchant near St Paul's cathedral. It was a practice that had a constantly laughing American hygienist who made me wear very funky shades during treatment. She must have been on the laughing gas 24/7. The matching dentist wasn't any better, giving me the sound advice that all my teeth should be filed down immediately and without delay, and that they could do all that and more for a bargain price of £200 per hour (and it would take them several hours to do this).
They even tried to overcharge me upon my hasty retreat, but I pointed out that I must have signed some old paperwork where said bargain rate had been reduced to only £168 per hour (that's practically free). Grudgingly they've changed my first overpriced bill to just over £300. I left, knowing full well I would never return.
A few years later the next dentist I decided to try out was in Piccadilly Circus. Being part of Boot's I thought it's got to be half decent. They were nice people, however when it was time for my next appointment they had moved to Oxford Street. And for the one after that they had vanished into thin air altogether, like one of those offices Michael Douglas was shown in The Game. Even though this arrangement was very sci-fi, it didn't help my teeth much.
What all these dentists had in common was that they liked drilling holes into my teeth while ripping me off with a smile on their faces. My image of such “doctors” couldn't really get any worse.
Peter changed all that.
Trusted for years by my wife he took me under his wing, listened to my dastardly experiences and understood where I was coming from. “It doesn't have to be like that” he said, and from day one I felt I was in good hands: holes were only drilled with prior warnings and explanations and he used anaesthetics whenever there was a suggestion of pain. He made it clear that even though I could probably stand the pain, it's better for him if I wouldn't feel anything as he can drill harder without the fear of hurting someone.
His fillings were silver and durable and he pointed out the benefits of Practice Plan, a monthly payment plan that lets you have bi-annual visits and any work associated with them for free. For £20 a month this was a no-brainer.
Even though we were based in London, Peter and his team were worth the journey twice a year up to Harborne. We joked about the distance, and he said that he treated a couple from Western Australia who came over once a year to have their teeth done. I can very much understand why. I suggested that he needed to come over to Miami Beach twice a year with his doctor's bag and make a house call, but sadly it wouldn't be all that practical.
It's been tough to say good-bye to him today. Our leaving presents were the x-rays he's taken during our journey together – I shall cherish those. My next dentist has some pretty big shoes to fill.