Getting “fried” in the dentist’s electric chair

“Getting fried”, “riding the lightning” and “the hot seat”, are all slang words in America to describe the infamous electric chair. As far as this column is concerned, we have our own version of the chair in Ireland - only it is known as ‘The dentist’s chair”.My memories of escaping alive from the chair were revived and relived last week, on reading a very humorous account of a visit to the dentist, from a regular respondent, Willie Manning. Only I wasn’t laughing after reading Willie’s piece. On the contrary, it brought back terrifying memories of my execution-like thoughts, as the minutes ticked down to fulfilling my sentence to the hot seat in the so-called good old days. Like the woman who once unsuccessfully sued us in Mullingar, after getting a scratch to her head in the squash club; and as the scam attempt disintegrated in court, the lady’s answer to every question was the same; “Oh the pain of it”! My abiding memory of the dentist’s chair is, “Oh the pain of it”!Do you know that there actually is a recognised condition called “Dental Phobiacs”? Ten percent of the world’s population suffer from it. The next time one of the sisters lets you have it, Lads, about their pain threshold being so much higher than that of a man, you can remind them that dental phobia is higher in women than men. Reminds me of a joke about the lady in the dentist’s chair who told the dentist she would prefer to have a baby than have a tooth filled and he suggested she make her mind up before he; ….. on second thoughts, the editor wouldn’t like that joke.Dental Phobics is curable, folks and I know, because I was that soldier. I was inflicted with the condition by a Westmeath dentist, who through no fault of his own, was a carrier and I was finally cured over a period of time a generation later, by two Mullingar based dentists - but more about that anon. Half the population of Ireland attend their dentist on a regular basis. If, as has been shown, 10% of those suffer from Dental Phobics, that is an awful lot of nervousness, anxiety, panic and grief. It is more likely that most of the 10% are among the 50% who only attend the dentist when driven to do so by pain. I think there are very few though who feel relaxed when the person in the white coat tilts the chair and invites you to “open wide”, while brandishing a tool which looks to the lay man to be totally unsuited to the job on hand. Oh God, I feel the symptoms returning: thoughts of drilling, scaling, injecting, extracting … taste of blood in the mouth … hearing the words, “just another little ‘pinch’ now”; pull yourself together, Bernie. “Learn how to breath offensively, not defensively,” the leaflet says. More of the hangman telling the condemned man that the rope was for his own good. Doesn’t work for me I’m afraid - as all sorts of water and foreign bodies goes with my breath. “Distract yourself from the experience,” the advice goes on, but no matter how hard I try, I cannot convert the sound of the drill into Glen Millar’s, “In the Mood.”But back to one man’s descent into the depths of dental phobiacs, before eventually finding salvation and being returned to the fold of the 90% who are deemed normal. Dentist Jackie Bray, a lovely decent man and a neighbour of ours, was responsible for the outbreak of dental phobiacs in Johnstown N.S. There was no anaesthetic given for drilling or fillings in those days. Mr Bray would be asking me if there were any wild ducks worth shooting in our bog, as he was hitting a nerve with the drill. “Oh, the pain of it”!! The condition became more acute around this time also, when being driven mad by toothache, my father took me down to Dentist Barney Daly in Collinstown - another kind and compassionate man and a good dentist. But because there was an abscess on my gum, the freezing failed and I would guess that my breathing was all wrong. While in my teens and working in Offaly, I filled myself with a rake of drink, before entering the chair in Birr and more than ever that day, my breathing left a lot to be desired. Next time I paid for a general anaesthetic to have a single tooth pulled in England.And so we come to the two men responsible for my cure. By then, I was well on the way to allowing every tooth in my mouth to rot if they wanted to. Driven by a toothache, I ventured into the late Dentist Joe Kelly. I made it clear to Mr Kelly what I wanted. He would put me to sleep and pull every tooth in my head. The soft-spoken man gently talked me out of this drastic action … or at least I finally agreed to give him one go at showing me he could save most of my molars. And so he did, but I still was a reluctant patient and only attended when it couldn’t be helped. Then one day my mouth was transferred to Dentist Michael Drury on his arrival in Mullingar and I found to my great happiness that nowhere in his tool-box does he appear to have a pain punching pliers. This is why, dear readers, I can open my mouth and smile at the top of this page; living proof that dental phobia is not a terminal illness.Don’t ForgetThe man who listens to reason is lost: reason enslaves all whose minds are not strong enough to master her. (G.BS)

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