A Bedtime Story : Dental Records.

Posted on April 9, 2010


The three men stood around the filing cabinet and stared at the contents of the narrow drawer Matheson had just pulled out; he with pride, the other two in quiet admiration.
‘That’s the lot. One year’s worth,’ Matheson beamed, ‘almost.’
Jones looked to Phillips and mouthed a silent ‘wow’ before turning back to Matheson.
‘So how many exactly?’
Matheson sucked in through clenched jaws before responding.
All three men knew what this figure meant.
‘Fourteen more,’ whispered Jones.
‘So close, and yet so far,’ added Phillips, shaking his head, ‘damn shame.’
They returned their attention to the drawer, and the many molars, premolars, third molars, canines and incisors nestling within.

Matheson returned to the dining table to fetch his drink.
‘One more working day. I’m not on call over Christmas, so I can’t rely on emergencies, but one more day. I can still do it,’ he wandered over to the window, and the dark snowy vista that greeted his gaze, ‘as long as the bastards don’t all cancel.’

By the following afternoon, Matheson had only had one cancellation.
He had removed old Mr Pinter’s last incisor, an occasion Mr Pinter had elected to mark with a joke and a smile, rather than a tearful goodbye to his enamel-owning years.


He had extracted 45, 44 and 43 from Jeremy Smith. Some might say that there was a link between Jeremy’s abscess and the root canal work Matheson had carried out months earlier with equipment he’d elected not to sterilise, but Matheson couldn’t possibly comment. All that mattered was that the young student walked away feeling vaguely grateful at the thought of an end to weeks of pain, and that Matheson was closer to his goal.


Then the cancellation had come. Mrs Parker, his main banker. This was a disaster. She was supposed to be having three upper rights and four upper lefts out today. Radiotherapy had left Mrs Parker unable to produce much in the way of saliva, and her gums had receded. It would have been so easy. These teeth would have practically fallen out in the chair and Matheson would have been nearly there. He might even have been able to wobble out a couple of the remaining lower ones too. But oh no, Mrs Parker had felt ‘too ill’ to struggle through the snow to the surgery.
‘Bitch!’ Matheson had hissed at the news of this betrayal, adding ‘not you,’ to his startled receptionist. Most days, he would also have had to apologise to his assistant Kerry, but she was already on Christmas leave, and he was working on his own in the surgery. This was a fact he was growing increasingly relieved about, as he contemplated the possible ways in which he was going to have to make up for the Mrs Parker deficit. Having to hide from Kerry some of the more dubious work he’d done to get this far had made things very difficult at times.


The final appointment of the morning had also yielded nothing, a simple check-up.


So there Matheson sat, waiting for his two-thirty to arrive, nervously patting a scraper against the palm of his disposable glove, and pondering what was at stake. No emergency calls. No-one had had the decency to crack a few molars falling off a swing, or suddenly feel the urge to come in with a particularly savage case of periodontitis. This being the case, and with the surgery closing seasonably early, he only had two shots at this left.

In walked shot number one.
‘Hi,’ ventured the nervous Ms Ahmed. She flashed a quick smile that made Matheson’s heart sink; gleaming white enamel, and straight, to boot. Every bit as perfect as the x-rays he was holding from the previous year. Matheson had hoped against hope that things had gone horribly wrong with Ms Ahmed’s oral hygiene plan in the intervening time, having skipped an appointment, but this didn’t look good.
‘Hi Sam,’ he responded, hiding his disappointment, ‘how are things?’
‘Oh, not bad, not bad.’
‘No pain? Nothing been troubling you?’
‘Well, I’ve had a slight niggle with this one,’ she confided, sticking her finger into the back of her mouth. Matheson’s face lit up.
‘Let’s have a little look at that then, shall we?’


One of the molars in question had indeed shown signs of decay that in truth a small filling would have dealt with. It was perhaps a trifle earnest to perform the extraction, and even more so to remove the neighbouring tooth, which was entirely an innocent bystander. Ms Ahmed had clearly left in a state of shock, but nothing that a nice hot sweet cup of tea wouldn’t solve, in a few hours, when she would be able to drink hot liquids again.

In came shot number two, Miss Jenny Michaels. The last patient of the day, and eight teeth required. Jenny meekly climbed into the chair. Jenny was seven.

Matheson smiled briefly at Jenny and asked her to open wide, hoping against hope that somehow nothing had changed from the records he’d studied at lunch; that they were still there, waiting to be taken.
‘You’ve already exfoliated…’ his face fell.
‘Hargog?’ said Jenny, her mouth occupied by a suction tube and Matheson’s tiny mirror.
‘You’ve no milk teeth left. You had ten left last time, Jenny. They were all bravely hanging on.’
Jenny giggled.
‘Aw gog.’
‘Yes. All gone…’ Matheson withdrew his mirror and tapped it against his palm, deep in thought. This would have been a cakewalk. If the primaries had still been there, he could have simply made an excuse to take impressions and pulled the lot out in the alginate with one sharp tug. Now what? He stared down at Jenny, waiting patiently in the chair and attempting a smile despite the tube.
‘Let’s do a proper check-up then, shall we?’


Speeches over, Jones, Phillips and Matheson sat at the end of the long dining table, many of the other diners already having headed for the bar. Jones and Phillips sat witness to the remnants of a fine meal, Matheson with a largely untouched platter. Jones raised his glass.
‘To you, Matheson. I don’t know how you did it, but you’ve certainly shown some balls, old man.’
Matheson nodded and lifted his still-full glass in return. The painkillers were wearing off a little, but he still couldn’t muster a smile, or risk taking a swig of claret without it pouring down his front.
‘To the eight-hundred-fifty-four,’ Phillips chimed in.
‘So, the title’s yours for the foreseeable. Obviously the money’s a nice bonus…’ Jones mused, ‘where will you keep that monstrosity?’ He was motioning toward the enormous golden molar that sat proudly on a plinth between the three diners, forming an extraordinary centrepiece for the evening.
‘Bank vault in the morning,’ mumbled Matheson somewhat joylessly, as he tongued in turn the eight sockets he had created for himself the previous week.
‘Jaw still bothering you?’ inquired Phillips.
‘Still fractured, and still missing all the same teeth, thank you,’ said Matheson.
‘Funny, really,’ said Phillips.
‘Funny?’ Matheson queried his friend, somewhat in disbelief.
‘Well, if you’d known her mother was going to run in and swing that stool at you, you wouldn’t have had to take out the little screamer’s teeth in the first place.’
‘Mine wouldn’t have counted,’ said Matheson, ‘you know the rules.’