Tuesday, January 24, 2012


This tasty little morsel, or at least one of its former siblings, has just been valued at R$2,100 (£768.50) which is, as you might agree, somewhat expensive for a disappointingly small and all-too-brief lump of chocolate. Fortunately, its extreme cost was offset slightly by the fact that it came with a free root canal treatment and a porcelain crown in exactly the same shape as my real molar was in just before I bit down on it. To be fair to the triangle of chocolate, it had just come straight out of the fridge and it does contain little bits of nuts, but this is not the first piece of Toblerone I've ever eaten, not by a long way, and it did come as something of a shock - although a lot less of a shock than when I was given the bill for the dental work. Looking on the positive side though, it has given me my first experience of Brazilian dentistry which is, I have been told by many people both here and in the UK, world class.

I am no stranger to the dentist's chair. When I was thirteen years old I had two of my front teeth knocked out with a hockey stick (while playing hockey... honestly) and during the following year hardly a fortnight went by without me popping in for a quick hour of injections and drilling. Since then I've had two abscesses, three replacement crowns on the same tooth and two on its neighbour as well as the usual collection of fillings and scrapings and polishings.

So with all this experience I wasn't in the slightest bit bothered about going through another series of appointments, even when having to do so in a foreign language. So, just two days after phoning I went along for an initial appointment prepared with a vast array of portuguese phrases I might need:
"Eu tenho um dente quebrado."
"Desculpe, eu só falo um pouco de português."
"Desculpe, não entendo."
And actually, that was about it. But fortunately, opening my mouth wide and pointing did fairly well on its own.

As stated earlier, the whole thing was fairly expensive, but they certainly give you a lot for your money out here. I had two different dentists poke around inside my mouth. One worked on making the crown, the other was the root canal specialist. The operation itself took about two-and-a-half hours, during which time I was given three injections of anaesthetic, five x-rays and had my mouth stretched open with this strange plastic contraption which held in place a small square piece of latex so that the tooth being worked on could be isolated from the rest of my drooling mouth. It sounds bizarre but probably makes perfect sense once you see it in action - which, of course, I couldn't - but the best way to describe it is to say it felt as if someone had inflated a balloon inside my mouth.

As for the x-rays, five did seem a little excessive and I've always been a tad suspicious of the way the dentist will set you up with your own finger holding the plate in place while they nip out of the room before flicking the switch from a safe distance. This time, however, the dentist gave me a huge piece of body armour to cover my chest each time she zapped me with the x-rays, which was reassuring and slightly unsettling at the same time. And then, rather bizarrely given the hi-tech nature of everything else, I wasn't offered any eye protectors. Instead at various points when the big drill put in an appearance, it was suggested I might like to close my eyes.

Two-and-a-half hours with my mouth stretched wide was hard going, and the experience was made all the more painful by the fact that fairly early on the dentist kindly switched on the television for me and knowing I was English she flicked through until she found something in English. So for the first hour I was forced to endure Justin Bieber on the Ellen de Generes Show with no way to shut him up or even beg for the channel to be changed. And as if this wasn't torture enough, it was followed by an hour of Nigella Lawson showing me in graphic detail how to make a deliciously rich and creamy chocolate sauce to pour over vanilla and caramel ice cream and then how to bake perfect chocolate chip muffins. That's just cruel.

But my favourite moment came towards the end, when my dentist took a call on her mobile phone right in the middle of a tricky surgical procedure. She wrapped it up in a sterile bag (I suspect for the sake of the phone, not the patient) and merrily continued to stab spikes into my exposed dental nerves with one hand while she sorted out some domestic affairs with the other. My portuguese was not up to a full translation, but I clearly heard her ask, a que horas ela vai chegar a guarulhos? (What time will she be arriving at Guarulhos?) - Guarulhos being our local international airport. She chatted for a couple of minutes and then carried on with both hands back in my mouth as if nothing had happened. So different from back in the UK where you have to switch off your mobile phone as soon as you get within 50 metres of the dentist's surgery in case the invisible microwave signals interfere with the x-ray machine and transform it into a death ray. Or something like that. Out here in Brazil death rays are clearly no big deal.

And not to be outdone, the dentist even let me make a call on my own phone - to warn Helen that things were running a bit late and I would be another twenty minutes - although what I actually said was more like, "muh gubba be abubba bempy bimips" while I drooled copious amounts of saliva all over the phone because I didn't get to wrap mine up first.

Anyway, I did finally survive the whole experience and even got to go back for more. As I write this - on my birthday, no less - I'm in a race against the clock to see if I can get my final crown constructed and delivered back to the dentist before I go off on my holidays next week. It's supposed to take a week but that would put me in a different country (I'll tell you about it next time) and I would really, really rather be able to chew on both sides of my mouth again before I go. The final appointment of the day is being kept open for me on my last day and I have to call beforehand to see if my new tooth has been rushed through in time. The helicopter is standing by, the ambulance and outriders are poised to go and all I hope now is that the orderly rushing it into the building doesn't trip over his own feet and send it skidding along Avenida Faria Lima and under a bus in his haste.

And the answer was...

...neither. I went. I opened wide. Something was put in the gap that looks like a tooth, but I was also told to come back next week for the final fitting. So who knows? Now I'm really bored with chewing on the wrong side and you're probably bored with hearing all about my dental adventures. Going to the dentist is bad enough for yourself, but having to sit through someone else's adventures  - that's even more painful.