COLUMN: June 20, 2013

I APPEAR to have a lot of difficulty with food with holes in it, probably because it is the work of the devil.

People in my house still complain about the smell of the cheese on toast I made with gruyere, which, to be fair, lingered for about two haircuts (the length of time between haircuts is how I measure my life these days).

And a few months ago I had some trouble with a mystery doughnut which had been impaled on the handle of my front door and which heralded a long sequence of progressively odder items being deposited outside my house. This led me to sit in my car on a cold autumn night and stake out my own house in a doomed attempt to identify the culprit.

But food with holes in it had never done me any physical harm . . . until last Saturday night.

I had been to see the dark reimagining of Superman at The Pictures – no red underpants, grits his teeth a lot, 7/10 – and was ready for something to eat. After all, I had just sat through a 2½-hour film and half an hour of trailers, advertisements, and passive aggressive anti-downloading public information films. I could have gone to London in that time.

So I took my young sidekick/going-to-the-pictures alibi to a fast food burger chain. I won’t name the chain, but, let’s face it, there are only two. I chose a burger which had barbecue sauce and two onion rings on it, because I was in the mood for something outré and exotic.

I carried the tray over to a table, we sat down, and I attempted to pick up my container of French fries without depositing half of them over the tray. Absent-mindedly, I bit into an onion ring . . .

“Clunk” went the onion ring. “Clunk?” I thought. “That doesn’t sound right. Onion rings don’t make a clunk noise. They don’t make any noise. Incidentally, what’s that very hard thing I can feel in my mouth? Oh, flip . . .”

I had broken a molar on an onion ring, by far the most pathetic thing on which anybody has ever broken a molar. I can understand pork crackling, toffee, even a Toblerone – especially a Toblerone – but a soft onion ring in soggy batter? It is the dental trauma equivalent of being mugged by Miss Tibbs from Fawlty Towers.

I should explain in mitigation that I lost a filling in the tooth a few months ago and I had not got round to getting it fixed because it was not bothering me enough to make me register with a dentist. And I was not registered with a dentist because my old dentist had de-listed me for missing two appointments.

So the tooth was weaker than normal. But an onion ring?!

Anyway, it turns out that the very worst time to break a tooth is about 7.13pm on a Saturday, but luckily I was able to get an appointment at an emergency dental unit on Sunday morning.

After a night of testing the limits of prescription painkillers, I sat in the dentist’s chair. He was really annoyed, and told me to sit in the patient’s chair. I explained my predicament and outlined my mitigating circumstances. I don’t know what I was expecting – congratulations for leaving my tooth unfilled for so long? Maybe a “brave soldier” sticker?

Instead, he told me off for not having the work done, slapped a bit of putty in my crumbled tooth, and said I must register with a dentist sharpish before the putty fell out.

With uncharacteristic luck, I have managed to register with an NHS dentist, so it won’t cost me a fortune to get the necessary work done.

But I know in other parts of the country dental practices willing to take on new NHS patients are rarer than Channel 5 BAFTA awards.

I cannot help feeling the current dental service in the UK is the template for the future NHS, and it scares me.

I see a bare minimum provision for emergencies and for the very poor, subsidised treatment for postcode lottery winners, and a gleaming private sector for the rich.

And I see lots of people like me a week ago, leaving chronic conditions untreated until it’s too late because it’s too costly or too much hassle to obtain treatment.

I see a National Health Service with an ever-widening hole in it.

In the meantime, I am staying well away from bagels and Polo mints. Those things are dangerous.

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