As soon as I entered the plush interiors of the dental clinic in Lourinhã – our dinosaur town on the Silver Coast of Portugal – the first thing that caught my eye was an impressive poster of a stunning woman. Her profile was captured in a brilliant laugh with her flawless teeth gleaming in perfect whiteness. The slogan read “Smile, it improves your face value”.
“Sure,” said the voice in my head. “If only I had a mouthful of pearly whites to show off.”
Saddled with a compulsive weakness for ‘pastéis de nata’, chocolates and éclairs of the sticky variety, the resultant disaster was imprinted in the fillings and cavities lining the length and breadth of my mouth.
Having a sweet tooth was bad enough but learning to live with an entire set of sweet teeth was what made smiling an extremely painful exercise for me. All of this flitted through my mind as I waited in the lounge adjoining the doctor’s chambers.
Suddenly, the heavy doors opened and, before the receptionist could announce his arrival, the dentist strode out purposefully and escorted me to his den.
What struck me immediately about him was his saint-like appearance. Seated on a highchair behind a heavy desk, his flowing grey beard matched his eyebrows that arched purposefully over a startling pair of twinkling eyes.
It was this benign presence that gave him the added advantage of looking vulnerable, a fact that allowed his patients to trust him more than they should because he did not believe in curing you of just one aching tooth, but in preaching the practice of a brand-new orthodontic lifestyle as well.
This began with a vigorous demonstration on how to wield a toothbrush, followed by a lengthy discourse on what kind of toothbrush to buy.
Making a total mockery of the way most of us are accustomed to brushing our teeth (from side to side), he advocated the brush strokes go up and down, thereby massaging the gums. It was only after he had enunciated these cardinal rules that he actually approached the problem with one more equally firm belief that ‘elimination was better than cure’.
So, on my first visit to his clinic, I got persuaded to get rid of the cavity-ridden molar that was half unhinged and causing me immense pain.
The second trip had me agreeing to the extraction of another tooth, which, according to the good doctor, was growing outwardly. It could cut the inside of my cheek and that could possibly even lead to cheek cancer, he cautioned. I consented to the uprooting, not wishing to question his predictions of doom and came away minus the errant tooth.
But when on my subsequent appointment I parted company with yet another of my wisdom teeth, totally convinced that what I really needed there was a gold cap instead, my spouse got suspicious.
“What is wrong with you?”, he asked when I returned without my third tooth.
“Doctor’s orders,” I explained patiently.
“A few more trips and you will have a brand-new set of perfect dentures,” he warned.
“But they had cavities,” I defended my kind dentist.
“Better to have some teeth, albeit cavity ridden, than to have no teeth at all,” my husband lectured.
There was a moment’s pause as I comprehended it all.
“Aha! Pearls of wisdom,” I lisped back eventually.
Nickunj Malik’s journalistic career began when she walked into the office of Khaleej Times newspaper in Dubai thirty-one years ago and got the job. Since then, her articles have appeared in various newspapers all over the world. She now resides in Portugal and is married to a banker who loves numbers more than words.