What to say to your dentist

29 September 2013


There's a great David Sedaris essay in his latest book called Dentists without Borders. In it he relates how his experiences of clinicians in France - where he has lived on and off for over a decade now - have transformed him from dental phobic to curious fan. He gushes about the Gala magazine-piled waiting rooms, how they never call him David but always Monsieur Sedaris, the weird shows playing on the muted TV screen mounted near the ceiling, the refreshing reassurance that there are "better ways" to spend an evening than flossing. Above all, he confesses, he enjoys his dentist's company.


If this strikes you as somewhat weird, wait until you hear what Olivia Fane discovered. Speaking in the McNellie Tent on the second day of the festival, she holds aloft a small, dark red book, written in French, subtitled: Conversations to have when you go to England. Now, Olivia has written her own book on the art of chat (The Conversations: 66 Reasons to Start Talking) but nothing in that, she admits, is a patch on the chapter in the Gallic tome dealing with 'What to say to your dentist'. She reads aloud from it. The audience is treated to a curious orthodontic role play culminating in the extraction of the patient's tooth. It's the wrong tooth. No matter, is the moral of the passage: what's a Jack-O'-Lantern smile when you can at least talk about teeth so proficiently?


Like the French author, Olivia staunchly believes in the value of natter. Her book, which provides starting points for short discussions on topics ranging from being locked in the loo to infidelity, urges us to rediscover the thrill of talking to one another. Her advice on improving our communications includes daring to be ourselves, desiring to know (really, really know) more about the person we're chatting to, and being prepared to let the exchange change us forever. I leave her talk inspired and loose-lipped and resolute.


When I get home I'll phone my dentist. It's been two years. Before he starts hooking Haribo from my gum line or polishing tea scum from my incisors I'll ask him about his weekend. And when he returns the favour, I'll talk about all the interesting things I heard and saw in a sunny, bookish corner of Scotland. I'll tell him about Sarah Corbett and her subversive stitching and how I found out that James Meek re-read the whole of Anna Karenina "in the spirit of an apprentice" before penning his own moral masterpiece, The Heart Broke In. And then I'll move onto all the great bookshops they have in Wigtown, and how one of them sold me a really ugly painting, which I'll hang up in my own bookshop because it's hideous enough to make people talk - and that's a good thing, I now know. And finally, I suppose, I'll have to confess that alongside the Haribo and tea there's something else lurking in the dark creases of my mouth and that's the crumbs of the truly enormous iced banana cake I had on Saturday afternoon. It tasted of joy and contraband.


Just thinking of it again will open my mouth into a wide grin for him. I'll expose what Sedaris's dentist euphemistically calls 'good-time teeth'. My own dentist will no doubt scowl and shake his head and rev up his drill. And I'll lie back and think of Wigtown and the innumerable better ways than flossing to spend my time. 


Sarah Henshaw, Blogger-in-Residence