We’re eating in a Mexican restaurant on the River Thames in Central London and I’m munching on corn chips when suddenly, I feel it - a sharpness in one of my molars.
I’ve broken a tooth. God damn!
Before leaving New York I made sure I had a clean dental bill of health while I was covered by insurance from my job.
So what happens? Soon after kissing the insurance goodbye, my molar loses a one-on-one battle to a corn chip in London.
Go ahead and insert the British dentistry joke of your choice here. But the way this thing shakes out is going to surprise you....
“I should sue this restaurant!” I say to Kim, only half-kiddingly. She just laughs.
“This isn’t America,” she reminds me. “We don’t walk around suing each other.”
True that. When it comes to teeth, the Brits are especially tough. There's an old lady in our neighborhood who considers dentists a luxury. When she has a bad tooth, she gets out the pliers and pulls it herself. (Needless to say, she doesn't spend on cosmetics, either.)
So I quickly give up on the notion of suing the restaurant. Even if the case got to court I’m not sure I could keep a straight face before a judge wearing one of those ridiculous wigs.
Besides, I’ve swallowed the evidence.
I jam my tongue into the broken tooth, feeling the tingle of the raw nerve and the size of the gap. I figure this is going to cost me big-time.
Believe it or not, this isn’t a new scenario for me. A few years earlier, same deal - I was enjoying a meal during a visit to London when suddenly, I felt a tooth break.
It was actually a crown over a molar that had undergone an unbelievably costly and time-consuming root canal procedure in New York.
Lousy thing split right down the middle. So I went to the local London dentist, fearful of the whopping bill to come.
The diagnosis was amazingly simple. The dentist examined the expensive wreckage, shrugged and said:
“Well, that’s the last tooth in the row. You really don’t need it.”
She grabbed a pair of pliers, braced her foot against my jaw, yanked out the broken crown and tossed it on the sawdust floor.
I’m kidding about the foot against my jaw and the sawdust floor, but the rest of the story is true. She pulled the tooth, charged me a few bucks, and that was that. I’m down to 31 choppers, and it’s no big deal.
Now, as I approach that same dental clinic with my latest problem, I figure my luck has run out, and I’m braced to drop a fortune on a crown.
They can’t just pull this tooth. It’s not the last one in the row.
This time, the British receptionist sends me to a room with a Polish dentist and a Latvian hygienist - both women, both as intense as Olympic bobsledders.
“Let’s have a look!” the dentist declares.
Two injections numb up half my head, and then the drilling starts. And I mean drilling.
“Lift your hand it it’s too much for you!” the dentist says.
I don’t lift my hand, because she’s good at what she does. Also, I'm afraid of her. She’s going to get me through this with a huge filling, but no crown.
They work for the better part of an hour to patch up that tooth. Drooling down my shirt, I thank them both and go to the receptionist to pay, braced for the worst.
“That’s fifty-one pounds, please,” she says in a chirpy voice.
I almost laugh out loud. That’s less than $80, for all that work. Eighty bucks! I once went to a doctor in New York who glanced at a growth on my eyelid, said I needed to see a specialist and charged me $150.
I gleefully pay the fifty-one pounds and head home. For the first time since my tooth broke, I can eat without pain. As soon as the numbness passes I’ll be ready to dig into a Shepherd’s pie.
Nothing crunchy in a Shepherd’s pie. Don’t want to press my luck.
Next time: BAMBI MEETS GOODFELLAS (OR, THE BUCK STOPS HERE)