‘ I can’t believe’, writes Diane Southam, ‘that after practising SGI Buddhism for twenty-five years I still forget to chant for the most obvious things - like teeth!’

My suspicion that family karma extended to teeth was confirmed a couple of years ago when my brother fell off his racing bike and knocked out his two front teeth. After weeks and weeks of painful dental surgery expensive new implants were finally fitted. Two days later they too were smashed to pieces, this time by a random cricket ball. 


I won’t bore you with the jaw-clenching misery I’ve experienced at the hands of competent and incompetent dentists over the years – I’ll simply focus on my most recent tooth trials and share the odd moment of dental enlightenment.

After moving from the town where, after seven years, I’d finally managed to find a decent dentist (replacing the one who’d charged me £400 for performing root canal on the wrong tooth), I found myself once again in need of dental treatment. It made sense to opt for the surgery at the end of my road.


This dentist, who was warm, chatty and charming, proceeded to perform root canal on an already root-canalled tooth, because, he claimed, the original canal wasn’t deep enough. Apart from charging me well over a grand for this questionable procedure, he also managed to destroy a perfectly good bridge in the process. On my way out he handed me an estimate for future work that came to more than twice that amount – and included replacing a crown I later learned was in fine condition.

Sick to the teeth with this display of private sector greed, after considerable research I managed to track down the only dentist in the town who did NHS. Recalling the kindly NHS dentist of my childhood who would give me something called cocaine to take the pain away and wiz me up and down in his dental chair for fun, I went along with high hopes.

Dream on. This one barely looked up when I walked in, and proffered no form of introduction or greeting. Each question I asked he answered with a monosyllable. He scarcely glanced at my X-rays and although I was experiencing pain, insisted there was nothing wrong. When I inquired about an NHS bridge to replace the one that had been wrecked he told me it would be pointless, as an NHS bridge would crumble almost instantaneously. His attitude angered me. Did all NHS patients get treated like this? I felt sub-human.  Dentists are supposed to have one of the highest suicide rates in the country. With that sort of an attitude I wasn’t surprised. Nor was I surprised that when I questioned him about private bridges he suddenly came alive  – all smiles and warmth and charm, just like the dentist at the end of my road.

On my way home I found myself regretting that I hadn’t talked to him about the law of cause and effect. If he’d been more polite and professional it’s very likely I would have opted for a private bridge. Now I had no intention of ever going back there. It would have made sense at this point if I’d also looked at the causes I must have made, or indeed must still be making, to suffer so in the dental department, but it simply didn’t occur to me. In fact it was another couple of weeks before I finally got down to chanting about teeth and dentists, and when I did, I have to confess, it was for rather selfish reasons.

My other half, while a big, brave bloke about most things, was, until recently, a milk-toothed mouse when it came to dentists. When we first became an item I came home one day to find him curled up in agony on the sofa, his cheek puffed out like a melon, yet adamantly refusing to see a dentist.  The only arrangement we could come up with – which continued for several years – was for us both to take a day off work so that I could drive him up to an Anaesthetist/Dentist in London (who he trusted) to be pumped full of Valium at enormous expense, and drilled. I’d then have to drive the zoned out vegetable he’d metamorphosed into all the way home again. It didn’t do much for the relationship.

When recently he was once again stricken with toothache I decided enough was enough.  We were about to go on holiday to Thailand and I was too busy to take a day off work. Instead I chanted for him to get this dental phobia sorted for once and for all because, I have to be honest here, I didn’t want his teeth to ruin my holiday.  Rows ensued. He insisted that ‘out of principle’ he would only see an NHS dentist – but for obvious reasons not the one I’d seen. We both knew this was a delaying tactic, as there weren’t any others in our town. Refusing to be deterred I eventually found one ten miles away. Getting him in there cold turkey was no picnic, and despite having no treatment he emerged from the surgery looking very pale indeed. The NHS dentist had referred him to a private specialist for double root canal work.

It was at this point that my chanting began to bear fruit. The root canal specialist just so happened to be a member of our new Buddhist district. I had a quiet word in his ear, after a Buddhist meeting, warning him to expect a very nervous patient. The patient also had a quiet word in his ear about the possibility of tranquillisation, but didn’t get the response he’d hoped. The specialist said he didn’t like working on patients who were tranquillised, as their mouths were too floppy, but that he’d had years of experience handling the fearful and the phobic. 

It worked. On each visit the nervous patient returned home in a state bordering on elation. The Buddhist Dentist somehow managed to relax and calm him down to the extent that he felt no fear or pain. He was given temporary crowns and instructed to find a dentist to fit permanent crowns as soon as he returned from holiday.  We left for Thailand slightly nervous that the new crowns, once they were fitted, would end up costing us more than the holiday. But we needn’t have worried as once again his teeth were touched by the mystic tooth fairy.

On a hunch we dropped in on a dentist in Phuket who happened to speak perfect English, was charming and had all the very latest dental equipment. He’d also just had a two-hour appointment cancelled. Then and there he measured up for new crowns and later made and fitted them for a quarter of the price we were expecting to pay in England.

My beloved has now overcome his dental phobia. And as for me, well I’ve finally started chanting about my own teeth. I’m planning a dental holiday in Thailand this summer and I’m taking my brother with me.

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