Spectator – Carla Carlisle

The day after Mr Hare (B.D.S., B.Sc., M.G.D.S., F.D.S.R.C.S. (Eng) Specialist in Surgical Dentistry) pulled my tooth, the tree surgeons cut down our walnut tree. Tooth and tree were twins in age. The theme of this story is loss.

The tooth fatality began at a candlelit dinner nearly two decades ago, a shooting weekend (when we still had those). I chomped down on a piece of lead shot nestled in the tender breast of an English partridge (when we still had those). I’m not of the Stiff Upper Lip school, but I abide by George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour: at table do not ‘Scratch, Spit, Cough or blow your Nose except there’s a Necessity for it.’ I reckon America’s first president thought ‘do not Swear or Holler’ went without saying. What is permissible in the English gentry is the visible retrieval of the piece of lead shot, careful examination, the announcement to fellow diners, ‘Ah, a piece of shot’, followed by a melodic ping as it is dropped onto the Spode side plate. The more audible the ping, the more substantial the commitment to one’s dentist.

Mine is based in the neighbouring village of Hopton. Jo Hassan’s practice, part NHS, part private, includes all my family, half my payroll and a real duke. Truly, no one has been more dedicated in the quest to save my cracked tooth. But this was no benign molar, just a born trouble maker. It began to pull away from its neighbour, creating a hiding place for those pesky morsels that squeeze in like hedgehogs in a chicken house. My tongue, after years of dislodging the meaty little perpetrators could now pull a plough.

Still, I thought that my tooth and I had made a truce: I’d mind the gap and the tooth would remain pain-free. But Mrs Hassan warned me there is no detente in the dental wars. A troubled tooth is like global warming: calamitous if not dealt with. The tooth had to go.

When you call your farm diversification ‘The Leaping Hare’, there is something reassuring about a dental surgeon called Mr Hare. I also value propinquity: his practice is on Guildhall Street in Bury St Edmunds. On the morning of my appointment, I stocked up on Anadin Extra (my family’s motto is: ‘There is no dignity in pain’) and eight pots of Duchy Originals Beetroot Soup (delicious). Mr Hare talks you through it: ‘Dentists donit actually ‘pull’ teeth out. They rock the tooth slowly side to side until the bone surrounding it expands and the ligament breaks allowing it to slide out.’ I didn’t want to hurt his feelings by telling him that, actually, ignorance is bliss. In fact, once he began to ‘not’ pull , the whole procedure took less than five minutes.

What lasts rather longer is the sense of loss. As the tree surgeons carefully extracted the decayed roots of the walnut tree, I guiltily studied my options: a ‘tooth coloured bridge’ (from £335) or a transplant (£2,163), a tree resistant to honey fungus.

All week long, I’ve been gazing at the gaping hole where the once proud tree stood, anxiously avoiding the gaping hole where my trusty, hunky molar lived. I confessed to my friend Katie that I have begun to dream of George Washington and his wooden dentures. ‘Eejit,’ she says, ‘that’s just urban legend. Washington had two sets of false teeth, both carved from the finest hippopotamus ivory and gold. The set loaned to the Smithsonian in 1976 for the bicentennial was stolen and never recovered’. When your theme is loss, your cup runneth over.

This article first appeared in Country Life magazine on January 26, 2006.