A few years ago I chipped a tooth, lower left number eight. For those of you not familiar with the geography of your own mouth it's that whacking big molar right at the back on the bottom left. It didn't hurt at the time but of course it was sensitive to cold and I tried not to eat on the left side of my mouth.

I should mention here that I have an absolute dread of having a tooth extracted so I hoped it wouldn't come to that.

When I worked at the hospital the sound of a tooth being pulled was the one thing that really made me feel sick. You could saw off arms and legs, scoop somebody's insides out like a sherry trifle and it wouldn't bother me (as long as it was somebody else obviously). But, the sound of a tooth coming out....jeez. I'd always have to leave theatre while they did that.

And, yes I'd get teased about it. "What's occurring Mike?" I'd say when I went up for somebody's op. "Dermabration of a tattoo" the surgeon would say "But first we're going to pull her teeth out.". Just so he could see me turn green.

I don't know where this fear comes from. When I was in my twenties my dentist was training as an orthodontist, I'd nip 'round on Sunday afternoon when his surgery was shut and he'd grind away at my teeth to get the perfect fit. It didn't bother me at all. I could probably chew an elephants toenails with my teeth.

But, apparently not my own bread rolls.

I was talking about this with a friend the other night. The root on 'lower left number eight' is one and a quarter inches long and pulling it wouldn't be fun.

"How do you know that?" she asked.

"Ah ha, I have an X-ray.". And, this is how it happened.

I'd been at the hospital for just over a year and was still a bog standard medical photographer. Thursday morning and I've got a big lump under my left jaw, in between my jawbone and my neck. Bloody painful too.

"Hey Maurice. What do you make of this?". Maurice was my head of department. I thought he'd know about these things.

"Looks like a lump. Does it hurt?" He said after a quick shufti.

"I've got a grapefruit stuck in my jaw. Of course it bloody hurts.". Maurice was ex-navy and ex-police. There was some pretty plain language around the department.

"Go off and see Charles then. He'll sort it out." Charles was the orthodontic consultant surgeon. I gave him a ring to make sure he wasn't taking his afternoon nap and ambled off to see him. Hands in pockets and mulling my dire fate.

Charles (a bit of a Captain Picard look-alike) takes a look at it, mumbles to himself a bit.

"I'll give you a chitty." he says "Go and get it X-rayed.

"Yes, sure." I took the chitty "I'll nip down next week when thing aren't so busy." Like most blokes I assumed that since it'd been looked at it was cured. My house was full of medicines that I'd been prescribed and never taken. Things sort themselves out in the end.

There's two reasons for this:

a) Sympathetic magic. Having the medication is pretty much like taking it. Plus, if you don't take it then you don't have to stop drinking (Quacks always say something about that).

b) If nobody tells you that you've got something fatal then it'll never happen.

"No, no. Go now, don't wait. Here' I'll ring them and let them know you're on your way up." Jeez, you could have heard my butt squeak on the other side of the hospital. I probably set off car alarms outside.

I called Maurice to let him know what was going on and set off up to X-ray.

Sure enough there were three of them up there waiting for me, all grey faced and bulging eyes. I could almost read their thoughts written in glowing neon letters on their foreheads.

"Here he is.....the 'Doomed One.'"

"So young and so handsome....What a waste."

"How long do you think he's got? Days.....hours.....minutes?"

They set up their head X-ray thingy. Now, I don't know if any of you have ever had your face pushed into a wall and then clamped there. A big metal clamp around the back of your head and then more of the same over the top of your head and under your chin so you can't move even a fraction of an inch. It's no fun, believe me.

Out of the corner of my staring eyes I could see them putting on complete lead protective armour.

"We'll just be on the other side of this four foot thick lead wall while we press the 'Go Button'" One of them called "Don't worry, it's perfectly safe."

I decided at that point that I'd changed my mind. But, I couldn't get my head out of the clamps. I pushed at the wall with both hands and that did not do the slightest bit of good. The only thing that stopped me getting both feet on the wall and pushing with them too was the thought that my sodding head might come off.

Have you ever seen anybody trying to baptise a cat? That's pretty much the image that comes to mind here.


The thing rotates around my head. My eyeballs almost travelled through 180 degrees trying to watch it.

In a little bit they presented me with an X-ray about eighteen inches long and six inches high of the inside of my head. A sort of negative version of what I'd look like if somebody'd spread it out flat. Imagine a steamroller. I took it back to Charles with some trepidation....Alright, with sweaty and shaking hands.

"You've got a blocked salivary gland." He pronounced. "It's just a build up of saliva."

Apparently there's a little duct at the back of your jaw to release saliva into your mouth. I'll bet you thought spit just sort of oozed out of your gums or something didn't you? I did.

I trotted off to the mortuary where Ali Korachi was doing a post mortem and asked him if Charles was having me on. I got him to open up a face so he could show me one of these 'salivary ducts'. Then I had to go and borrow a magifying glass from Maurice 'cos it was too small to see with the naked eye.

Charles had said that all I needed to do was drink something hot and it'd be fine in a few hours. So, I went back to the department and told Maurice that Charles recommended a week off work and an intensive course of anti-biotics. Then I went home and made myself a litre of hot mulled wine. It cleared up by tea time.

And, five years ago, my chipped tooth was fixed in about five minutes flat. Thank heavens for the NHS.