Thursday, 20 March 2008

The tooth fairy

I've had a lot of trouble communicating with my dentist recently, and it's not because I put the wrong teeth in.

It started like this: I needed to arrange an appointment for a tricky (and expensive) piece of work. Using a number stored on my mobile, I phoned the reception and asked how long an appointment to book. The receptionist said she didn't know - the best thing would be for me to discuss it with Ali, the dentist, who would call me when he was free. He never called.

I tried again a fortnight later. The receptionist took down my full name (I had to spell it three times) and agreed to arrange an appointment with Ali. I suggested the next Tuesday afternoon; she said Ali didn't work Tuesday afternoons, how about Thursday?

Fine, I said, but how long should the appointment be?
"Well, you'd need an initial consultation first..."
No, no, I said; I'd had the consultation, I'd had the X-ray, we'd agreed the work to be done, all I needed was to make a long enough appointment.
"Then I think you'd better talk to the dentist..."

I explained, through clenched teeth (bad dental habit), that I'd already been through that with the other receptionist.

"Oh... but I can't find you on our database. Have you been to us before?"
Yes, I was a regular, and at my last appointment Ali and I had agreed the work to be done.

My voice was becoming strained, but through the red haze the truth began to glimmer. I asked if this was the Abbey Grove Dental Practice.

"No, this isn't the Practice, this is the Clinic."
The Abbey Grove Dental Clinic? Not the Abbey Grove Dental Practice?
"Yes, the Clinic, not the Practice - it's not the one in Abbey Grove, it's the one in Charing Cross."
Okaaaay... but they did have a dentist called Ali?
"No, we don't".
Then with whom had she been going to make the appointment?
No reply.

Dazed by the inversion of normal sequence during this bizarre conversation, I mumbled something about checking the phone number and hung up.

The next day I found the number of the real dental practice on an old appointment card. I got through to a courteous receptionist with a brain, operating in real time. The real Ali phoned me back just as promised. I booked an appointment in a few seconds. There is no tooth fairy and all is well.

Of course, if I'd been trying to get an appointment with an NHS dentist, I'd still be waiting. Some people do believe in the National Tooth Fairy, who flits from flower to flower sipping National Insurance contributions and fixes your teeth for free. They get upset when they can't find a National Health dentist to take them on: they don't see why the demand for "free" dentistry should so exceed supply.

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