I was sitting in the dentist's chair yesterday, about to have a new crown fitted - the old one was gold and made me look like a James Bond villain. I'd been assured that the old crown was too far back for anyone to see it, but every Christmas photograph showed me smiling like a pimp and I was getting fed-up with having to airbrush the offending molar out in Photoshop. It was time for a change.
Tap, tap, tap. "How does the tooth feel?" It hurt. Surely there shouldn't be any pain at all if the nerve had been removed? The dentist explained that some root canal fillings fail, but she knew a man who could probably fix it for £600.
£600 seemed a lot of money to spend on a tooth that occasionally hurt a little, but then I found myself making the following calculations:
If I die at the same age as my father, then I'll live for roughly another 12,000 days. £600 divided between 12,000 is around 5p a day. Would I spend 5p a day to avoid suffering from dental pain whenever I ate? Yes, absolutely.
Suddenly it all seemed very clear and I tried to explain my reasoning to the dentist, but as soon as I alluded to any intimations of mortality, I knew I'd gone too far. I might think about my death every day, from the basic questions of when and how, to the more trivial ones like how many novels I'll read before I die, but my dentist just needed a simple yes or no.
Spending money on dentistry is as rewarding as repairing a gutter, but the alternative is too horrible to contemplate. By the time they were 40, both of my parents had dentures, which foamed at night in pink and blue plastic containers on their bedside tables. Without their teeth, they looked like figures from a nightmare.
As a child, I was given the impression that the same fate awaited me. My mother certainly did everything she could, albeit unwittingly, to ensure that I followed the same path. Every bedtime I was given a glass of orange squash, which I sipped through the night, bombarding my teeth with a relentless assault of sucrose.
During the day, sweets were added to the mix: Trebor Mints, sherbert lemons, fruit salad chews, Spangles, Refreshers and the original Curly Wurly, which could remove a filling quicker than a Harley Street dentist:
By the age of seven, I was already being given fillings. An unscrupulous dentist called Mr Maclean claimed a small fortune from the NHS by filling milk teeth that were about to fall out. To add injury to insult, he didn't bother giving me any injections. It was like being in Marathon Man.
I bore the pain with a stoicism that my sons regrettably lack and my reward for bravery was a record of this:
Filmed in Teddington in winter, it was probably the last time I found Benny Hill funny.
I often wonder why my mother was (and still is) determined to give me as much sugar as possible. Was it the wartime rationing that gave her generation an obsession with toffees and biscuits, or simply the novelty of being able to afford things that were once rare treats?
By the age of 20, most of my teeth had fillings and during the last 25 years, I've felt like a late Byzantine emperor, fighting a futile war of attrition against an increasingly powerful enemy. But all hope is not lost. According to the dentist, my gums are in reasonably good shape and none of the teeth have quite reached the point of no return.
The foaming denture containers will have to wait.
I will finish with this piece of popular verse, which will be familiar to most readers in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, but probably unknown to anyone else. It wouldn't be the same in another accent: