Teeth. That's where the real money is. I'm in the wrong game.

Hello there, my name is Doctor Adolphous Bongo, voted the UK's fourth dishiest doctor by the readers of Stethoscope magazine. I don't normally pay any attention to these frivolous popularity contests, as quite frankly such immature nonsense is beneath me. These polls are all very well when they occupy the glossy pages of some gaudy teenage 'pop' magazine, but they have no place in a respected medical journal. Not that Stethoscope can claim to be 'respected'; in fact it can barely cling to the description of 'medical journal' without serious questions being asked. Nevertheless, that was what it aspired to be when it launched last year, and despite desperate efforts to increase its circulation by introducing a 'spot the spleen' competition and free cover-mounted spatulas, I believe it may still be in with a chance.

I suppose dentists' magazines resort to that kind of frippery all the time. Everything about dentistry is so much more commercial, more obvious, more flash. On the face of it, it seems an odd sort of career to want to get yourself into. You spend the best part of your working day staring into the echoing maws of buck-toothed half-wits, braving howling gales of halitosis, vindaloo and Benson and Hedges. Doesn't sound that glamorous, does it? And yet, when you examine it more closely, the attractions become more apparent.

Firstly, there's the loot. Punters are prepared to pay absurd amounts of the folding stuff to get their teeth fixed because, as we all know, toothache is the most excruciating variety of pain in human existence. Well all right, second most excruciating, after the paper cut. Just think about how that works. Let's say someone comes to me with the flu. I write them a prescription, give them a sick note and they get to spend the rest of the week tucked up on the sofa with a hot water bottle, watching Cash in the Attic. All very lovely, but my services are not something they'd be prepared to part with hard-earned readies for. On the other hand, if half your face is swollen to the size of a basketball and you have the persistent sensation of someone trying to burrow into your lower jaw with a rusty spike, then I'll wager you will happily foist half a year's wages onto the first unlicensed butcher that comes along.

That not enough for you? Well, there is a second bonus - dental procedures are usually extremely quick. Good news if you're a patient; even better if you're a dentist. The average patient will spend ten times longer in the waiting room then he will undergoing treatment, because dentists have got the whole process organised to a tee. The patient is seated, the offending ivory is filled or yanked, then the patient is ejected out onto the pavement before he has chance to say "Good mor-".

Suddenly he's standing in the street with half his face paralysed, drool streaming down his shirtfront, wondering why his wallet is empty. A good dentist can get through so many patients during the course of an afternoon, it's a wonder he finds time to count his money.

I'm sure you won't be surprised, therefore, when I say that I want a piece of that action. Knocking out antibiotics and painkillers to malingerers and layabouts does as much for my ego as it does for my bank account, and being named the UK's fourth most snogable physician is hardly any consolation. Fourth! I mean, come on. I wouldn't have minded so much if the competition had been stronger. Of the three who were placed higher than me, one is in his seventies, another is in a wheelchair and the third looks as though he's been in collision with a bus. Actually, I'm reliably informed that this is exactly what happened, and the fact that his horrific injuries did nothing to diminish his ranking in the poll can only indicate that tyre marks are very much the 'in thing' this season.

So dentistry is where the future lies, just as long as I can overcome one tiny drawback. Attractive though the profession is, it does require you to be in close proximity to your patient. As a doctor there is rarely ever an occasion when there isn't a sturdy oak desk firmly marking the border between myself and whichever filthy delinquent is soliciting my services. Hell, on my better days I manage to treat them from another room, reassuringly keeping one or two solid walls between us. Dentistry, on the other hand, seems to be disappointingly 'hands on' - or even 'hands in'. There doesn't seem to be any way round that.

Or at least, there wasn't until I invented the Bongomatic Remote Tooth Agitator. Briefly, how it works is that the patient places his head inside a specially constructed vibration chamber. A percussion paddle is then applied to the exterior of the chamber, setting up vibrational waves which shake the patient's teeth free, without me ever having to go anywhere near him. Admittedly, to the unenlightened eye it looks like I just place an aluminium dustbin over the patient's head and hit it repeatedly with a stick, but this is because the device I'm using at the moment is just a prototype. It will look much more professional when I've painted it.

Trial runs have been most successful so far, with only one significant glitch. During one course of treatment I got rather too enthusiastic with the 'percussion paddle', as a result of which the patient suffered some slight injuries to his head, neck, face, spinal column and pelvis. I think he also twisted his ankle as he tried to escape. If I'm honest, when he emerged from the dustbin - I mean the 'agitator' - he looked like he'd recently been in collision with a bus.

Thanks to my not inconsiderable experience of patient care, I was able to turn on the old bedside manner and assure him that this was an unavoidable consequence of the treatment, which would wear off in time. Disappointingly, he did not find much consolation in my words, the miserable sod. Happily, however, he brightened up no end when I told him that with a face like his he was now on a par with Stethoscope's dishiest doctor of the year. You have to look on the bright side, don't you?

Return to Doctor Bongo's Casebook

Copyright © Paul Farnsworth 2012

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