Steve Boggan: DIY dentistry

Nnggnn wmmmgggg. Sorry, that was just me doing a bit of home dentistry. What, you've never tried fixing your fillings when they drop from your neglected British teeth?

Well, according to an American dental firm, it's actually all the rage in the UK as more and more of us find it almost impossible to see a dentist in an emergency. Old amalgam stopper dropped out? No problem. Crown got stuck on a Murraymint? Then simply pop to the shops, open wide and scrape on a bit of DIY filler.

Passion for Health DenTek Ltd, which has its British offices in Chertsey, Surrey, says sales of its DIY dental kits have doubled in the past year. Last week, more than 6,000 jars of its ready-mixed Temparan filling replacement were shifted from shelves at Boots and Superdrug, and a similar number of Thin Set "temporary crown and cap cement" went the same way.

I feel desperately embarrassed when I speak to Jennifer Stone, DenTek's sales and marketing director, not because my new filling is sticking my teeth together, but because she's an American. She probably has to stifle laughter every time she goes into work. Brits and their teeth! Austin Powers! Dollar signs!

"Yes, there are lots of jokes about the British and their teeth," she says. "But I'll just point this out: Americans get through a roll of dental floss on average every six weeks. The average in the UK is two and a half years. Sales of our temporary repair products have doubled in the past year and we think that is down to the awful difficulty here in getting to see a dentist in an emergency. Toothache is such a terrible thing, so you have to do something to get some relief. These products can help, but they're only temporary."

Only this week came news that was sure to have raised a pearly-white smile from Stone: the new contract between the government and dentists aimed at improving the oral health of the nation seems to smell as bad as a foetid molar.

The contract - which is supposed to attract new people into dentistry - is due to come into effect on April 1. But Dr Lester Ellman, chair of the British Dental Association's general dental practice committee, says it is "a shambles ... Our fear is that the new contract will do nothing to improve access to care for patients or improve the quality of care. We're now faced with a contract that puts dentists on a new treadmill and means they can't give the care and time that they want to give to patients."

So, it looks as if we will be fixing our own gnashers for more time to come. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment with my Vidal Sassoon home barber kit.

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