When I found out one day that Malaysian dentists don’t usually freeze a patient’s mouth before doing fillings, I was horrified. Absolutely horrified. Sure, it’s understandable that a lot of people would rather avoid having their gums pierced by needles, but are Malaysians that afraid of needles that they would rather endure the pain of the drill? Come on, doesn’t the sound alone make you want to run away?

You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m not a big fan of going to see the dentist. If anyone asks me how often I see my dentist, I just tell them “Every day lah!” Well it is true, right? But seriously, in the almost six years I’ve been living in Malaysia, I’ve only been in a dentist’s chair (for dental procedures, anyway) three times. The first two times were just for cleaning. The third time was to be the same, but turned out to be much, much more. That third time was today.

“So,” said Leen, as she probed the inside of my mouth with a cool little camera — allowing me a disturbing view. “A big chunk of that filling has broken off. Want me to fill it? And that tooth in the front, too.”


“Come on lah. Last time I wanted to do a filling for you, you said you had no time. Today you have lots of time, right?”

“Uh —” I was going to think of an excuse this time as well, but at that point Alisdair ran into the room, darted past his mother and her assistant like a running-back out to impress pro scouts, wrapped his hands around the cord to the cool little camera and yanked it hard. Before I’d even stopped gagging, Leen had already whipped out the drill with one hand and swung our giggling toddler to the other side of the chair with the other. I was trapped. Nowhere to go. Not without looking like a wimp, anyway.

“You’re not scared, are you? Do you want me to give you a needle first?”

I laughed, one of those nervous little laughs you hear from someone after they’ve been asked a question like “You’ve played Russian roulette before, right?” or “I’ve done hard time for multiple murders. You still want to go out with me, don’t you?” Yeah, one of those laughs.

“Open wide, baby,” said my darling wife. I detected just a hint of glee in her voice. I tried to push the fear out of my mind. I tried to think of other things. Like how afterwards I was planning to ask her, “When you do a cleaning or a filling, do your boobs always rub up against the patient’s head like this? Because seriously darling, that’s kind of —”

Damn, there it was. The sound. The drill. It was…no, wait, that was the mechanic downstairs. I think he just tore out someone’s transmission. Maybe it was —

Damn, there it was. Really, this time it was the drill. THE drill. The one with the high-pitched sound of a miniature table saw. The one that scares people so badly that they would rather have the dentist stab them with needles. It was the dreaded drill, and it was about to rip into my mouth, my not-frozen-at-all mouth. Oh God oh God oh God…

What happened next was…let’s call it a miracle. Leen drilled holes in two of my teeth and put in two fillings and I hardly felt a damn thing! Wow!

Yes, my friends, Dr. Leen is that good. I guess I don’t need to be so afraid of dentists anymore.

Then again…they were fairly easy fillings. One of them was on a dead tooth, apparently. Maybe next time it will really hurt. Maybe next time I’ll need the needle. Maybe next time she’ll hit a nerve and it’ll jolt me so hard I cry. Oh dear God that will be so embarrassing, lying there crying and bleeding and drooling everywhere, with holes in my mouth. Oh no, I don’t think I can handle that. I —

I think I’m still a little afraid of dentists. But we made real progress today, didn’t we? I think we did.