The Squat Pen: Son, be a dentist

Of all the many, many adjustments I had to make on leaving the city to live in Tyrone, changing dentist wasn’t one that crossed my mind.

I have healthy teeth, that I look after, and whilst not quite American standard, I certainly smiled with confidence in their characterful cleanliness.

There was an odd crooked one but that just proved they were all authentic so when I felt a twinge one day while eating, I convinced myself it was a figment of my imagination. It wasn’t. Every time I bit into food I could feel a deep, worrying sensation.

“You will have to go to the dentist. Call mine,” said Fionnuala, as she messaged me the number. No joy. The practice was full and maybe I could wait a few weeks to see if a space freed up.

Read more:

  • The Squat Pen: My boozy breath bounced off the priest's face
  • The Squat Pen: Damsel in distress
  • The Squat Pen: The angriest man in Co Tyrone

I tried another, and another, and was agonising in agony if I should make the trek to my old spot in Belfast when I remembered one of the dads at football was a dentist. Kieran. His surgery was about six miles away and I had his mobile courtesy of a WhatsApp group, so I sent him a message.

“Hi Kieran Fabien McQuillan here I have a sore tooth can I see you please”.

Fionnuala laughed. “Are you not an English teacher, Fabien? That sounds like a child’s writing.”

“I don’t care any more. I have tried three dentists and they are all chock-a-block with patients who no doubt keep them busy with their rotten, un-looked-after mouths.”

“Right,” she said, peering at me. “Straight to insulting all the good people who go out of their way to make you feel at home? The dentists are busy because our neighbours prioritise their oral hygiene, not the other way around.”

The argument was halted by a ping on the phone from Kieran.

“Nb sir call the practice first thing in the marra - I’ll squeeze you in.”

I kissed the phone and pointed out that Kieran’s use of English was as earthy as mine.

“I hope he’s better at dentistry than he is at grammar,” said Fionnuala.

As I sat in Kieran’s chair the next day, I marvelled at what a cool customer he was. Proprietor of a successful business and a real gent, he chatted and chirped away and I felt at ease. Safe. Almost sleepy. He informed me that I had an abscess that was zero to do with my dental routine.

“You have excellent teeth, Fabien. Like a teenager. What we’ll do is wallop an antibiotic in and settle the bad boy down, then I’ll give you a root canal in a few weeks and that’ll be you back on the tarmac.”

“A root canal? Don’t like the sound of that, Kieran.”

“Don’t stress a thing. It’s painless and it’ll be the end of the pain in the arse that tooth is giving you.”

As I was getting ready to go, Kieran asked whereabouts in Belfast I was from.

“Antrim Road,” I said. “Do you know it?”

“Course I do,” he laughed. “I lived up that end of town after my Holylands year. My pal from college was from Fortwilliam and I rented off him. That’s my Belfast. I’m from Banbridge originally.”

“So, you’re a blow-in too. I thought you were a native?”

“Absolutely not.” He ostentatiously looked over his shoulder. “Are you saying I look like a culchie?”

We laughed and I drove home with a Macnas air, the pain already lifting and disappearing, my new dentist feeling more like a new friend.

“That’s great news, Fabien,” Fionnuala said as we peeled potatoes. “So, what did he charge?”

“I’m to address the matter of the bill when the job is completed. That’s the way Kieran put it. He’s very funny. He’s got my sense of humour and I swear to God, I didn’t feel a thing.”

“That’s because he didn’t do anything. Wait 'till he starts up the jackhammer.”

I looked at my wife as the spud splashed into the pot.

“He’s hardly going to cause even a modicum of discomfort to his new team-mate.”


“Yeah. I’ve just agreed to play for his five-a-side team. Atletico Blow-ins.”