I devour any literature on teeth – from Dracula, via Pam Ayres, to Martin Amis's Experience – because I know, in the primordial depths of my being, that dental disaster is both my heritage and my destiny.
My mother spent inordinate amounts of time in the dentist's chair with dying molars and ill-fitting bridges. Her pallid terror proved infectious; none of her children could hear the word "dentist" without gibbering with dread.
Worse still, the practitioner we were (briefly) dispatched to was an old-fashioned sadist, who drilled our teeth without anaesthetic. Never has "this won't hurt" been such a dirty lie. The result is that my older brother hasn't visited a dentist for over 20 years (he says the pain stops once a maverick tooth has crumbled down to its stump). My older sister once fainted in the reclining chair, only coming to when she heard the distant sound of acute distress, and opened her eyes to find she had bitten the dentist's hand.
My fear of dentistry is so much greater than my vanity that I let 10 years pass before sorting out a green front tooth. This dread was not helped by the fact the first port of call after my dental hiatus was my wife's then specialist, who had all the sympathetic manner of Rosa Klebb, and declared that I needed 12 fillings (the true tally was four).
But even now that I have finally tracked down a superb practitioner, whose skill, patience and soft, petite blondeness dispel all thoughts of Olivier's psychotic drilling in Marathon Man, I endlessly defer appointments. Which is how I ended up last week, after an 18-month truancy, with an angry throbbing toothache that raged up the side of my face. My saintly dentist fitted me in for an emergency appointment, and gave me a double dose of anaesthetic in a magnificent attempt to calm my rising panic.