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Why is visiting the dentist so terrifying? Trapped in his chair with the drill looming, Bruno Lawrence thinks he might know the answer. Photographs by Oliver Chanarin and Adam Broomberg

y grandmother emigrated to Canada shortly before the First World War. Before she set sail she paid a visit to the dentist. She was 18, good-looking and after several hours in the dentist's chair, completely toothless. Although today this may seem rash, she was convinced that dental treatment would be too scary in the wilds of Canada, and never regretted her decision. And when I found myself in the dentist's chair last week, I couldn't help thinking how lovely it would be to have no choppers.

According to the British Dental Association, nearly one-third of us will have to endure 12 or more fillings during our lives; each year five million British people go to the dentist with toothache and 1,600 die of oral cancer. So one's fears are justified.

But, as these photographs show, lying in the dentist's chair is also unsettling because it makes us feel so vulnerable. You cannot speak as your mouth is being crammed with drills and suction devices, you cannot move in case the drill slips and you cannot see anything because the lamp is blinding you.

However, like my grandmother, some people will never need to visit the dentist again - the gummy 15 per cent of adults who even in 1999 have no teeth left

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