Rebecca Armstrong: Dodging the dentist: it's a mix of fear and finances

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"Well, if you'd had the filling when you were meant to, you wouldn't need a crown".

There's nothing like someone telling you briskly that a, you're an idiot, b, such idiocy will cost you half a tooth and £200, especially when you can't answer back because they've got their hand wrist-deep in your mouth. As you can no doubt guess, I'm writing this fresh from an encounter with my dentist, with a numb, flubbery jaw and the sound of the receptionist's radio station of choice (Magic FM) fresh in my ears.

In the past, going to the dentist was one of the few things in life that genuinely caused me no qualms. Years of orthodontics had left me used to the lean-back leatherette chair and the weird pink mouthwash. I quite like the injections (call me weird, but there's something beguiling about the creep of numbness across my jaw) and I don't mind fillings. But recently I've joined the growing ranks of the dentist dodgers. According to Simplyhealth's Annual Dental Survey 2012, a fifth of the 11,785 British adults polled said that they couldn't afford to go and one in 10 were worried that the cost may be too high since they have not been for some time.

I've certainly put off dentistry until after payday, and have weighed up the aesthetics of white fillings versus the economics of the NHS silver ones. But I'm now facing a much more expensive choice – and am also getting an insight into what dental phobics go through when they open wide.

Facing the prospect of implants (for teeth, not thruppennies) that are prohibitively expensive (£2,500) and scary, or a partial denture (the sound of which made my husband recoil in horror but costs a mere £250), I want advice from my dentist. But she's been too busy to do anything beyond thrust a Post-It note with the implant clinic's number on it. I'm lucky to have an NHS dentist, but I'm sure I'm not alone in finding what goes in my gob a bit of a mystery and would like a few minutes of explanations. Frankly, I'm scared of the chair for the first time in my life and it's witch's brew of confusion, concern and cost. Despite set NHS payment levels, I am more confused than ever about where private prices figure in all this.

So, on the advice of an American friend ("no offence, but until 20 years ago, the UK's dentistry was MEDIEVAL. Don't be afraid to ask around.") I'm getting a second opinion. Not because I don't trust my dentist, but more because I'd like someone to talk me though an expensive and potentially excruciating decision when they don't already have the drill in their hand.

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