Thoughts on torture lying on the dentist’s chair

Given an advantageous alignment of the stars, you could mentally solve all of life’s problems if you spent enough time at the dentist. Lying there under the light, I tend to feel perilously vulnerable yet strangely amniotic, thinking all manner of profound thoughts as the dentist drills, the nurse uses her vacuum-thingy, and the radio announces the traffic report for the M5 at Worcester.

Here’s what I realised during a filling last week (naughty RJH does not floss properly):

Jay Bybee is full of crap. In his infamous 2002 memo, Bybee defined torture as inducing physical pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Not only is this ridiculously nebulous (who or what defines pain accompanying organ failure?), it also seriously underestimates what torture is or could be.

Without anesthetic, a dentist could really put you through the horrors. On the Bybee-scale, an un-anesthetised drill to the teeth may not qualify as torture, but who would argue that it is not sadistic and inhumane? Imagine it next time you’re having your teeth scaled, except swap the dental surgery for some dingy cell in Cairo and your dentist for Francis Dolarhyde.


In case you can’t guess, I am not a happy dental patient. The cavity was on the side of my tooth below the gum-line and took ages to fill.


  1. Note to all who are not happy dental patients:

    1- Brush

    2- Floss

    3- Keep your hygiene appts.


    4- Fix your own teeth. Or not.


  2. Sure, full on tooth extraction, maybe. (Peter: think Old Boy!) But there would be ways of torturing someone in that setting that would not involve organ-failing pain, whatever the hell that means.


  3. Are you trying to tell me there are people in Britain with bad teeth. Not possible. I do like the idea that we could try all the dentists for war crimes though. Of course, the only thing worse than a visit to the dentist is not having one available when you really need it.


  4. Jacob,

    Yep, and British food is bad, it always rains, and the Queen still beheads people outside the Tower of London.

    My experience of American teeth is that the really good ones are actually made of porcelain. The poor, uninsured masses have to make do with pro-bono work done by dental students. There also seems to be a genetic defect among blonde American women whereby they have twice the amount of teeth (and twice the size) of other homo sapiens.


  5. Ronan,

    Actually British food isn’t bad anymore since the advent of the ubiquitous Indian curry houses found throughout the sceptered isle.


  6. DavidJ,
    I think about the Marathon Man every time I go to the dentist. I really, really, wish I had never seen that movie!


  7. Having had a root canal I can attest to the pain that can be caused by only limited stimulation of the nervous system.


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