Article about Dr. Monica on The Saturday Times magazine, 2007

Most compellingly expressed in the dishevelled and repulsively jaundiced grin of Austin Powers, American derision for the British male’s dental laissez-faire is now well documented. Yet tempting as it is to dismiss this latest display of transatlantic insecurity, it’s hard to keep up that superior sneer when there’s a mirror around. Baldness, moles, a vast beak of a nose – with a little chutzpah all of these can be celebrated as adding character, gravitas or nobility to a face, in a way that medievally discoloured canines cannot. Pepper-and-salt hair is one thing, but there’s no condiment-based escape clause for mustard-and-mayo teeth.

In this department at least, I’m a model Englishman. I’ve got a smile that’s less come-hither than go-thither, a smile like the inside of a teapot, like a pub ceiling, a smile that tells the world of a life seedily besmirched by neglect and narcotics. In a causal nexus that has kept it from public display for long years, it’s the smile of a man who has nothing to smile about.

Even as a child I was cursed with teeth that could only be described – and often were – as all horrible and yellowy. With the input of mood-altering smile-stainers from coffee to Cabernet, my enamel has matured from seasoned ivory to the mummy of Rameses II. A year back I found myself browsing eBay for home bleaching kits: ‘Smile like Posh and Becks for only £19.99! (Gum irritation usually disappears within three days).’ The treatments I’ve endured at the coalface of male grooming have generally provided more pain than gain, but striding up Harley Street – and then slightly off it – I know I’m about to do something I should have done a long time ago.

All this is painfully emphasised when Dr Monica Bijlani welcomes me into her surgery with a dazzling flash of freshwater pearls, toting a witchdoctor’s necklace of colour-coded incisors that is used for before-and-after comparison. ‘Gosh,’ she says, holding to my mouth one of the more forensically soiled examples, ‘you’re almost off the scale!’ And that after a frenzied flossathon that is the traditional pre-appointment regime for those of us who don’t go to the dentist enough.

Down in the chair, Monica prepares my teeth by scraping away the calcified detritus accumulated since my last distant check-up, a procedure that recalls hammering barnacles off a shipwreck. Twenty hard minutes of that and it’s on with a pair of Buggles sunglasses, my mouth splayed into a Cherie Blair corpse-grin by a two-armed orthodontic speculum. I catch my monstrous reflection in the photographer’s lens: it’s like some dental variant of the aversion-therapy scene in A Clockwork Orange. There’s just enough discomfort to forestall the burst of comic hysteria that would end with those oral shoehorns embedded and quivering in opposite walls.

Monica first applies a barrier cream to minimise collateral gum damage, then carefully dabs my front-facing teeth with a gel she prefers to call ‘product’, perhaps on account of carbamide peroxide being a diluted poison formed from blending hair bleach with urea, and whose use in the UK prior to 1999 could have earned her a six-month prison sentence. ‘More than half my whitening patients are men,’ she says. ‘Gnnggh,’ I reply.

There’s a slight fizziness around the gumline before Monica abruptly withdraws a space weapon and unleashes its blue-white ultra-violet laser straight into my gob. ‘Gnnngggh!’ This is why I’m wearing those shades, and why she and her dental nurse now avert their gaze. The laser activates the gel by heating it, though not so as you’d notice; incredibly, despite having four hands and a gun in my mouth, I briefly nod off. An inadvertent swallow of product as I awake is enough to convince me that this isn’t something you should be doing at home.

With her cosmetic qualifications (and unusually tactile chair-side manner) acquired during three years in California’s ring of confidence, Monica knows precisely when the time is white; in my case, it’s only 15 minutes. ‘Your teeth are extremely porous,’ she murmurs, ‘which is both why they stain so easily and why they’ve taken the product so well.’ The nurse hands me a mirror and the witchdoctor necklace: I’ve gone from second horridest to second loveliest, from Rooney to Clooney. There’s just the merest hint of double cream, enough to distance my smile from the overbearing vitreous tombstones unveiled by Gordon Brown at his PM-ready relaunch earlier this year.

‘Dab on a little Vaseline to really bring out the gloss,’ counsels Monica as I walk towards the door. ‘The treatment should last six or seven months,’ she says by way of farewell, ‘longer if you avoid anything that would stain your wife’s T-shirt.’ Surely a good moment to give my new smile an airing – even when I realise a moment later she’d actually said ‘a white T-shirt’ – but after all those years as a tight-lipped mustard-mouth, I find I’ve forgotten how.

Dr Monica Bijlani, Weymouth Street Dental Practice, London W1G 7BZ. Tel 020 7323 4441.