I SYMPATHISE with General, the big brown bear from Armenia who was suffering from toothache, until a British dentist flew out to treat him.

It is one of worst types of pain and General - rescued from a cramped private zoo and now in a reserve - was said to be suffering greatly.

I know how he feels. At its most vicious toothache can drive its way from your gums to fill your mouth and wend its way up the side of your face.

I’ve had it for a fortnight due to a broken tooth. It has eased thanks to the skills of my dentist, but it’s a temporary fix and the follow-up appointment is for more than an hour, so things don’t look good.

In dental-speak it’s a lower right seven - a tooth that often gives problems to adults with ageing molars. “If someone comes in with tooth pain, more often than not it’s that tooth,” my dentist explained, going on describe how it is an odd shape, with a valley in the middle that can crack when harder foods are bitten.

Dentists speak a foreign language. Lying back in the chair, you hear mumblings between dentist and nurse, catching words like occlusal, mesial and distal. Sadly, for me, there was also mention of disease, bacteria and extraction.

Going to the dentist fills many people with dread. Mention of my appointment brought grimaces from my colleagues. Yet the 21st century experience is never too bad. With numbing procedures and state-of-the-art equipment, it is nothing like the horror movie experience I suffered as a child.

Back then, we were ‘put out’ with gas, which made you nauseous for the rest of the day. Having a filling was a major trauma, with the dentist drilling away like an open-cast miner.

The surgery was spartan and clinical - no animal mobiles hanging from the ceiling, no pictures on the walls. It was as close to a modern-day torture chamber as you could get. I hated going and would dread it for days beforehand.

Today we have smart dental clinics with comfortable waiting rooms. But memories linger and many - particularly people in my generation - are still nervous. According to statistics from the Oral Health Foundation, almost half of UK adults have a fear of the dentist, with 12 per cent of these suffering from an extreme dental anxiety or phobia. Some have not been for decades due to bad experiences as children.

I haven’t suffered long-lasting fear. My dentist is great, explains everything well, and over the years has saved me from various tooth-related indignities.

What I do dread, however, is hearing him utter phrases such as ‘receding gums’, which is an inevitable part of ageing. An X-ray of my damaged tooth produced an image more reminiscent of a horse than a human, with tapering profiles that are only going to get worse. Long in the tooth, I think they call it, when the roots begins to show as your gums retract.

My teeth have never been great and are full of fillings after a childhood when sugar was not seen as the enemy. But, since the extraction of my wisdom teeth almost 40 years ago, I’ve managed to hang on to them.

As an adult I have tried hard to keep them healthy, brushing and flossing - at the insistence of my dentist - and being careful with what I eat and drink. But as you age wear, and tear takes its toll. You lose bone and teeth shift, and unless you’ve got the money for expensive implants, there’s not a lot you can do.

At my next appointment the painful lower right seven will probably be removed. At least I will be pain-free, like General, who is said to be recovering well.