'My biggest indulgence is two dishwashers': Peek inside this dentist's renovated five-bed home
At one point in the highly acclaimed movie, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, the star of the crime drama, Frances McDormand, while sitting in the dental chair, grabs the drill, and stabs her dentist through the hand.
It was a brutal action, but the movie audience cheered, possibly because dentists are not usually our favourite people - or, more to the point, we tend to associate a visit to the dentist with pain, and the audience got no small pleasure from the fact that the dentist in this case was on the receiving end.
Of course, regular visitors to the dentist know that thanks to current pain-management techniques, dental work is rarely as painful as we expect these days. Not only that, their work can be extremely important; if not actually life-saving, then life-enhancing.
Aisling O'Mahony - who, incidentally, did part of her training in Missouri - is a consultant in restorative dentistry in St James's Hospital, Dublin; she helps people not only to look right, but to do basic things we all take for granted. "I treat three different types of patients there. Older patients with cleft palates who maybe didn't get the care they needed when they were small; they have very complex, challenging needs; many can't speak or eat," Aisling explains, adding, "I see cancer patients, and I also work with trauma patients - people who've been in car accidents, or are victims of violent assaults with severe facial and mouth injuries. It's real teamwork; we work with plastics, speech therapy and often surgeons. Our work does make a difference, and when that's the case, it can be very emotional."
Aisling also has a private practice in Stillorgan, where she does a completely different type of work; she practises a lot of family dentistry, and also cosmetic work, dealing with patients who want to upgrade their smile. "It's now called smile redesign. The Hollywood smile - all the youngsters want it. And if the kids are having braces, the mums decide to get themselves sorted too," she says. Aisling also does cosmetic procedures like IPL (intense pulsed light), which, she says, makes your skin the best it can be. "It can target collagen, redness and melanin and make your skin tip-top," she says. They do other aesthetic treatments too - Botox and fillers - but nothing too mad. For the cosmetic work, Mr Padraic O Ceallaigh, consultant facial and maxillofacial surgeon, comes on board. "There are a lot of 'scary Marys' out there," says Aisling, who is herself a fan of Botox. "Aesthetics is a natural follow-on to having nice teeth. The key is subtlety."
Medicine is one of those careers that kids often aspire to from an early age, but the sister career, dentistry, is rarely the stuff of dreams, and Aisling, who hails from Fenit in Kerry, where her father was a customs officer, admits that she never had a burning ambition to be a dentist; rather, she took it up for very practical reasons. "My mum was a nurse and I knew I wanted to do something in the medical line, but I thought medicine itself was too long. When you're young, the difference between six years and seven can seem a lot," she marvels.
Fortunately, dentistry was a good choice for her. "It was a perfect fit for me. Not everyone enjoys it, but I love it. The type of dentistry I do changes lives. It's like building a cabinet - there's a job finished, you achieve something," she says.
After finishing dentistry at Trinity, Aisling, who is one of four kids, got a job in the Dental Hospital. "It was the beginning of the prison dental service, and we had to go to Mountjoy once a week. They used to send two of us together, a male and a female, and we were always announced as the dentist and his nurse. I always had to correct them," she says.
She was five years working in Dublin between the Dental Hospital and general practice, before deciding to go to the US. "I always wanted to go to the States," she says. "I had worked a few summers there while I was in college and I love the attitude; they're so positive."
She interviewed in 10 different schools and ended up in Kansas City, Missouri, where she did her Masters in prosthodontics - reconstructive dentistry - and then worked in the university, becoming an associate professor. She loved everything about Kansas, including the line dancing, the rodeos, the country and western, and, of course, the lovely weather, with hot summers, cold winters and very definite springs and autumns. She says in some ways it was very like Ireland. "My husband and I had really good friends, there were fabulous restaurants, very easy living." However, by way of complete contrast to here, she says, "You got a lot of house for your money".
After eight-and-a-half years, she decided to come home, as she and her husband had wanted their kids to be brought up in Ireland. "A tribal thing, I suppose," she offers.
At the time of her return to this country, she had had two children - she now has four, Conor (17), Hugh (16), Anna (14), and Greg (12).
Initially on her return in 2002, she says she was traumatised at leaving the lovely life in Kansas, but within months it was as if she had never been away.
She was lucky in that she came back to the job in James's - prior to returning, she had come for interview, bringing Hugh with her, as he was then a tiny baby.
The first family home back in Dublin was in Stillorgan, a house she and her husband had bought before they went to Kansas, but, a year later, they moved to their current home - a detached property on its own grounds. "I used to drive past and see the 'for sale' sign, I liked that it had a surgery attached, so we bought it," she says.
Aisling notes, "The man who built it and the house next door called once, and we chatted. He built the houses in 1966 and he says it was practically the country in those days, but then the road got too busy for him."
Aisling, who has a hectic household, with two dogs - Bella, a bichon frise, and Coco, a shih-tzu - as well as the four kids, renovated some areas, including the kitchen, when they first bought the house. She set up a practice in the surgery, but the kids were small then and used to interrupt work, so she closed it and worked in a different practice. Five years ago, she thought they were grown up enough to respect boundaries, and she set up a new practice with fellow dentist Aoife Crotty and dental hygienist Claire Murphy.
When she first renovated the house 15 years ago, she concentrated on the kitchen; she floored it in marble, added cream units, a limestone worktop and Miele appliances. "My biggest indulgence is two dishwashers," she says with a laugh, but it's understandable given the four teenagers. Understandable, too, is the poster from Alcatraz hanging on the wall which states, "You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter and medical attention. Anything else is a privilege". A souvenir of a visit to the famous prison, it could well be an exasperated dictate aimed at the teens of the house.
Last year, Aisling had another go at the house; she had structural work done, including external and underground insulation, and, contrary to the current trend for open-plan, she added doors and made some spaces smaller, including the living room - she felt the kids needed a separate space for bringing friends home. The end result is five bedrooms upstairs, with one en suite; while downstairs, there's a square, welcoming hall, an efficient kitchen/dining room, a study and an elegant sitting room. The structural work was done by Clare's husband, Ivan Duggan, a builder. He also constructed all the built-in units, "He's incredible, neat as a pin. He's the kind of builder who, if he's going to drill a hole in a wall, will have the hoover going underneath it," Aisling says approvingly. The decor was also completely redone with the help of Glenna Lynch of the Sofa Room in Leeson Street. "The kids used to give out that the house was like a beige box, so I introduced some colour," she says. "Tommy Cross is a great upholsterer and he recovered my sofas and chairs - I love blue, and I like a bit of a pattern."
She also has very interesting artworks, which are, in a way, a lovely memory of Kansas. "My very best friend in Kansas always had lovely paintings," Aisling says. "It turned out they were by her brother, Jason Gibilaro, who lives in London, and we went over and picked out some of his paintings."
Aisling O'Mahony, Seafield Lodge Dental Clinic, Stillorgan Rd, D4, tel: (083) 154-3501, or see seafieldlodgedentalclinic.com
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Living