American dental skepticism

It all started as an innocent visit to the dentist for a cleaning and check-up late August. We brought Ayo to the dentist in his car seat and meticulously coordinated our visits so that we could tag-team watching Ayo at the dental office during his wake-time. I don’t mind drilling, shots or being numb from Novacane but I had dragged my heels there because frankly, I’ve always felt our dentist is both arrogant and lazy (a bad combo). Oh, and I just hate going to any medical practice in the United States. The forms, the patient babying, the absurd bill at the end…I so hate it.

The hygienist took forever and was the type that stopped what she was doing when she told stories and answered questions. I stopped asking questions but she would still tell stories. Finally, when she was done cleaning my teeth, she brought the dentist over to inspect my mouth. Tall Mountain was in for the same treatment. Somehow, we reached 3.5 hours (baby meltdown time) at the dentist and I was escorted to the “consultation room”, which felt like being called back to the principal’s office for misbehaving. By that time, Ayo was pulling my hair and even the billing lady was feeding him brochures to keep him quiet. I waited for my fate as Ayo crawled all over me looking for his bed. The dentist at last arrived and told me the situation: “I am not sure if you have gone through a major life change and I won’t go into all the detail, but it looks like you will need at least three root canals, three crowns and at least seven fillings.” I think the monkey crawling all over me was obvious enough of a life change, so instead, I calmly focused on questioning the legitimacy of such horrid dental fate as Ayo tore through his third brochure. After all, I had had a cleaning at the beginning of my pregnancy, without anyone spotting so much as one cavity. Tall Mountain didn’t get the escort into the root canal room, because he was told he ‘only’ had cavities. Nine of them to be precise. For real?

We rushed the final discussion with the billing lady that was designed to take us through the detail of six pages of the dental work that lay ahead of us. She told us we might as well take out a credit card to pay for our dental care. We politely declined and grimly walked out to the car as we listened to Ayo squawking something about needing sleep. I was fuming at how preposterous the dentist’s assessment had been. I knew the next few hours would bring about some level of marital havoc. That’s because even before meeting Dr. Arrogant, we each have very differing views on what dental services should be like.

I’ll readily admit that I have an inherent distrust in the American dental system. No, let me correct that last sentence. I have an inherent distrust in the entire American medical system. Coming from a land of socialized medicine, I view this system as elitist and prone to the snowball effect of unnecessary interventions, namely because of greed, fear and litigation. Don’t even get me started on the dental side of healthcare, striving to achieve white, straight, perfect teeth… at a huge cost. The whole world knows that Americans love their perly whites. Let’s face it, I really don’t care about sparkly white teeth, “six month smiles” (see pic below, as advertised in dental practice) or oral cancer pre-screening. I don’t care about a personal remote control for my TV, branded head pillows/blankets/chap stick or a signed card for my hardship. I just don’t want to lose my teeth, you know? Tall Mountain on the other hand, might not be a dentist, but he places a whole lot more trust in the dentist’s education than I do (way back, he used to call my French dentist “shady” just because he answered the door, worked in my mouth and filled in his own checks).

For several weeks, I tried really really hard to block out the fact that we had major dental work looming as if we had never had that visit. After all, I wasn’t sure how much of it was needed anyway. It’s terrible to neither be able to trust the system nor the dentist. Taking advantage of a more calm and collected state, I reluctantly revisited the horrendous quote with TM a few weeks back, trying to make sense of what was necessary and what was maybe optional. I finally agreed to see an endodontist for a second opinion for my root canals. Sure, why not. It turns out, the endo didn’t quite see the need for any canals or crowns (so, take that!). That was when we decided we’d return to Dr. Arrogant and ‘just’ get our main cavities filled before our upcoming travels. By main, I mean the obvious cavities that clearly needed fillings.

So that’s what we did. Last week, TM got his nine fillings and I got one. Of course, Murphy could have forewarned us, just when the dentist drilled into my next cavity, he hit the nerve, starting a root canal. I hate to bore you, but basically he gave up on the other fillings at that point and I was referred out to the endodontist to dig out the nerves and fill the canals of that tooth on Monday. Thankfully, Mamie was here to watch Ayo for my Monday 8am appointment. (On a side note, it was nice that she could get a feel for his little routine before watching him for three days next week when we leave him in France and fly to London.)

Anyway, today, TM kindly watched Ayo as Dr. Arrogant got to see me for the fourth time, completing the crown that fits on top of the canal and a few fillings (after I approved them one by one). That’s about three visits too many for me, not to count the two visits to the endodontist. In fact, between yesterday and today alone, I spent 6 hours in dental chairs with my mouth open for a total of 2.5 hours (I had all the time in the world to add that up). I also counted 10 anesthetic shots in the gums on three quadrants. That’s a lot of involvement for someone who doesn’t trust the system. But at least I’ll get to travel with a mouth free of (most of the) decay while I sort out what bothers me so much about the system. My annoyance and skepticism is so deeply rooted, I think there must be even more for me to process.


3 thoughts on “American dental skepticism

  1. Oh my god, this all sounds awful!!! I also have a major distrust of the American medical system, especially regarding labor and birth, but I’d never considered the dental system till now, reading this… To be honest I have had some decent luck, for example I had a dental surgeon tell me years ago that there was no need to do surgery, but just to monitor things for a while, which I respect.

    Hopefully you are good for a while. Sounds traumatic.

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