A Big Todd Sort of Week

I can’t seem to write anything. He said, proceeding to write. Life, lately, has been a marathon stint on a bumper car carnival ride, where all the other cars are driven by 400-pound nightclub bouncers named Big Todd. Health, work, bureaucracy: it’s all been weird.

I have an incisor that’s literally wearing out. You can just about see through the biting surface. The tooth could break. So it was time for a fix. I hadn’t visited a dentist in many years, except for an emergency patch a year back when I scratched a tooth. That dentist, Doctor X, had a spiffy office with all the latest equipment; and everyone was very friendly. So I went back to him for teeth cleaning and an exam.

Bad mistake. When a dentist has all the latest and greatest equipment, it that means he has to pay for it somehow. Or rather, you do.

The cheerful, chirpy dental hygienist saw me first; she ushered me into a chair and after that everything became a blur of masked figuring buzzing instruments, digital x-rays, and payment specialists who flitted in and out.

Somehow it became inevitable that I should come back for a “deep cleaning” that would take four one hour sessions and cost thirteen hundred dollars. With follow-up treatments four times a year for the rest of my life. Because my teeth were in danger and it was urgent, URGENT that I have this valuable treatment and commit NOW. “We’ve ALL had it,” the payment specialist said. “It’s wonderful.”

By the time I saw Doctor X, it seemed all settled. “Any questions?” he asked. “Although by this time you probably have ‘too much information.” He smiled at me. He really was a pleasant guy. And, by the way, he told me, I had four cavities. He showed me one on a flat-screen TV; it looked like a tooth with a shadow falling across it.

I was too run over to pose any questions. A few minutes later I was on a street with a card detailing my next six appointments: as many as possible before the end of the year to harvest all the year’s insurance money.

My head cleared. “Wait a second…” I thought.

I did some research. I do have gum disease, periodontitis. My last dentist, Doctor Funkensoul (the office sound system played only Motown), told me it would happen if I didn’t floss, many years ago.

I didn’t floss. My teeth felt fine. They still do. But like many people I stayed away from the dentist because I was afraid he’d tell me something I didn’t want to hear.

And now I have periodontitis. “Deep pockets,” “4’s and 5’s:” that’s the lingo. The way I understand it, in a few more years my teeth could be falling out of my head; maybe. Possibly. But not today. “Deep cleaning” is a treatment for gum disease. The fact that “everybody in the office” had the treatment means that Dr. X only hires people with gum disease. Or to Doctor X, everybody has gum disease. (Insert cash register sound effects).

The deep cleaning may now be necessary — or not. Opinions vary on the Internet. And by the way, the procedure hurts; and the teeth will ache for weeks or months. Anesthetic may be offered. They didn’t tell me that. Nor that infection was an issue.

No, they hard-sold me. And they’re not even periodontists. I didn’t get time to make an informed decision, much less all the facts. “Too much information,” my ass; they hardly gave me any. Just used the authority of white coats and x-rays to scare the hell out of me.

My conclusion: Doctor X doesn’t have patients. He has cash flows. And if you can believe the Internet, there are many such dentists out there these days. At this point I’m not even sure all those “cavities” are real.

So I’m headed back to Doctor Funkensoul for a second opinion. He never tried to push anything on me, except may flossing. Once, when I had a particularly bad tooth that I thought he could have treated, he referred me to a specialist who he thought could do the job better.  And he was right.

Anyway, Funkensoul’s still in practice, and hopefully he hasn’t gone over to the Dark Side. His office isn’t nearly as spiffy as Doctor X’s; and to me, right now, that’s a good sign.

After all, and after all this: I still have a see-through tooth that needs looking at.

Interesting times we live in. It’s no longer smart to trust politicians; no longer smart to trust corporations; it’s really not smart to trust insurance companies or banks. Or hospitals; for my recent one-night stay, my hospital had the nerve to claim that “list price” (not counting the actual treatments) was $39,000. I’m not paying that much, but — the nerve.

And now even dentists can’t be taken for granted. The common theme, I suppose, is money and the pursuit of it above all other things. Teeth aren’t the only thing that the Doctor X’s of this world are good at extracting.

And that was only part of the week. Maybe you don’t want to hear about the rest of it.

6 thoughts on “A Big Todd Sort of Week

  1. LK

    Hey Boomer –

    I think your perceptions are pretty much correct. Certainly a second opinion from another dentist you trust couldn’t hurt. The current paradigm in medicine is “preventive treatment” but much of that can be unnecessary treatment. Flossing might have prevented your gum condition, but maybe not. I’ve had some dental work done in the last couple of years – had to have a molar pulled. I was urged to get an implant, or else my upper molar would drop down and cause problems. Hasn’t happened yet. I doubt that it’ll ever happen. I may get an implant eventually, but I don’t feel any great need to get one right now. My dental check-ups are regular twice-a-year appointments, and I pretty much do what my dentist suggests. But if I ever felt my dentist was hustling me, I’d be looking for another dentist soon after.

    1. admin Post author

      Thanks, LK. It really does come down to trust, and that has to be earned, or at least built. I’ll let you know how things go.

      And insurance almost never pays for implants. I had one ten years ago; the dentist told me not to expect the insurance to pay, though they’d file a claim. One day I walked into the office for a follow-up appointment and the receptionists actually began dancing together behind the desk, and chanting. “They paid! They paid! They paid for your implant! They paid!” Well, they paid half. But that was still unprecedented.

  2. Otepoti

    Yes! Yes, we do want to hear about the rest of your week. Also, your writing about it will make you feel better about it, a point not to be overlooked.

    I sang in a performance of Faure’s Requiem yesterday (our Sunday), and somehow, singing about life and death makes you feel better about the whole business. Funny, that.

    Best to Rhumba.

    1. admin Post author

      Otepoti: Thanks for writing. I’ve calmed down a bit since then. It’s a combination of too many bills; madness at work and the imminent loss of a staunch co-worker who’s had my back numerous times and is now being shuffled off the stage ignominiously; being forced off my health plan and having two choose a new one in two weeks (and needing to read the equivalent of two manuals to figure out which one to take), and of course being scared into thinking my teeth are about to fall out of my head unless I sign over my free will to a grinning dentist. Just American life in the 21st century.

      Helped, somewhat, by Internet research that shows there are some very low-cost and non-invasive home treatments that might go most of the way to taking care of my gum issues. Recommended by a number of dentists who are not Doctor X.

      I was interested in finding out more about Doctor X; he keeps a low profile, but a determined Internet search revealed that his dental activities support 5,000 square feet of tacky faux-Tudor McMansion a few miles beyond the city limits, purchased for top dollar at the height of the real estate bubble.

      After examining that house on a real estate site, I’m feeling less like somebody took advantage of me, and more like I dodged a bullet. One can feel good about dodging a bullet.

      There is nothing more satisfying than a good choral rendition, either as audience or participant. Absorbing someone else’s meditations on life and death through such a medium can be incredibly valuable. I’m glad for you.

  3. Otepoti

    So, you’re one of the five million Americans who got the bum’s rush from their insurers? I am very sorry; Obamacare sounds like a nightmare. Have you been able to get a new plan via the infamous website, yet? Is the website now the ONLY way to contract for some health insurance? I’m confused by the whole thing.

    Best with it all. These are interesting times. but have there ever been any other?

    1. admin Post author


      Actually, I’m not. I’m covered by my employer; but even being covered doesn’t mean what it used to. The providers create an absurdly-inflated “list price” for their services. The insurers “negotiate it down:” but not far enough in many cases. And of course different people pay different prices based on who their insurer was, or, horrors, if they have none at all. It’s madness here; actually, Obamacare is a baby step in the right direction; most of the policies that would be cancelled were really bad ones, with very limited services. (Every so often when I visit a new doctor, their clerk looks up my coverage and says something like “Oh, you have GOOD insurance.” Makes you wonder what the rest have.)

      And a whole lot of people, especially older folks on limited incomes who aren’t ready for Medicare, could get good coverage at a low, subsidized price.

      The website thing is more layered than it sounds. The national website was for people in the states who chose not to open their own insurance exchanges; and most of them chose not to. So not only was the national site bad, it was overwhelmed. Fifteen or so states did start their own exchanges; in those states you go to the state’s website; and though there have been problems, they have been less and people are being signed up.

      All that said: my employer is dropping my plan so that I have to read a thick book or two in the next few days and choose between two different plans: one that gives a lot of choice but leaves me vulnerable to thousands in fees and questionable charges: essentially like what I have now, which I feel much less good about since I’ve actually had to pay thousands even when insured. OR take a plan that is has no such pitfalls and very low maximum costs but gives you very little choice. Here’s your list of doctors; here’s the hospital you can go to.

      Interesting times? Yes, they always are for someone; but what we have here in the US right now is one small section of society actively trying to eat all the other sections, while everyone stands around refusing to think anything’s wrong.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *