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.