Banking On Cavities

Teeth Cleaning Turned Cash-Grab

I hate going to the dentist. Even if its just for a simple cleaning. The poking, the prodding, the little water spritzer and its air sucking partner-in-crime—I just think the whole experience is awful.

I recently had my teeth cleaned in Arizona over reading week. As usual, I left my appointment with a bad taste in my mouth, but this time it wasn’t caused by that putrid tasting grainy toothpaste they always use. This time around, my feeling of malaise tasted like a scam.

The first red flag went off as I walked into the office through heavy mahogany doors that led me to room complete with two leather reclining chairs and a plush tapestry-patterned couch. In the middle of the room was an intricately engraved wooden coffee table covered with copies of the current issue of over twenty magazines and a lovely bouquet of freshly cut flowers. It was a change of scenery compared to the dated IKEA furniture and crumpled edition of yesterday’s The Gazette that I’m used to.

“Welcome, how are y’all today?” perked up the overly peppy receptionist from the granite-topped desk across the room. After a few seconds of small talk, I handed over my insurance card. The receptionist then passed me a clipboard with a list of papers to fill out.

I returned to the couch, and began filling out my basic coordinates and insurance info. Next, I found myself trudging through a checklist of about a hundred ailments I may have suffered from over the course of my life; including getting a rash, headache or having menstrual cramps.

While the forms are normal when receiving American healthcare, these were more excessive than anything I’ve ever encountered.

Now that my entire medical history—just shy of a list of every single tummy ache I’ve ever had—was laid out on the paper in front of me, I was able to the sign my life away to the practitioner I was about to see, god forbid I choke on a loose piece of plaque.

I handed the papers back to the receptionist who began entering my information into the computer. My wait time was, by shocking coincidence, the exact same amount of time it took for the fax machine to spew out a confirmation from my insurance company, proving that my coverage was legitimate.

Finally, a hygienist clad in royal blue scrubs stepped outside of the stone archway and led me to the back. After x-rays and a run-through of the normal cleaning procedures, she took out a fancy looking “laser cavity-detecting device” that she scanned over my teeth.

“So…anything?” I asked.
“Well, you don’t have any cavities,” she said. “But, you could potentially develop cavities on some of your teeth.” She then explained that the dentist would come have a look and determine what treatment was necessary.
Within a few minutes, the dentist was examining my teeth, and my x-rays. He then asked me if I would be interested in getting braces, again.
“Are you kidding?!?” I spat out. [Note: I had braces for two years, and still fit into both of my retainers. I’m not one to toot my own horn—but my teeth are pretty damn straight.]
“Well, your teeth may shift as you get older, so getting the treatment again could prevent this,” he said rubbing my arm.
“No thanks,” I said. “I’ll risk it.”

He then proceeded to tell me that I had done a fantastic job brushing and that my teeth looked very good.

“I would like you to come in again as soon as possible so we can take care of six areas of concern,” he said.
“Wait, what?” I asked what he was concerned about.
“Well—this isn’t your fault—but the surface of your teeth isn’t completely flat. This means that you have grooves in your teeth which could allow for a decay to potentially develop.”

No shit Sherlock. I sat dumfounded as I realized that this man had seriously just tried to convince me that since my teeth are not a plane surface that I should get fillings in six of them to prevent cavities.

After I made it clear that I didn’t think this preventative treatment was necessary, the dentist said, “Well honey, let’s call in Mom.”

Mom? I’m 19 years old. I am considered an adult in the states and have full responsibility of everything I do—unless I want to order a rum and coke, mom still needs to help me with that.

The dentist then resumed rubbing my arm and told my mother that if I were his daughter he would insist that I have braces, get the six fillings and also have my wisdom teeth removed—but assured her that I did an excellent job of taking care of my teeth.

It was condescending and it was sleazy. The six fillings would cost me over a thousand dollars.

I’ll take my own vacation to Barbados, instead of paying for yours, thanks.

Maybe it’s the Canadian in me, but I don’t think I should walk out of a teeth-cleaning feeling as though I’ve just avoided an attempted robbery. I went to the dentist for a basic health service and left feeling as though I’d just contributed to someone’s third Lexus.

This article originally appeared in The Link Volume 31, Issue 24, published March 7, 2011.

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