Friday, March 09, 2007

Rant on Dentistry

I've had two fillings fall out in the past few months. Great stroke of luck, considering I don't have dental insurance. I went for X-rays and a check-up for an estimate on replacing the fillings and found out I need two crowns and a possible root canal.

When complaining to the dentist that the fillings are falling out left and right, he said I was lucky. "They're supposed to last only 3 to 5 years. Otherwise we dentists would be out of a job!" Hmm.

He was very kind. He showed me all my previous fillings, one by one, with a little mirror in my mouth. He helped me examine the X-rays. What I was surprised to realize was how much of my original teeth have actually been ground away by dentists over the years. I have at least two teeth that are almost completely fake, consisting of 3 or 4 fillings each.

I brush and floss every day. Why do I feel like my whole jaw is about to fall out? I've been reflecting on his statement about keeping dentists in business. Dentists, like mechanics, seem to hold your entire fate in their hands. And how many of them have your best interests in mind? Do you know what a cavity looks like or what will happen if you don't fill it? No. You just trust that the dentist knows what is best for you. But what laws are governing his/her behavior? Is she thinking of preserving my original tooth, or is she saying to herself, "if I grind this away far enough, in another couple years she'll be back for a root canal."
"A couple of my teeth are just totally gone,
and I had no idea."
A couple of my teeth are just totally gone, and I had no idea. "It's just the natural progresstion of dental maintenance over the years," the dentist explained. "First it's just fillings, then crowns, root canals, then dental surgery. In a few years, they'll just be able to stick a stem cell in there and grow you a new tooth. But we're not there yet!"

We place so much trust in people like dentists. But what motivation do they have to really take care of patients? We have to hope they adhere to a code of ethics? Is that the only recourse we have? to the ethical integrity of a complete stranger? with a valuable part of our body?

I think we have to seriously examine those professions in which the ignorance of the general public plays a major role in the transaction. There is too much room for profiting from misleading advice or outright deception by those dentists (and mechanics) whose integrity might be less than stellar.

"Do you think I can wait on this 'til I get a job with dental insurance? Three to four months?" I asked. "Oh no, I wouldn't wait," he said. "It'll only get worse." I think I'm going to consult my fortune cookie for a second opinion.

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