At the dentist

I haven’t had the best dental health. I had cavities as a child and have continued to need dental procedures throughout my adult life. I’ve been told that my front teeth are worn down due to a habit of grinding my teeth, and this may be the case, but I am completely unaware of such behavior. One dentist told me that I must grind my teeth in my sleep. Another dentist told me that as the human lifespan has increased, teeth haven’t begun to last any longer. Generations ago, tech that lasted for 45 or 50 years were sufficient. Now we need them to last 90 or more years. Whatever the cause I know that my mother invested significant money on dental work in the last decades of her life and it appears to me that I may be headed for a similar future.

I try to be a good steward of the teeth that i do have. I brush my teeth as instructed. I have them checked and professionally cleaned regularly. I have repairs done when they are required. I carry dental insurance that helps with the expenses.

Modern dentistry is amazingly successful. there are techniques for repairing and saving teeth that didn’t exist decades ago. Oral surgeons can create implants that function as replacement teeth. Modern x-rays and other diagnostic tools enable dentists to detect small problems before they become big problems. I am fortunate to live in the time that I do and to have access to the care that is available. I have relatives who are my age and some who are older who sport complete sets of dentures, having lost all of their original teeth. I am fortunate to have avoided such a problem so far.

I remember our family dentist when I was a child. He operated his practice in a two-room suite on the second story of a downtown retail building. You entered on the side of the building and climbed a flight of stairs to a narrow hallway. There was no sign on the outside of the building and only the dentist’s name painted on the glass of the door inside. He had no receptionist or hygienist. There was an outer waiting room and an inner room with a single dentist’s chair. He worked alone. He had various lights and drills and other tools close at hand. Who a filling was required, he mixed up the compound of silver and other materials and applied it himself, tamping with dental instruments that he had sterilized in a small autoclave that sat in the corner of the room. He was a respected professional in our town and had a comfortable home.

Times have changed. The dentist I see now recently took over from a dentist that I had seen for more than 20 years. His office is also on the second story of a building, but one designed for professional offices. He has a waiting room, with a window into a clerical office that usually has two or three employees. There are at least six dental chairs and hygienists for each of them. There is an array of diagnostic machines and separate lab and office areas. The office is filled with high-tech equipment and there seem to be new devices every time I visit. The last visit revealed computer monitors attached to the feet of each of the dental chairs which I presume are used for patient education.

The overhead in that office must be staggering. All of that equipment has to be paid for and it sits unused three days a week. The dental office operates only four days a week and when it does, we patients are lined up so that the dentist never has to do any waiting between patients. He goes from one to the next while we sit prepped in the dental chairs.

I am all in favor of evidence-based medical practices. And I believe that as we learn more, we need to apply that knowledge to treatment and care of patients. I have no desire to go back to the days of the dentist who served us when we were children. But I am acutely aware that the level of care that i receive is made possible by my dental insurance and my professional salary. There are a whole lot of people in our community who cannot afford the services provided by my dentist.

I am not used to thinking myself as an elitist or a member of the upper class, but when you consider dental care, I am afforded a level of luxury that is higher than most of the people in the community where I live, let alone in comparison to the rest of the world. I am not sure how I justify such selfishness.

I like having a mouth that is free from pain. I like having all of my teeth and being able to eat whatever foods I choose. There are definite advantages to being the recipient of such good dental care. But the money that is invested in my sixty-five year old head could buy a lot of preventive dental care for a lot of children who could benefit from early care. The distribution of dental care is not based on merit or who deserves care. It is based on ability to pay. Without dental insurance, I know I’d be shopping for a new dentist, one who didn’t have such a luxurious high-tech office with its accompanying high cost of operation.

When it comes to medical care it seems that we are willing to accept no limits. We are willing to pay. According to Reuters, the U.S. spends about twice what other high-income nations do on health care but has the lowest life expectancy and the highest infant mortality rates. We use roughly the same amount of health services as people in other affluent nations, but we pay much higher prices and have worse results.

Having the fanciest office and the most equipment doesn’t result in the best care.

It gives me something to think about while I’m sitting in that comfortable reclining chair with the computer monitor at my feet waiting for the dentist to get to me for my next dental exam.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!