Tooth tale: Be mindful of your dentist

I can say from personal experience that it pays to floss. Your dentist has always been right; flossing once a day keeps your mouth healthier and aids in avoiding plaque and disease. When your other option is to pay a big chunk of money, taking one minute at night to floss proves easy and actually not that annoying, contrary to the average person's thoughts on flossing. So why have I had this change of heart, this embracing of dental floss? It took being ripped off to show me.

When I studied in China, I could not wait to get home and have my teeth cleaned. For some reason, I just felt so transient, and having so few things with me, my teeth were on the back burner. I made sure my mom had scheduled an appointment back home, for the first available date. That was July 2007, and that was the last time I had been.

In the developed world, teeth cleaning is normally an every-six-months check-up. This ensures that hard plaque doesn't build up to much and allows the dentist to monitor the health of gums and teeth, since many dentistry procedures can be avoided altogether later in life by simple good maintenance. I understand all that, and finally decided it was time to get established with a dentist in the Kennesaw area (instead of trekking to Dublin to see my parents' dentist); I made an appointment for March 27, just about one month ago, at a place nearby that took our insurance (apparently).

Almost two hours after I sat down in the exam chair, I got out of the chair without a cleaning. The doctor and his assistant poked my teeth in this newer process they do nowadays where they measure the millimeters deep a metal poker can be poked, thus determining whether you have periodontal disease. I had never heard of this apparently horrible disease. And I, also apparently, had "early" stages of periodontal disease.

I don't consider myself unwise to health concerns, and I believe I take relatively good care of myself. Like my mom said, too, it had only been two years, not a decade; her first visit to the dentist was when she married my dad at age 19-- and she does not have major teeth-health issues. So I was slightly offended and very skeptical when the assistant proceeded to show me this scrapbook they had assembled with photos of the horrible things that can go wrong with your teeth. You know the kind-- those fright-inducing photos doctors place strategically around their offices to let customers-- I mean patients-- memorize the blood and ooze until they're scared enough to hand over money to get whatever procedures are needed to keep the disease at bay. She wouldn't even show me the whole book, just the parts closest to my current "condition," because, to use her words, "They're just too bad."

The office would not give me a cleaning because I needed to have this "deep cleaning" instead-- a more intense process that my insurance would not cover. Also, I had two cavities, and the doctor recommended that I have the tooth-colored filling instead of the silver fillings that my insurance covers. I asked if I could please opt for the silver-colored ones, because I knew from previous experience that these were fine, and covered fully. Nope, that is not what the doctor recommended. (Ok, but it is a filling, and it is my tooth. Whatever.) Oh, and after the "deep cleaning," I will need to come back every three months to make sure my disease has not worsened, and each time there will be an additional fee. I leave with an estimate for procedures that I "need," an estimate of over $500 in charges that my insurance won't cover.

Now, I am a reasonable person. I listen to what intelligent doctors have to say, and usually, I think the advice is sound. But let's be honest-- I am a young adult, therefore age is not against me yet. Low risk. I brush my teeth regularly, and I live in developed country-- meaning I've had my teeth cleaned dozens of times more than most of the people on this planet. I think--I think--I will make it through this devastating condition that is going to cost me (and my family) hundreds of dollars. In my head, I'm thinking, yeah, right, count me out of this. I'm going to go home, start brushing my teeth longer, using mouthwash at least once a day, and floss each night. I'd start my own little daily regiment, and take this into my own hands. Practical advice is the better path, I think, but the answer is do-it-yourself health care, with minimal cost and a simple trip to the drug store on my part. Practical advice would not make the doctor's office an extra $500-- that is the truth of this picture, and that is a horrible shame.

Fast forward one month, and I have successfully been performing my regiment morning and night. April 24 I head to a different doctor's office, one my mom found online after we both expressed concern with the business practices of the previous scare-tactic dentist. I feel good about my teeth, and have not even had any pain in one particular back tooth that had been hurting whenever I would eat sugar (I attribute this pain going away to my own enhanced teeth-cleaning). When I sit down in the chair, the assistant tells me that I have very little hard plaque to scrape off, and all my millimeter readings (for that periodontal nightmare) are 1's, 2's, and 3's all the way around my mouth (at the other dentist I had had some "bad zone" 4's and 5's). She does a normal, insurance-covered cleaning. Then, she and the dentist both commend me on my exceptionally clean teeth. They did not say anything about having one single cavity.

I left the office thinking about the stark contrast between these two experiences; could I really have reversed that much tooth damage in one month? Either this is a miracle in tooth recovery, and flossing is really all it is cracked up to be, or I was about to be scammed big-time by that first dentist. I was basically awestruck. I think perhaps that first practice is really out to get anyone who may be marginally "in danger" of early periodontal, or has sort-of-unclean teeth, to milk every dollar out of an unknowing patient that they possibly can. I knew when I left that day that a few months could have fixed up some of the issues I had. I mean, it had been a long time since I'd had my teeth cleaned at a dentist's office. Cut me some slack. Give some practical advice, clean my teeth, hand me some floss, charge my insurance company, and I'm happy. Try to trip me off, and I'll tell the internet all about it.

(By the way, when I went to their office to pick up my x-rays to bring to my New Dentist, the desk attendent tried to charge me a $25 fee per x-ray, with a 48-hour minimum "process" period. I told her that one x-ray series hadn't even been taken at their office, and so I would like to have that one. She handed it over. The other one shall forever remain in the files of Great Expressions, Inc offices.)