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January 26, 2006

Jeremy Has Gum Disease

Leaving for Africa for a 6 month journey to places we don't even know about yet requires an extensive pre-departure check-list.  Get vaccinations, book flights, buy travel insurance, check if there are any wars being fought, visit the dentist etc.  We are currently up to "visit the dentist" and in pursuit of crossing that one off the list Jeremy yesterday called around a few dentists in the area to see if he could get an appointment for a cleaning before we leave (I will be seeing my beloved Dr. Michael when I'm in D.C., the only person I feel comfortable allowing to poke sharp objects inside my mouth). 

Finding a dentist is not like bargain hunting - if you find one for half the price you're not necessarily going to assume there's just a clearance sale going on.  But at the same time it's not a transparent industry - like car mechanics, most of the time we have to just trust that we/the car do have the condition they have diagnosed and that the treatment they have prescribed is necessary, and the price they have quoted is reasonable.  Besides, who are we to question an expert who has obviously studied optimum emissions testing or periodontitis.

Which, in fact, was the exact position Jeremy found himself in yesterday.  Because who can resist a sale, really?  Even it is a dentist's sale - I mean, who are we to say that a reasonable dentist can't have a sale?  Maybe they're just want to "give back" (I know, it's starting to sound bad already).  In hindsight, maybe a $95 consultation and full set of x-rays does set of a few warning lights, but hindsight is a cruel thing.  Maybe we should have started to question this "deal" when we called back to check if this included a clean (isn't that the whole point of going to the dentist?) which of course it didn't, but $95 for an individual x-ray of each tooth is a great deal ("All the better to find lots of expensive things wrong with your teeth, my dear").  Maybe we should have wondered why this dentist was able to see us the same day, when most dentists in the States (that I've had contact with) are usually booked out at least 2 or 3 months in advance.  But instead we rejoiced in our luck and Jeremy trotted off to the dentist in the afternoon.

Upon his return he looked, let me say, disconcerted.  A little confused, a little anxious.  I asked him how the appointment went.
"I have gum disease?"
"What???"  OK, let's start from the beginning.  "Did she clean your teeth?"
"Yeah, I guess so." 
"Well, did it feel like she did a good job?" 
"I don't know, it hurt like hell.  Then she held up a mirror and started stabbing my gums with this sharp thing until there was blood pouring from my gums, and said 'See, you have gum disease'".
"You don't have gum disease."
"How do you know?"
Flashback to second grade, when two ladies in dental nurse's outfits visited my Australian classroom with huge dentures and a huge toothbrush and demonstrated how to clean your teeth correctly.  Then, just to make sure you got the message, they pulled out huge picture cards showing us, in progressive steps, what would happen if you didn't clean your teeth correctly, from the slightly reddened gums with a little plaque on the teeth, right through to the gap-toothed, pussy-gummed, blackened smile which has haunted me to this day. 
"So what did she say you have to do?"
"She said I need a deep-cleaning, four quadrants at $210 each."
"WHAT!!!!!!!!  But you don't even have gum disease!"
"How do you know?"
"If you had gum disease, YOU would know.  Get on the internet."

At this point ensued a frenzied 20 minutes of internet searching punctuated by tourets-like swearing and cursing of this so-called dentist.  I mean, this is no "extra-good clean" she prescribed, her deep-cleaning involves anaesthetising the gums and cutting them open to clean them right out.  For a 29 year-old perfectly healthy man who very very rarely bleeds from his gums when he brushes them (show me someone whose gums never bleed and I'll show you someone who's never eaten a chocolate bar ever). 

So now we're left with Jeremy's very sore and tender gums, and wondering if the "so-called cavity" she noticed actually exists or was another figment of her imagination.  Who's to know?  Luckily Jeremy still has the appointment with the other dentist, who apparently doesn't stab gums to inflict symptoms of a  condition requiring very expensive treatment.

I guess the moral to this story is, when it comes to dentists, if it sounds like a good deal, it's not the one that you want.  And if someone ever stabs you in the gums and says you have gum disease, try stabbing them in the face and telling them they have face disease.


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