At the dentist: You’ll just feel a little sting…
Nearly half of all Australians don’t visit the dentist regularly. Cost and anxiety are the stumbling blocks, and no wonder.
I took my kids for a check-up last week. My 12-year-old, who has never had a moment’s dental drama, leapt smugly into the chair and had the smile wiped from her face when she was told she’d need her first filling.
The dentist anaesthetised her gum with a large needle and occupied her mouth with his mirror, an amalgam condenser and the hygienist’s suction implement. You’d think this would have impeded her capacity to talk, but no.
Her sister wisely tried to camouflage herself against the wall. The dentist took one look in her mouth and ordered six extractions. Her adult teeth are coming in early, at a strange angle, because her baby teeth won’t budge. Eek!
I was all, “Wow! Six! It will be fine! You’ll see!” - cleverly disguising myself as a mum who hasn’t spent every day of the last four months dreading my own dental appointment, which was scheduled the next day.
It’s not the pain that scares me. It’s not the drilling or the implements. It’s the potential for bad news.
Even despite regular check-ups, and being quite a sane person the most of the time, I have these deranged dental scenarios running through my mind where a specialist looks at me gravely and says, “Well. There’s nothing for it. We have to rip out all of your teeth. Mwahahahahaaaaaa…”
It occurs to me that I need a psychologist, not a dentist. I’m squirming uncomfortably and the dentist, hygienist and kids are all staring at me.
“Er – pardon?”
“It’s $140 per extraction,” he is saying. “I can probably do you a bulk rate.”
I’m sorry. Did he say $140 per tooth? And she has six? Maybe I could buy a packet of Minties and we could self-treat…
“That’s $240 for today,” the receptionist chimes minutes later. Who are these people, and why are they being so mean to me?
The next afternoon I’m quivering in the endodontist’s waiting room. Endodontists are the people who specialise in root canals.
At what point do you wake up and decide to spend the rest of your working days flushing out diseased nerve pulp? My eyes wander to a cartoon hanging on the wall depicting an old bloke with half his teeth missing. Why, why?
“Emma?” the nurse says, unnecessarily brightly in the circumstances. “Come in.”
“I have a phobia of dentists,” I confess to the specialist before I even sit down. “I think you’re going to tell me you’ll have to extract all of my teeth…”
“Oh, and I’m a gagger.” I add. “A bad one. They tried five times to get an X-ray at my regular dentist then gave up and sent me for one of those surround-the-head ones instead at $250 a pop, so I’ve brought that for you…”
“Hello, we’ve got a live one here…’ the dentist says. (Or he might have said, “Nice to meet you – I’m Dr Patel”. I was so keyed up I can’t remember now.)
“We’ll need another X-ray. I know you don’t like it, but you have to trust us…’” What? No!
Before I know it, the chair is snapped flat and I’m crushed by a lead apron with no means of escape. Worse, the hygienist has poured a plastic cup of salt under my tongue and shoved a gag-inducing film in my mouth.
‘Lift and lower your left leg. That’s it. Lift. Lower. Lift. Lower. rust us,’ they command, like sadists.
They’re mad, both of them. I have to get out of there. The salt is disgusting. The leg raises are ridiculous. I want my Mummy!
“Done!” he exclaims, triumphantly.
“Ooh, Wow! That was amazing!” I gush. “Seriously – thank you! Nobody’s ever been able to take an X-ray before without me gagging.”
I’m euphoric. I could conquer the world with this salt-and-leg-raise technique…
“Right. There’s an infection in your bone,” he explains, in an attempt to wreck my buoyant mood. “You have three options. A dental implant: $5,000. A root canal and crown, which may require extra bone surgery since the filling is close to the gum-line. That’s also about $5,000, at least, maybe more… Or you could have the tooth extracted.”
At $140 for an extraction I’d be taking Option Number Three, thanks very much. “Is there any urgency?” I ask.
“Well – the infection could flare up again. It could spread. It could reach your eye. You might end up on an IV drip in hospital. It could close off your airways and be fatal…”
“So, I can leave it a couple of months?” I query uselessly.
“That will be $160 for today,” his receptionist beams.
“Three hundred and ninety dollars, please,” her colleague says a day later, while my daughter stands beside me, cheeks stuffed with gauze, clutching six teeth sealed in a vacuum pack for the tooth fairy.
Brave girl. Not a whimper. Not a tear. No hysterics.
“What’s wrong with the baby?” she asks. I look at my six-month-old’s bright pink cheeks, his fist rammed into his sore gums and the tell-tale drool…
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