Thursday, August 4, 2011

Teeth- Not Just For Chewing

Real comforting, I know.  And yes, I took this one out myself.

Seeing as I am a dentist first and writer second (as of now), I decided I should write a blog post about the importance of dentistry.

I know people don't like going to the dentist.  I don't take it personally anymore.  People just don't like the dentist.  Why?  The needles.  The perceived pain.  The nosies.  All of the above.  A dozen different reasons.

But I want to tell you why its important to visit your dentist, not only for your regular check-ups, but also when he or she tells you that you need work done.

First off, what good are teeth good for?  Several things:
  1. Eating.  With teeth, eating is easier.  Simple.
  2. Talking.  Without teeth, talking,  and being understood, is much more difficult.
  3. Smile.  Keep you teeth, you get a nice smile (in most cases)
  4. Face structure.  Ever see granny not wearing her dentures?  Sure you have.  It's ugly.  The whole face sags.  Without teeth, your face is quite scary.  Like melted wax.
So there it is.  Why bring this up now.  Because of a certain type of patient I see too often.  Here's the scenario:

Patient comes in, first cleaning in a while.  He has a lot of cavities.  None into the nerve, none requiring root canal, but many that are close.  I sit down and explain the situation: "You have a lot of deep cavities and you need to get them filled.  It will cost x amount of dollars. If you don't get them fixed, and any one of them ends up needing  root canal and then a cap, it is going to cost you 15x that much.  Yes.  15x.  For the cost of doing a single root canal and cap, you can have every tooth in your mouth fixed.  If a tooth starts to hurt and you can not afford a root canal and cap, it will have to come out.  Guess what?  Having a tooth extracted costs the same amount as having a filling.  Except you no longer have that tooth in your mouth.  And it hurts a whole hell of a lot more to have a tooth taken out.  So please, schedule at the front desk so we can start filling these cavities before they start hurting and need more extreme treatment."

Sounds good, right.  And you would figure any sane person would do as instructed.  Because teeth do NOT heal, they only get worse.  So you are going to pay now or you are going to pay later.  But one way or another, you are going to pay.  The only difference is, how much, and how many teeth will you have left when I'm done.

So what bothers me?  When these people don't come back to have their fillings done.  You know what?  I don't mind doing crowns and root canals.  I get paid more.  But my first job is to try and make it so you don't need expensive, invasive work.  My first job is to maintain your oral health.  And when people start throwing excuses at me...  I know people have other things going on in their lives, but finding one afternoon, or morning, to get these things done should be a priority.  When you tell me that you have no money to get the recommended work done, but I see that you have a couple grand worth of tattoos on your arms and legs, don't be calling me on the weekend when you have a toothache.  Your tats may be worth more to you than healthy, cavity-free teeth, but if you're going to spend your cash on body art, don't expect me to jump when you get a toothache that should have been fixed a year ago.

I know dental work can be expensive.  But people don't seem to understand why.  My education, first off.  My loan payment every month is a small mortgage.  My schooling wasn't free.  My schooling wasn't easy.  Materials are expensive.  Lab bills are expensive.  Malpractice insurance is expensive.  Rent is expensive. Hundreds of stamps need to be purchased every month so I can send letters and postcards to patients asking for payment or reminding them of when their appointment is.  Competent help is expensive.  The amount of overhead in a dental practice is staggering.  Do we make a good living?  Sure.
But I spend my days trolling around inside people's mouth.  I'm responsible for maintaining people's oral health.  I'm responsible for discovering cancer before you lose your tongue.  Or your jaw.  Or your life.  And these days, they are discovering that gum disease leads to higher risks of having a heart attack or a stroke and getting certain types of cancers.

I spend my days making sure that people continue to eat right, talk right and look good and stay alive.

So if your dentist tells you you need work, get it done.  And if need be, get a second opinion.  But get it done before you find yourself in dentures

And for the love of god, pick up the fricking floss once in a while!  I don't care if you bleed.  Just do it.

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