Something Is Wrong With American Dentistry
By James Donahue
I know a lot about dentistry. I have experienced my share of white-knuckled torture in dental chairs
over the years and never had any love for the things that go on in those offices. And I believe that American dentistry, while
always experimenting with new ideas, has made a few wrong turns over the years.
My first experience with the dentist occurred when I was a young lad forced to have regular summer
checkups. Because I lived just down the street from a penny candy store, I usually always had cavities and was forced to endure
the dentist’s drill. Those old drills were slow, they were not water cooled like the modern ones, and the noise they
made grinding against teeth attached to the skull scared the crap out of me. The mercury/lead fillings packed in my teeth
were a toxin my body did not welcome.
I suppose the dentistry I received was better than the wooden teeth they said George Washington
was forced to wear in his day, but not by much.
One summer fluoride was introduced as a magical cure for cavities. They set up a special fluoride
clinic at the high school for all of the children in our town. We were forced to line up to have the foul tasting liquid rubbed
all over our teeth. Several treatments were required. I thought my troubles with the dentist would be over after that, but
it did not happen. I still had cavities. All they did was experiment with another poison, a toxic waste that Big Pharma skillfully
sold as beneficial to our teeth. Actually it was a rat poison and should have been prevented at all costs. They still put
fluoride in our toothpaste and public water supply, which I and my family go out of our way to avoid.
I began losing teeth when I was in college. I was working on an oil well cleaning service one summer
near Jonesville, Michigan, when I developed a severe tooth ache that bowled me over. The pain became so intense on the job
that my partner tore down our rig from the well we were working on and drove me to the nearest town in search of a dentist.
But no dentist had room for a dirty, oil rig worker with a tooth ache that day. They were all booked up. Suddenly, like magic,
the tooth ache stopped. It was like God had turned off the pain machine. What happened was that the nerve died. We went back
to work and I forgot about that experience.
A few years after that I was jogging at dusk along a blacktopped road and took a bad fall after
accidentally stepping in a hole. I went down hard on my face, cracking that dead tooth and taking a severe sprain in my ankle.
I had the root of that tooth pulled and replaced by a bridge that was attached to the other teeth. And that was a mistake.
I discovered that losing one tooth is the first step to losing more teeth. Attaching an artificial
tooth to adjoining teeth weakens the other teeth. Soon they begin to fail. Eventually the bridge in my mouth was getting larger
and larger as more and more teeth were lost. Those were the days when dental procedures were still affordable so I kept having
the work done.
I was married and my wife and I were living at South Haven, Michigan when dentists began doing
root canals. Instead of filling cavities or pulling infected teeth, they began drilling out the nerves, packing the holes
with some kind of pain-deadening material, grinding down the top of the tooth, and putting a crown on it. The dentist who
did my first root canal said he had just learned how to do it and I was his first patient to get one. He did constant x-rays
to make sure his drill was following the nerve, and I got a solid education on just what a root canal involved.
The root canal procedure made the tooth look and feel like new. But what the dentists were doing
was killing the teeth and covering the dead root with artificial caps that were not permanent. We were instructed to floss
between our teeth then, and to come back for regular professional cleanings. What they did not tell us was that the original
tooth was still exposed at the gum line and that food was getting trapped under those crowns. Even good flossing didn’t
stop this. That was why regular cleaning was needed, which most folks neglected to do, especially after the price of a routine
cleaning jumped to about $100 a visit.
Thus the original tooth was rotting unobserved. Without a nerve to scream at us about all of the
destruction going on under those crowns, we did not know what was happening until the crown suddenly popped loose and the
ugliness of what was left was fully exposed.
The next bad idea that came along was dental insurance. Before my employer offered dental insurance
I remember the price of having a cavity drilled and filled was something like $20. After dental insurance the same dentist
began charging $80. My deductable was $40 for the procedure. Consequently the cost of this procedure doubled for me and the
dentist made a lot more money. It was easy to see that dental insurance was a trick. We were getting screwed.
As the years passed the cost of dental visits went through the roof. The insurance I had only paid
the first $1,000 while most dental repairs were at least twice that. Even with insurance I no longer visited the dentist until
I was in real pain.
Now that I am retired I no longer have the same health insurance benefits I once enjoyed during
my working years. There is absolutely no dental insurance. The cost of such insurance for older people is ridiculous. So the
chickens are coming home to roost. Those ground-down teeth are rotting out from under the crowns, the crowns are falling off,
and we don’t have the means to do much about it.
Before I went into retirement I invested in a major overhaul of my teeth. I reasoned that I needed
to get my teeth ready for what I perceived as a future without dental care. My wife urged me to get all of my teeth pulled
and to have dentures made. My dentist refused to do this and I was reluctant to force the issue. I hated the artificial teeth
in that bridge, which was attached to my mouth. Living with a complete set of artificial choppers did not appeal to me. So
I let the dentist repair some damaged crowns and performed a few additional root canals at the tune of a few thousand dollars.
Going that route was a big mistake.
Within the first year after retirement I again started having crowns fall off and tooth aches.
I went to a Michigan dentist just to get one tooth pulled. He sent me to an oral surgeon for this procedure. It cost me $300
just for one tooth extraction. A similar extraction by a dentist in Arizona only a year earlier cost me only $60. I guess
people in Arizona were really poor compared to folks in Michigan and dental prices reflected it.
After that experience I began using super glue to put the crowns back in my mouth when they came
out. That did not stop the rotting of the original tooth. That the hard surface of the tooth was ground off to make room for
the crown only weakened the tooth further. One crown exposed a nerve that apparently was the result of a bad root canal job.
It hurt like crazy. I sealed the hole with super glue and the pain immediately went away. That is how my wife and I are dealing
with our teeth today. We super glue everything and hope it holds until we die.
Like a lot of other people in my community today, I am walking around displaying missing teeth.
We are all living on fixed incomes, going without dental insurance, and unwilling to fork out the high price of a dental visit.
It is just one other reason America is looking more and more like a third world country.
We notice more and more advertising by the local dentists, urging people to get regular checkups.
One ad said people need to see their dentist at least twice a year to maintain healthy teeth. All of the advertising is an
obvious sign that the dental profession is starting to feel the pinch. Only wealthy people are making dental visits and there
probably aren’t enough of them to keep dentists living the good life they once enjoyed.
Do I hear violins?