A Rambling Post about Dentistry

So after my musings from a few days ago about how I’m ready to officially move on from the baby years, both of my girls were sick this week and got up multiple times in the night over three consecutive nights. I think that seals it – I am definitely, without question, too old for that kind of nonsense. CONFIRMED.

I am not a regular coffee drinker – I have tea every day, but always herbal or decaf – so caffeine and I are not close friends. But this week, I have drunk the coffee. AND KEEP IT COMING, my eyeballs say, as my hands start shaking and I develop a weird facial tic. I’m a bit of a physical and mental mess, is what I’m saying, so forgive me if this seems like a bit of a mess of a post.

What I really want to talk about is modern dentistry. Over the past few years I have become jaded about the need for dental maintenance and other advanced dental gymnastics. Growing up, I was a faithful twice-yearly cleaning kind of girl, and I got the occasional filling, but that was it. I had my wisdom teeth removed in my early 20s, more at my own suggestion than my dentist’s (I was having some mysterious headaches, turns out he was right, it wasn’t related to the teeth), and I went for an orthodontal consulation in my teens, again at my own insistence, in which I was told my bite was just fine and to move along. I always considered our dentist to be a medical professional akin to a doctor, someone who would give you sound advice and you could take that advice and who had no skin in the game except your own health.

Recently, however, I’ve come to view dentists as half doctors, and half salespeople. It seems every time we go for a checkup, there’s some new process or new system or new referral they are recommending. We have full insurance through Sir Monkeypants’ work, so it’s not about the cost, but I still feel like they are pushing things we don’t need. Is this true? Or has dentistry made huge leaps forward and I’m behind the times?

My kids just had their semi-annual checkups this morning and X-rays – both regular and panoramic – were recommended for all three. They recommend X-rays for them once a year. I don’t think I had a single dental X-ray until I went to have my wisdom teeth out – certainly never before all my baby teeth fell out. I refused the X-rays, and I had to sign this big waiver about how the dentist can’t find all cavities if I don’t agree to it. What do you think – more tech than needed, or should I have said yes?

And then there’s ortho. My son just told me yesterday that it’s officially crossed the 50% mark – 14 people in his Grade 8 class now have braces, versus 12 that don’t. When I was in school, braces were a Grade 10/11 thing, not a Grade 7/8 thing, but now I see kids at the school as young as Grade 5 with a full set. It used to be the odd guy here and there with braces, now it seems everyone gets them as a matter of course and those without are the exception, not the rule.

Both of my older two were “referred” to the orthodontist at age 11, and my middle daughter ended up with an expander, this thing that went in the roof of her mouth for six months to create extra space for her new teeth that were coming in. I regret it now – it was annoying and uncomfortable for her, it used up 1/3 of her lifetime ortho coverage, and I really think it was not worth it. At the time she’d barely lost half of her baby teeth and was nowhere near puberty, so there was no way to know how big her mouth would eventually get and what the long term need would be. At the time of the referral, I think my son had only lost about 10 baby teeth. That seems way too young to be considering braces – can’t everything shift around when the rest come in?

My youngest is only 9 and today they recommended she go for an ortho appointment, “just to check her bite.” First, she’s NINE, second, she’s lost a grand total of EIGHT baby teeth, and third, her bite seems absolutely fine to us and we have no concerns. Is this a potential kickback scheme? Or am I paranoid?

(Needless to say, we refused the ortho referral.)

I stopped all dental work myself about four years ago and I feel fantastic about it – I take super good care of my teeth at home and I’ve never been happier with them. I’d stop it for the kids too, but frankly they are all TERRIBLE brushers, I’m sure the cleaning they get twice a year at the dentist is the only time some of their teeth even see a brush. But it’s getting more and more annoying to have to put my foot down and say “no” to a thousand new “services” they offer. Am I the only one who feels this way?

10 thoughts on “A Rambling Post about Dentistry

  1. NO! you aren’t the only one who feels this way. “just because we can doesn’t mean we should” is my approach to dentistry. Seems that’s not the philosophy of most dentists and hygenists. The Hollywood Chicklet-white, perfectly even teeth standard is ridiculous, to me. And the interventions we are pressured into for our kids – X-rays every year, perio, ortho, etcetera-o…
    Seems like a big cash grab to me.
    End of rant.

  2. I feel this way too. As I understand it, the invention of dental sealants cut DRASTICALLY into the amount of money dentists were making: children went from regularly needing fillings to rarely needing them. My guess is that this led to the need for many more services to make up for that lost income.

    I also think we are living in an “11 daily steps for perfect summer eyebrows!” era, where nothing is ever perfect enough, and that that contributes to the issue.

  3. MrsCarlSagan

    I’m with you completely! Our girl has been referred to ortho appointments as well – I believe it started being mentioned when she was 9. So far, we have not gone. She’s only 12, has not had any significant growth spurt yet and there’s a lot more movement that is going to happen in her mouth yet, We’d much prefer to wait a few more years and then see where she is at. Now that i think of it, I think our kids go to the same dentist as yours…… hmmm….

  4. I simply refuse to see dentists in Canada, I go in France. Not because I’m particularly patriotic but I find the North American approach WAY over the top. I wouldn’t know who to trust and I heard too many “well, I was told to (insert complicated procedure here) stories.

    I don’t have a perfect Hollywood smile and I’m fine with that.

  5. I’m not ready to forego a regular check-up, but I agree that the braces and the removing of wisdom teeth is getting out of control. I am stubbornly holding onto the one wisdom tooth I have. It’s not bothering me, so I’m not bothering it.

  6. I had a retainer when I was a kid and then my dentist told me I needed braces and at the ripe old age of 12 or 13 I said no. Wasn’t going to do it. Didn’t care if I had straight teeth. And that’s when I pretty much stopped going to the dentist because I was so tired of it all.

    Now, my daughter is going to need braces. Her teeth are growing in and she doesn’t have room for them and we see this, I see the reasoning and if she’s okay with it I am.

  7. Tudor

    Totally agree! So glad I’m not the only one who feels like this. We moved from an old-school dentist who was about to retire (he extracted one of my molars, by hand, for $130, and when my son’s teeth got kicked in, just shoved those suckers back into place) to a new, fancy-schmancy dentist who is always trying to sell us stuff. And we’re constantly having to sign waivers about why we’re denying the oral cancer checks and stuff. Here I was thinking one of the whole reasons you went to the dentist, in general, was so they’d alert you if you had oral cancer, but turns out you have to pay more for that.

    When they ask me why I’m hesitating on certain, multi-hundred-dollar procedures, and I say, “Well, it’s a lot of money” they look at me like I have two heads. “Don’t you have insurance?” Well, yes, but a $900 procedure still costs me over $200, and also I hate how nit-picky insurance companies have become, but maybe this is why – just because we CAN claim it, doesn’t mean we should.

    The thing that offends me most is the calls that come early December saying our family still has insurance room to use up, so why not book a procedure? Really … that just seems so wrong and unprofessional. In the past I’ve ignored them, but maybe this year I’ll tell them when I get a message like that it makes me think of switching dentists.

  8. A.Q.

    I don’t feel that way about dentists and haven’t had that experience with them, but haven’t started the rounds of parent-dental decisions– my baby is still a baby.

    For me, I go in for cleaning/check-up every 6 months and I always say yes to the one extra they offer: a fluoride treatment. Not expensive, and I feel it’s good for my teeth. They do panoramic x-rays every other year and if there’s a problem (usually not, but I had a filling fail last year), they deal with it. The oral cancer check–I think–mainly consists of the dentist coming in to look at my tongue and to feel my neck. It’s a standard part of the check-up. Maybe my experience is better because my dentist refuses to work directly with insurance companies? He’ll give you the paperwork so that you can process it, but he won’t do it himself.

    My dentist growing up said that my teeth were straight enough that I didn’t need braces, so I didn’t get them. The other kids in my family did, as did most of the kids in school. I remember the braces as starting to pop up on the faces around me in grades 8/9, so 7/8 doesn’t seem like too huge of a difference to me. With the number of parents redshirting kids around here, they’re probably roughly the same ages. Braces that young doesn’t seem new to me. (I’m in my early 40s now.)

    Oh, and I did have my wisdom teeth removed, but I was in my early 20’s, and it was recommended because they were coming in at a weird, destructive angle.

    I guess I’ve had good dentists for most of my life, so I’m pretty happy with how things have been going. I had one really bad dentist in my late 20s, followed by a mediocre one… but for the most part, I’m good with dentistry as a profession.

  9. Mark

    Every dentist is different. When we first came to California I found a dentist nearby and he turned out to be a total hack. We moved, we got a new dentist, who informed me that the crown the old dentist had done was shoddy and had to be replaced. I had to fight hard just to get the deductible I paid back from him, but I got it, and the new dentist installed a new crown.

    That dentist turned out to have what seemed to me an extraordinary talent for understanding pain (meaning sensing when her patients were experiencing it) which I still marvel at to this day when I think about it. But she ended up being like the dentist you describe; I eventually decided she was too “trigger-happy”, always wanting to patch up the slightest imperfection in my teeth, and eventually I just tired of that.

    I switched to a dentist office that was part of a large chain. Their insurance department was pretty incompetent, I thought, maybe bordering on fraudulent. They would routinely quote a price for some work, which I’d sign off on, and then inevitably it would end up costing much more, which they could do because what I’d signed was an acknowledgment that they would not be bound to the quoted price because of the uncertainty of insurance claims. Which is total BS; what it really meant was that they didn’t understand how the insurance claims they were making worked and they just regularly screwed up the claim. (I know this because we’ve had dentists since who always get it right.) At one point I got a bill for an extra $800 for something like this; I simply refused to pay it, and I stared down their billing person until they let me off with paying half of that. For some reason even then I didn’t leave.

    I will say, though, that I got braces through this office and the results were great, and I also had a root canal done and it was 100% painless, despite all the stories I’d heard about how unpleasant that can be. So there were definitely some good professionals working there. But it was like a revolving door of dentists, with more than one of them confiding in me that they were leaving because *they* were unhappy with the management of the place. Eventually I got tired of all the crap as well and left them for a dentist who had left that office a few years earlier to start her own practice.

    We’re still with her and she’s pretty good (and her billing/insurance people are fantastic). But I heard about the wonders of sealing through the grapevine and asked her about it, and she gave some story about how it’s really only recommended when certain types of teeth problems keep recurring, and discouraged me from getting it for the kids. I’m still not sure if that was motivated for the reasons Swistle describes, but I can’t say I’d be surprised if that was the case.

    So, yeah, I think you’re right to be suspicious of your dentist offering you all kinds of options that you don’t think you need. I imagine they get a fair bit of pressure to sell products from the pharmaceutical companies (or whatever the analogue of that for dentists is) like doctors do, and I’m sure that drives some of their recommendations.

    I have more great dentist stories to tell, but I think maybe this response has become more rambling and longer than your long, rambling OP, so I’ll stop here.

  10. smothermother

    I totally agree. One little girl I know had “preventative” braces on for a year when she was 8!! And she will probably need another set when her adult teeth eventually come in. I just don’t get it.

    I try to make myself go once every two years. I started to fear going to the dentist after an unpleasant experience about 8 years ago. Now I need full on gas and freezing just to get a cleaning. And I cry as I sit in the chair. It’s terrible. They NEVER offer me extra stuff because they know I’ll just have a complete melt down. I know I will need a crown at some point but as long as the temporary solution holds, I’m not even considering it.

    They haven’t offered much in terms of extras to the jellybean. There is one filling they suggested they redo because it’s messy. But it’s on a baby tooth, so really why spend the time and money on something that is going to fall out anyway. I am totally expecting him to have braces when you consider the genes he got from us. But so far no one has suggested a consult.

    I sort of find dentists to be like mechanics. You have no idea if what they are saying you need done is actually something you NEED done. Sigh.

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