Last week I had my first ever American dentist appointment. My first visit to an American DDS, which as a young child I thought was an acronym for Dentist Dentist Surgeon. It’s not.
The main difference between a UK and US dentist is that you’re too worried about the bill to even care about a person waggling steel instruments around in one of your bodily openings.
I’ve never been particularly worried about going to the dentist. I can’t remember a time where the phobia of tooth-based procedures has overwhelmed me anymore than any other aspect of modern living. No, it’s the fear of the cost of it all that hangs over you in this country. Although, the NHS back in the UK isn’t exactly doing well at the moment. That’s what happens when it isn’t properly funded.
I have these visions of eventually needing some kind of major surgery, and so I decide to go back to the homeland in order to avoid forking over a five figure sum in exchange for living. Only to arrive on the shores of Blighty to find that forty years of Tory-dismantling has reduced the NHS to a single doctor, operating out of a shed just off the M6.
Anyway, I entered the American dental surgery armed with anxieties regarding the financial burden of my disintegrating dental health, only for them to be washed away in seconds. It turns out if you operate a healthcare service like a business model, in a fairly affluent city, you can make your reception area look like an elegant palace.
Premium-copyrighted, calming music played gently through the speaker-system. None of this muzak, or chart hits of 2007- no. This is pay-to-win healthcare! This is pleasant modern classics from the 70s through the 90s. I could even swear that I heard a Blind Melon track at one point. And the chairs! The chairs were actually comfortable, and the covers weren’t pealing away to reveal a 2mm layer of gym-mattress padding. They were proper chairs, like the sort you’d find in a non-medical place. Or even a home.
Multicoloured humidifiers blasted out moisture into the air, which is normal for Colorado, but it really added to the vibe that I was in some futuristic day-spa and not a dental surgery. I’d already pre-registered and filled out an online form, so I could sit back and relax. I think they do all this to make you forget about the bill at the end, or to at least justify the final cost.
“Did you enjoy your stay at the dentist, sir?”
“Well I’ve only been here forty-five minutes…”
“-But your room was to your liking? And our concierge was pleasant enough?”
“Isn’t he just a receptionist?”
“Please do come stay at the dentist again, sir. Now if we can just settle the matter of the bill…”
My name was called and a technician took me for some X-rays. She made some smalltalk and I confessed my reason for visiting today was twofold. I mean, I didn’t word it to her like that. I didn’t say “Well, my reason for visiting you today is twofold,” because then I’d sound like a dick. Although I think with my accent, in this country, I could probably pull it off, if I had about forty-three percent more charm.
I wanted to get registered at an American dentist in case of a dental emergency, and I’ve also had this lingering toothache for some time. I got to look at my own X-rays as they appeared on the screen and I instantly saw where the problem was. Yeah, I don’t think the roots of teeth are supposed to be sideways.
I felt the enamel bastard twinge in my mouth, as I stared at the greyish image on the monitor. My anxious thought-loop of pain and regret were halted by the tech, who asked me to follow her to one of the examination rooms. This is where everything went a little backwards, in regards to the whole pay-to-live healthcare thing. I was lead into what I can only describe as a cupboard with a couple of chairs in it. There wasn’t even a door, so perhaps comparing it to a cupboard is a little generous. It was more of an alcove.
One of the chairs in the alcove was a proper dentists chair. With the recliner, the blinding overhead light and the lingering smells of terrified patients. But the “room” itself was about a quarter of the size of any NHS dental room I’ve ever seen, and about an eighth of the size of anything private back in the UK. This was a bizarre thing to experience, because in nine months of living here it was the first instance of being in a place much smaller than its UK counterpart.
Then it clicked. Pay-to-live healthcare is about the window-dressing. Like any other business in the world, they lure you in with a fancy exterior, only to disappoint you once they have their fingers in your wallet. Sure, the reception area looks like a spa, but now that we’ve made some arrangements for your treatment you can piss off to your cell with the rest of the diseased monkeys.
My dentist was very pleasant though. He had a fashionable beard and commented that the story of how I met my wife made him want to go home and hug his wife. Was he working for tips?
He pulled up my X-rays and didn’t have to examine my gaping face-hole (gross) to know that the sideways root was the source of all my pain. Next, he performed a routine examination of my individual teeth. He went through them numerically and at the end said that he wouldn’t bother checking number thirty-two, which made me chuckle. My chuckle then, unexpectedly, made his assistant giggle. Then, her giggle made my dentist laugh. It was as though we’d just musically canonically performed an un-rehearsed laugh track.
“Well Matthew, looks like we’ll have to take all of your wisdom teeth out.”
“Ha. Guess I’m living up to the stereotype of British people having terrible teeth.”
“Yes. Yes you are.”
So I have a bit of surgery in a week. I’m getting the four useless teeth pulled (good riddance to bad evolution) and the cost isn’t too bad. We’re lucky that my wife works at a place with such great insurance for our little family. I know that others aren’t so lucky, and the current healthcare system doesn’t protect those who’re less fortunate.
Hopefully our generation in America will be the ones to say that enough is enough. That free healthcare for all is possible if we topple the greedy pharmaceutical companies and live a little more modestly in exchange for everyone getting an equal chance at life.
I don’t know if it will happen, but I can hope.
That got a bit preachy, erm…can’t wait to come around from surgery and be like all of those Americans in viral videos from the last decade! I really hope I don’t start ranting about the government, or whip a ball out.
Today is Monday June 11th and I’m all mellowed out on some decent pain-killers.