I seem to have trouble finding and hanging onto a dentist. One will have scheduling problems, another drops my insurance, another never took my insurance in the first place. I go every six months, but lately it’s been to a different dentist every time. I jokingly call this my, “dental curse.”
Today, the curse reached critical mass.
In searching for my next new dentist I consulted both my dental insurance company (to see who would take their coverage) and then Yelp. I found a conjunction of taking my dental insurance and having many, many glowing and positive Yelp reviews in the form of Best Dental Care PC and Dr. Lucy. I called to make an appointment and spoke to a very friendly, helpful, and funny receptionist who walked me through the process of changing my insurance info over to them and filling out all my new patient paperwork ahead of time on their lovely website. I mentioned how good their Yelp reviews were and she said something a bit odd to the effect of, “I wish people wouldn’t rely on Yelp so much because anyone can put anything on there.” In retrospect, this probably should have been Red Flag Number 1.
Regardless, an appointment was made.
Red Flag Number 1: When I first walked in the door today, I noticed that the name Dr. Lucy wasn’t on the front door, which was odd, because she was the dentist all the positive Yelp reviews were raving about. “Odd,” I thought, “where is Dr. Lucy?”
Red Flag Number 2: At the front desk, the extremely chatty and friendly receptionist told me that there was a problem with my dental insurance and that I hadn’t been switched over to them from my previous dentist. Puzzled, I pulled out my new insurance card (recently sent to me by my insurance company) that clearly listed their name on it. She explained it was still incorrect because they were NOT “Best Dental Care PC” as was listed on the card, but rather they were, “Best Dental Care.” She said that insurance companies kept mixing them up with the other practice. She also said that soon they’d be changing their practice name to something totally different anyway. Nonetheless, they would honor my appointment and do my cleaning for free despite the mix up, even though they probably wouldn’t get paid. However they warned me that any subsequent treatments I required would cost me out of pocket. “No problem,” I naively told them, “I almost never need any treatments.”
Red Flag Number 3: Back to the exam room I go and the extremely friendly, pretty and chatty hygienist begins taking x-rays. A lot of x-rays. Probably about 20 x-rays. She also took extensive photographs with a very small camera of the bottom of each and every one of my teeth. Please note: she did this PRIOR to doing my routine cleaning.
Red Flag Number 4: The handsome and charming dentist arrived to do my checkup, again, prior to the routine cleaning. Thinking back on it later I realized that I have never in all my years as a dental patient had a dentist do the exam before the cleaning. I’d never really thought about it before but it does make sense. After all, they don’t want to mistake a stain for a cavity or have to look at things through a film of tartar buildup. Also they're the dentist, they get to see the patient after the hygienist has already done all the gross work. This, however, didn’t sink in like the red flag it was until a few minutes later.
Like most people I do in fact brush my teeth before going to the dentist, but I can’t remove the past six months worth of coffee stains and tartar they way a dentist can with their tools. That's why I go see them every six months without exception.
He begins his exam and things rapidly go sideways. Really sideways, really fast.
Immediately he identifies a cavity here, an occlusion here, cavity here, cavity there, occlusion here, here, and here. I honestly lost count. It sounded like he was saying I had somewhere in the neighborhood of five, maybe eight cavities? He also mentioned that each and every single previous filling I had in my mouth needed to be removed and replaced. All of them. Then he asked me if I’d like to straighten my teeth (I have cute little vampire looking fangs because my two front teeth tilt in slightly) and blamed the TMJ I’ve had since I had my wisdom teeth removed on “misalignment.” Then he told me I needed a night guard to prevent tooth grinding during sleep. Then he smiled charmingly, wished me a wonderful day, shook my hand, and went home for the night (I heard him say goodbye to the people at the front desk as he left).
At this point I have become pretty sure that I’m sitting in the chair of my very first bonafide dental scam artist and I am getting very afraid, but I’m too shy and accommodating to get up and run out. So with grave misgivings I let the hygienist do the cleaning. She is gentle and careful and does a decent job. This is the first, last, and only good part of this story.
After the cleaning, she begins to talk to me about all the dental work I need, and she pulls up the little camera pictures. Many of my teeth do, indeed, have faint brown lines on the bottom of them. They look, to my untrained eye, a lot like coffee stains (I must remind you now that these photos were taken BEFORE she cleaned anything, and I wish in retrospect that I’d thought to ask her to take the photos again now that the cleaning was done).
At that point I asked her if I could level with her person to person. She said yes. I said that I’d been seeing a dentist for a routine cleaning every six months since I was about eight years old. Between those cleanings I brushed twice (or three times) a day and flossed daily per the usual instructions. Last year, I even switched to a groovy high tech electronic spinny toothbrush that ensured I’d grow no unpleasant fuzz between cleanings. In all that time I’d had a very few cavities, most of them from when I was younger and slightly less careful with my teeth than I am now. However largely, what has happened my whole life is that every six months someone had cleaned my teeth, patted me on the head, complimented me on my good oral hygiene, and sent me on my way – including the person who’d done my last cleaning six months ago and somehow missed every single one of these problems.
I then paused, looked at her for a moment and asked, “do you see why in light of this I might want to get a second opinion at this point in time?”
I feel as though the words, “second opinion” may have set of some manner of emergency secondary protocol. She showed me the pictures again, and again pointed out the faint brown lines. I nodded and admitted that no, I don’t really know what I’m looking at (other than something that really looks like coffee stains) – which again reinforced my desire for a second opinion. She said she understood, gave me some toothpaste and ushered me to the front desk.
I can say in their defense that everyone was very, extremely NICE the entire time. Though toward the end when my suspicion started to show their niceness got sort of creepy – like in a Children of the Corn kind of way.
The lady at the front desk gave me one last spiel before I left. She pointed out that I have very cheap-o dental insurance. My dental insurance is, indeed, cheap – part of my problem with finding a dentist is that almost nobody takes it anymore. The lady at the front desk said that for years now, it’s possible that whoever is taking my cheap dental insurance has been ignoring all my problems (gasp!) because they know they won’t get paid for fixing them. She even had a personal story of a friend who was a hygienist and got yelled at by her terrible dentist boss for recommending a filling for a patient who desperately needed one, but the mean dentist wouldn’t get paid for fixing something so small, so he hollered at her and heroic friend got up and quit on the spot.
Queue me nodding and smiling, eyeing the door, nodding and smiling. I asked them if they would email me my x-rays and photographs. They said they would. We shall see.
Then I was back out in the parking lot. Confused, worried, a little angry, honestly feeling kind of violated, and pretty convinced I’d just met my very first professional scam artist with the word “doctor” in front of their name. I’d read stories like this; horror stories of people’s mouths getting drilled and filled all to pieces for tens of thousands of dollars, all for no reason whatsoever. I’d heard horror stories of such terrible betrayals of the trust that people put in their medical professionals, but never ever thought I’d get to see it, up close and personal, handsome and smiling and offering me their hand in friendship.
I’m literally revolted and creeped out that I let these people touch my teeth, my gums, and have my personal data. Although they said I wouldn’t be billed, I’ll be watching the mail very carefully in the coming weeks.
Also, I’d really like to know what they did with Dr. Lucy.