My Teeth and Other Corporate Concerns

Spirited Reasoners will be happy to read a blog having nothing, well, almost nothing, to do with politics. This week we ponder the quality of the healthcare each of us is receiving from our respective doctors, nurses, dentists, and dental hygienists, and the dubious role of corporate chains in that environment.

It all started when I went to see my dentist this past week for what was scheduled to be my routine semi-annual cleaning and check-up. I confess that I have been spoiled over most of my lifetime by the high quality of dentistry I have enjoyed. I have lived in cities and towns across the United States, and, with one or two exceptions, I have always experienced high quality dentistry at reasonable prices.

For the past four years, however, my “dentist” has actually been one of those corporate dental chains that seem to be swallowing up all the smaller, independent offices. The name of this particular chain will remain anonymous for purposes of this blog post. Suffice it to say that my fair city of Vancouver, Washington supports at least a dozen different chains, and I suspect that branches have popped up where you live. Given the nature of corporate life, we can expect these chains to merge and/or acquire each other, such that ten years from now most of us, especially those of us living in smaller towns and cities, will be forced to receive our dental care from the one or two monster chains that survive.

Here’s the problem in a nutshell: during these past four years, I have never seen the same dentist twice, despite my showing up to precisely the same location for every visit. And, despite the fact that my teeth are in excellent shape, for the past three visits, whichever dentist has shown up for the cursory examination after my cleaning has always tried to sell me something expensive.

First, it was a filling I suspected I didn’t need, but hey, what do I know about the appropriateness of fillings at my age? Though I wasn’t feeling any pain, nor had I noticed any unusual staining, nor had I needed a filling at any time in the past forty years, I went along with his recommendation and allowed him to fill one of my molars. After all, what do I know? I don’t hold a license to practice dentistry. (Though I should have wondered why the chain’s appointed dentist who had seen me six months earlier hadn’t mentioned anything about a cavity that seemed to be forming on that tooth.)

Six months later, I received a lecture from a different dentist on the evils of snoring, followed by his insistence that I purchase a C-PAP machine I neither wanted nor needed. I should have taken a hike from this particular corporate dental chain at that point, but alas, I tend to be a trusting soul. I figured maybe he was just obeying a sales mandate that had come down from the corporate office. I politely declined the offer and decided that surely my next visit would be better.

This past week, there was no talk of fillings or snoring. Instead, I was told I needed to have resin applied to fill fissures in nine of my teeth, all to the tune of over $2,000. Neither of the earlier dentists had mentioned anything about fissures, and again I had neither felt nor seen any symptoms of anything amiss in my mouth. I declined the treatment and decided, perhaps two years too late, to seek my dental care elsewhere.

It now seems obvious to me that this form of capitalism and dental care do not mix. When a dentist is employed by a corporate chain, a business driven primarily by the need to increase profits on behalf of its shareholders, then it is the patient who loses in the end.

Did I need that extra filling, that C-PAP machine, or those fissure treatments? I doubt it, but I’ll never know for sure. It is my strong suspicion, however, that those three dentists, all agents of a corporate chain, seemed more interested in scoring profit points than providing quality dental care.