A while ago, I bit into an olive pit and chipped off a corner of one of my molars. Has that ever happened to you? It’s creepy, because suddenly you’re chewing on a piece of your own head. It’s gritty and very unpleasant. This month, two years later, I decided to go get this tooth fixed because enough is enough.
Instead of going to the dental place next door to my office, Jameelah recommended I go to her place, thirty minutes away, because they have experienced and very well-qualified dentists. “Plus,” she said, “if your wait is over an hour, they’ll give you a fifteen minute massage. They’ll also give you a free whitening. And cookies.” No way, I said. I had to check this out.
A week before the appointment, they called to remind me. They asked me to email back answers to some short questions such as “What did you least enjoy about your last dental visit, so that we can ensure this does not happen?” and “We would like to know our patients better, so what are your hobbies?”
This dental place was unlike any I’ve ever been to. First off, it’s located inside a “green” building, meaning it’s energy efficient. Next to the reception desk, there was a tray of cookies, a single-serve coffee maker, and a mini-fridge filled with tiny cans of juice. “Please feel free to help yourself,” said a sign. While I was pondering the irony of a dental place that gives you free cookies and juice, the hygenist came in. “Huy, welcome,” she said, “I hear you like to watch Game of Thrones? My husband and I love that show!”
The exam was surprisingly pleasant. They really make every effort to ensure you’re comfortable. Everyone was genuinely friendly. It turns out, though, that to fix my broken molar with a crown and replace several fillings would cost nearly $4,500. That’s right, five grands! “We’ll call your insurance to see how much they would cover. In the meanwhile, let’s schedule your next appointment.”
What a nice place, I left thinking. It was magical. I felt like my mouth was rinsed with unicorn tears. I couldn’t wait to come back. The next experience, however, was not as pleasant. “Huy,” said the friendly receptionist, “we called your insurance, and apparently you only have $700 in coverage a year. We used up $400 of that for your cleaning and X-rays, so you only have $300 left. How would you like to pay the balance, which is $4,100?”
WTF, I thought. Damn. My life started flashing before my eyes. There I am as a little kid in a tiny village. There I am, going to school with a bowl haircut. Ah, the lanky teenage years. I am riding my bike to Spanish 305, the wind in my hair. The ginkgo trees, they’re turning yellow; another autumn has arrived…
“Um, yeah,” I said, “there’s no way I can afford that. I am going to Vietnam this summer. I’ll just have it done there.” She stared at me with a mixture of pity and…more pity. “I’ll tell the dentist,” she said, “in the meanwhile, you should maximize your insurance.”
The dentist was not happy. A tall and stately gentleman of 50 or so, he was clearly offended by my decision. “Look,” he said, putting up a giant picture of my chipped molar on the computer screen, “your tooth is missing a corner, and this big, ugl–I mean, this big silver filling is cracked. At some point it’ll break and you’ll lose that tooth. You really shouldn’t get this done in Vietnam. They have…different techniques.”
Different techniques? Now I was getting offended. Vietnamese dentistry has advanced greatly; some places even disinfect their instruments now. At earlier points in my life, I would have lied, would not have told them that I’d go to a developing country to get my dental work done (Lasik too). But I’m getting old, and I’m starting to not care as much about what others think of my decisions. “Look, doctor,” I said, “I’d much rather have you do this crown, but I can’t afford it.”
And yet, I do care. My dentist now hates me. I will come back from Vietnam with a crown probably made out of rice or something and he’ll hate me even more. I did two fillings that day and left with a swollen face. But worse, the magic was broken. No more unicorn tears. Winter is coming. I must sadly find a new dentist.