I’m losing faith in dentists.
Aside from never being able to get my patients with crummy insurance to in to see dentists, my growing distrust was heightened the other day when I myself went to my local toother-dude for a cleaning. It would be better described as a sales seminar.
The hygienist tells me she is going to poke my gum line in three places, giving a number to denote the health of the gum as she goes. “Anything 4 or above we’ll have to talk about. N’kay?” She says briskly and a little too brightly.
She then proceeds to take her hook needle-thing and poke the gum at one edge of the tooth, then the middle, then at the other edge of the tooth. If you like the idea of being nailed to a wall with thumbtacks, then I can say with some confidence that you’ll appreciate this exam.
Just before the spearing commences, I’m thinking, “I got this. No problem. We’re good if there’s 1’s, 2’s and even 3’s. C’mon, gums, step it up. Do me proud. I brush you almost every night.”
The hygenist perkily launches in, “four, four, five, five, two, four, six, six, four, five, five, four, five, five, six, SIX!, SIX….”
My “gum” score, clearly, wasn’t going to win any golf tournaments.
Here’s my problem: From my dismal performance under the spear-hook, the hygienist pivots deftly into a winning performance about the Sonicare toothbrush, available around town, she guesses, but ALSO RIGHT HERE IN OUR OFFICE.
This phenomenal testament to tool-using, opposable-thumb evolutionary Homo Sapien wonder will put those 4’s and 5’s (and SIXES, Good LORD!) right back into the respectable realms of 2’s and 3’s well before you’re evicted from your Homeowner’s Association.
Somehow, this lady’s urgency was a bit too cloying to feel genuine.
Suddenly, I was not only feeling rather sardonic about the “quick trip” speed mode (for those running-out-the-door moments) of the latest Sonicare – the Nimbus 2000 of toothbrushes – but I was starting to doubt all those 4’s, 5’s and 6’s too.
Judging by her elated demonstration of her toothbrush to solve all my ills – her solution to our global financial crisis would probably involve the electronic toothbrush – I’m pretty sure my high score would directly benefit our illustrious dental hygienist and her employer. Said employer, by the way, was El Dentisto, who used part of his 2.75 minutes with me to also promote the freaking Brush of the Millenium.
I don’t need to spend the average yearly income of a native Paupan on an electronic toothbrush, of course. It’s really just a question of whether or not I want my face to rot off. My choice. Entirely. Total freedom.
I’ve occasionally lamented the No Free Lunch movement, which insists that drug reps quit bringing me free lunches and coffees from cool restaurants all over town. I’ve at times accused the whole movement of arm-chair ethics. I would never prescribe certain more expensive drugs just because I’m getting a MoooLatte out of the deal, right?
And anyway, I like free coffee, dammit. Why’d they get rid of all the perks (no pun intended) just as I’m arriving on the scene?
But the problem was pretty stark as I sat in that dental chair, thinking about my 3 patients who currently need very basic dental care and aren’t getting any. They go months or years with festering abscesses, and here I am being told in authoritarian low-register voice tones that my mouth was turning into a cesspool of decay. Lucky for me, one really really really good way to halt the horror was a toothbrush conveniently sitting in full view on a counter behind my earnest and – was it gleeful? – dental professional.
If the process isn’t outright coercive, it’s certainly manipulative.
Truth is, health care providers really shouldn’t sell stuff out of their offices. They just shouldn’t. It’s impossible to exercise unbiased judgment when certain decisions about a person’s health directly benefits the provider.
These Wal-Mart doctors are no different than corrupt televangelists sweating into powerful sound systems and using Biblical authority to make money. The white coat carries similar clout. “Buy this, or you’ll die,” is the implicit message, and it isn’t just wrong, it’s evil.
Doctors make enough money. Lord knows, so do dentists.
I did manage to claw myself out of there without Toothbrush Extraordinaire. Somehow, standing my ground was worth the black hole of pus I’ll one day have for a face. We all make our choices.