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Like Pulling Teeth

By Mordechai Schmutter

This week’s column is about dentists. Nothing to do with the fact that we recently ran a huge column on candy. Maybe a little.

Actually, it happens to be a good time to talk about dentists anyway, because, according to some of the dentists I’ve had, this is their busiest time of the year. Tax season.

Okay, so the real reason they’re busy—the dentists who treat frum customers, anyway—is that everyone is coming to get their teeth cleaned, because if you’re going to get something cleaned, it might as well be right before Pesach. A lot of people aren’t sure that they’re brushing correctly in the first place, and then, right after Purim, they’re like, “What on Earth did we just eat?” So they get their teeth cleaned out, professionally.

But actually, it’s time for me to go back to the dentist, at least according to all these postcards I keep getting in the mail.

I get postcards from at least three dentists, because I’m actually between dentists right now, although I don’t think any of them are aware of this. I’ve been living in New Jersey for seven years, and I’m currently on my sixth dentist. I guess technically I’m always between dentists, unless I’m in the actual chair.

I’ve always thought it’s important to find a dentist that you like, considering you’re going to spend a significant amount of time making conversation with him with his hands in your mouth.

I actually did have a dentist that I liked, and I used him for about four or five years, but then I switched insurance carriers, and he informed me that my new insurance, which costs more money, would not actually cover any of his work, though I was perfectly welcome to keep seeing him if I was willing to pay for my dental work on top of paying dental insurance. I think what I liked about him was his sense of humor.

So it turns out that we had to find a dentist that we not only liked, but who was also covered by our insurance. And I use the word “covered” very loosely, because it turns out that no dentist is really “covered” by our insurance. The only thing that’s really covered is cleanings.

Now you might think, from the way I’m talking, that I have a lousy insurance carrier, but I don’t. I’d picked one of the top carriers, and the way I knew it was one of the top insurance carriers was that I’d heard of them. But it turns out that in order to be one of the top insurance carriers, you can’t just go around giving away all your money paying for everyone’s medical procedures. The way insurance is supposed to work is that you give them money so that when you go to the doctor, they will pay the doctor money. Of course, the system of paying for money with money means that, in the end, one of you is paying more money than the other, and the insurance company did not get into this business for it to be them.

The most recent dentist that I went to is not Jewish, but came recommended as someone who “doesn’t charge as much for root canals,” which is pretty much what I’m looking for in a dentist these days. But after going to him once, I’m looking to change to another dentist, because he cares way too much about my teeth.

The first thing he did was come into the room and say, “I’m only going to be your dentist if you’re seriously committed to taking care of your teeth. Are you seriously committed to taking care of your teeth?” And I said, “Yes!” because I wasn’t sure where he was going with this. Then he said, “Are you going to do what I tell you to do with your teeth, whether or not you agree?” And I said, “Yes!” because (a) I’d already paid the co-pay, and (b) he had all the sharp implements.

Now I’m not going to deny that proper tooth care is important. But this guy made it sound like it’s the most important thing in the known universe, and it’s not. I’m not going to say, “Well, I was going to send my kids to school, but I have to get a root canal on a tooth that I didn’t even know I had.”

I originally came in to get some cavities filled, and even though I was in the chair for two hours, he did not do a single thing besides lecture me, clean my teeth, take 5,000 X‑rays (even though he could have just gotten them from one of my other dentists so they could at least be aware that I’m not seeing them anymore), and measure the distance between my gum line and all four corners of each tooth to see how close I was getting to gum disease.

This guy was obsessed with gum disease. He had a big poster on his wall of the three stages of gum disease, and if I read the poster right, things only get worse. He spent a lot of time explaining to me exactly what gum disease is, and it turns out that it’s when your teeth have eroded enough that they start growing away from your gum line and are in danger of, in his words, “popping off,” as if they’re going to fly across the room in middle of your Seder. And I have to say, gum disease is unfortunate and all, but it’s definitely not a disease. It’s not like, “We have to say Tehillim for my grandfather. He has gum disease.” If we start putting gum disease on our cholim lists, we’ll never get back to leining.

He told me that he would not work on my cavities until he’d done the root canal, because that was way more pressing, even though, try as I might, I can’t figure out what tooth he’s talking about. It’s a preventive root canal, I guess, so I would not one day need a root canal. And if he doesn’t work on the cavities, he figures that, worst comes to worst, he could always do a root canal on those later.

He also said that in the meantime, I should brush and floss no less than five times a day. I personally don’t know how I’m supposed to ever concentrate on anything when I’m supposed to keep getting up to brush my teeth. And I have to use a specific brand of mouthwash—Listerine—which tastes like a combination of mint and gasoline.

He also wanted me to get a very specific brand of electric toothbrush, though I’m not sure if he wanted me to use it as part of the five times or on top of the five times. And he said I should bring the electric toothbrush back the next time so he can show me how to use it, because apparently he doesn’t trust the written instructions either.

To be fair, the instructions do leave things out. For example, they don’t say that you shouldn’t turn on the toothbrush before putting it in your mouth unless you want toothpaste all over the walls. Maybe that’s what he wanted to show me.

He then told me that I would have to come back to him for cleanings every three months, even though my insurance only covers every six months.

So now it’s been six months, and I still haven’t gone back to him, although I really should go to someone, because these cavities aren’t filling themselves, and I’ve been getting cards from him, as well as from several other dentists, but there’s no way I’m going back to him just so he can find out that I’ve been using the electric toothbrush without his instruction. v

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of three books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.

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Posted by on March 6, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.