Like the vast majority of the population, I hate going to the dentist. Hate it, hate it, hate it. My mother, ever diligent, regularly took us to the dentist throughout our childhoods and I dreaded it every time. Because as I was lowered backwards in the chair, by a man whose questionable breath was a testament to his own lack of dental hygiene, I always knew what was coming. He would poke around in my mouth with one of those awful pointy tools and inevitably call out at least one filling which needed to be done. I cried every time.
You would have thought that regular dentist visits would mitigate the need for ever more fillings but it seems that genetics, a lack of fluoride in the water and yes, I’ll say it, my fairly strong attraction to sweet, sweet sugar has meant that whatever dentist I happen to be going to, can be well assured of being able to cover the first class fare for a European holiday that year.
After I left home I avoided the dentist for a long time. It felt like freedom. Until of course, that awful tooth aching feeling emerged and I knew I had no choice but to go. Nightmare. When I scraped up enough money to travel to England in my early 20’s, I used the local dental hospitals when things got too painful and when I landed a temp job which had a dental plan attached to it, I used that for a while too because it only cost me 25 quid a visit and the dentist didn’t scrimp on the lidocaine. I digress but has anyone ever said an injection didn’t hurt because of that useless numbing gel they put on your gum first? I highly doubt it.
Anyway, last week I bit into something and felt one of my back teeth wobble. After gingerly feeling around with my tongue I realized one of my older fillings had broken. That sinking feeling took over and with heavy heart, I set off to the dentist on Saturday. I wasn’t feeling well and was hoping it would be quick patch up job but alas, it was not to be. The dentist said it was a big filling, would have to be replaced and oh, she had some new extra strength numbing juice and did I want that? Yes please said I. So she proceeded to insert a very long needle into the softest part of the back of my mouth. It didn’t “sting a bit”, it really hurt. Then a seering pain erupted in my ear. Tears streamed down my cheeks and I felt like an idiot (I’m supposed to be a grown up for heaven’s sake). An idiot in pain but an idiot nonetheless.
The procedure took an hour, I had to have four injections into my gum plus additional injections directly into my inflamed tooth because the bastard nerve was exposed and I have a very low threshold for pain. I can admit this., I see no heroics in putting up with pain. I had epidurals when my labour pain got too bad but I can honestly say I would rather give birth to 10 pound triplets with no pain relief than to have an exposed nerve in my tooth even slightly touched. Oh my god.
When I finally shuffled out, mouth swollen to Jolie size, I was hit with a whopping $300 fee. Thankfully I have dental cover and this meant I only paid about half of that. Which is still equivalent to my weekly grocery bill. And this got me thinking, yet again of the appalling state of dental cover in this country. The so-called lucky country where we should have a system where an essential service is accessible to all but where people wrench their own rotting teeth from their heads with pliers because they can’t afford to pay for treatment and the waiting lists at public dentists go on for years. I am lucky. Yes it was a huge chunk of my weekly budget and no I can’t afford to get anything else done for a month or two. But at least I can both pay my health insurance premiums and cover the gap so that I am not writhing in pain for the next however long, chewing through pain killers which will eventually send me into kidney failure.
In this election year, I really hope something is done to make dental care accessible to all. So that people don’t have to put up with excruciating pain and so that a person’s socio-economic status can’t be judged by decay in their mouth. Surely, in a country as rich as Australia, being able to afford a trip to the dentist is a basic human right.
Something to chew on…