Teeth, that is.
I grew up in a country where fluoride in water was not the norm. Also, I have to admit my primary family probably did not instill very good oral hygiene habits. I ended up losing a couple of permanent teeth as a preteen or early teenager to decay. By the time I was out of my teens, I had realized on my own that I should be doing much more for my teeth, I learned what I could, and adopted better preventative practices. The dentists I saw were not warm or fuzzy, but rather unpleasant, brutish, and condescending (as were the medical doctors where I grew up). I didn’t know there was such a thing as teeth cleaning until I came to the US; none was ever offered to me by any of the dentists I saw. I don’t think it was even part of the practice back then, I am not sure if it is now.
When I came to the US as a graduate student on crappy bare-bones covers-nothing insurance, not even getting cleaning or X-rays were covered and were thus very expensive out-of-pocket expenses. Since I’ve had a proper job, I have been extremely vigilant about my teeth and the teeth of my kids. As a result, while I don’t have the perfect American teeth, they are in decent shape, especially considering their initial condition. I am lucky that my teeth are nice and straight (no braces); I also have all of my wisdom teeth.
My vigilance extends to the teeth care of my kids, who brush and floss religiously, and I am proud to report that none of them have ever had any cavities. Eldest will be 15 in couple of months; by that age I had already lost a couple of molars to decay, which is a real shame.
While dental care is in principle phenomenal in the US, the costs are exorbitant and not as accessible as it could or should be. I must say that I really dislike US dentists as a profession, but for different reasons than those from my ancestral home country. Sure, American dentists (and I saw dentists in 3 states) are pleasant and polished, if hurried. What I hate is that they all seem like ruthless deceitful sharks the moment we discuss anything other than routine cleaning, pushing costly and perhaps unnecessary procedures that help line the pockets of their specialist brethren.
Here’s an example. When Eldest was little, maybe 7 or 8, the dentist said he had too much room in his mouth for all the teeth so he would have to go to have his jaw surgically treated to reduce space. Husband and I thought that was stupid and didn’t do anything.
It’s years later, Eldest grew and is probably nearing his final height and head size. Now that same dentist says that his wisdom teeth don’t have enough room (see the irony of supposedly having had a too-wide-a-jaw previously), that the bottom ones are impacted and need to be taken out.
I am no dentist, but I looked at the X-ray and it looks the top ones will be out fine, and the bottom ones seem like they are not terribly impacted, the teeth are not completely formed, and he is still growing.
When Eldest had his latest X-rays (why once a year? All those X-rays seem really unnecessary), then there was half-an-hour of relentless propaganda between the dentist and even more the hygenist who worked on Eldest, about how 98% of all kids have their wisdom teeth removed, how everyone’s doing it, when you don’t have wisdom teeth then there are no issues with cleaning them that far in the back, they are prone to decay so you need to be out with them. Of course, conveniently across the parking lot is a dental surgery center.
Am I the only one who thinks this is idiotic, doing surgery to pull out the teeth of a not-yet 15-year-old while they are still in the bone? I did some research, and while the recommendations seem to be more along the lines of leave them alone in Europe, the US practice is to preventatively take them out. I generally believe strongly that getting rid of body parts without a good reason (a good reason being that they are diseased, causing pain, endangering well-being) is just wrong. Why don’t we just cut out everyone’s appendix? [Yes, I am also very strongly against circumcision. People in the US sure circumcise their boys supposedly to help prevent urinary infections, but that’s bull$hit for any developed nation (continental Europe rarely circumcises), and for most people the real reason is tradition more than anything else (either religion or the simple “dad is circumcised, so the son should be too”).]
Oral surgery is serious surgery, I cannot believe it’s a good idea to do routinely. The problem is that I don’t trust my dentist’s recommendation, but it’s not like any other general dentists I have ever seen in the US have been trustworthy. I always feel they are trying to pull a fast one. Several times, this happened to my husband “All is fine, (6 mo later) all is fine, (6 mo later) all is fine, (6 mo later) oops we need a root canal here, and since you have a root canal the tooth is brittle so we better do a crown too.” And you are out a few thousand dollars and thinking WTF, why didn’t they catch it sooner before it became so bad to need a root canal? What’s the point of these 6-month visits and stupid goddamn X-rays all the time?
Based on my experience, general dentists definitely seem to be a little to happy to lean towards the costly procedures. Similarly, I have no doubt oral surgeons advocate for routine removal of wisdom teeth from every human, because that’s a steady revenue stream.
So how do I get an opinion on my son’s wisdom teeth from someone who is not just looking to rip me off or enable their colleague across the parking lot to rip me off?
What do you say, my American readers? Do you have your wisdom teeth? How about your kids? Do you regret keeping them/taking them out? What made you decide one way or another (for yourselves or your kids)?