Difficulties at the Dentist

stuffedToothbrushI waited two months to get my children an appointment with a new dentist. She is one of two who takes the Oregon Health Plan, a state-funded insurance program for kids who qualify.

We’ve really been feeling the pinch of the recession and our family, unfortunately, more than qualifies.

I was so glad that OHP includes dental coverage. It’s been a year since the kids have seen a dentist.

The appointment was for 2:20 p.m and I called around 1:00 p.m. to confirm. We arrived early. The receptionist handed me some paperwork. Included in the paperwork was a consent form. You’re supposed to put your initials by the various treatments, including “any necessary radiation” and “fluoride treatments.”

Unless there’s a problem, I don’t believe in X-raying a child’s mouth. We know that the negative affects of X-rays accumulate in a child’s body. Though the dentist (or doctor) will insist that the amount of radiation a child is exposed to in an X-ray is harmless, every time a child is exposed to X-rays you are damaging more cells and doing more harm. The effects are cumulative. So I think it’s a good policy to avoid X-rays. I skirted the issue on the forms, though, by writing I would bring them the X-rays done by their previous dentist.

I also suspect fluoride treatments are unnecessary. None of my children has ever had a cavity. Our water is not fluoridated. And they have not had any fluoride treatments, except once when James took them to the dentist and forgot to ask the hygienist not to do it.

So in the box where it asks to initial your consent, I wrote a note that I did not want fluoride treatments.

A hygienist came out to talk to me. She said fluoride was perfectly safe. She said the dentist recommended fluoride. I said I had concerns about it and asked to speak to the dentist.

Forty minutes went by. The receptionist called me over.

“The dentist insists on fluoride,” she said quietly. “She thinks you should take your children to another practice that’s more in keeping with your philosophy.”

“We’ve been waiting for a long time,” I said. I wasn’t angry but I was baffled and frustrated. “I waited two months to get this appointment. Could you see the girls today and then we’ll find a new dentist?”

The receptionist looked pained.

“I’ll try,” she said.

An hour and twenty minutes after we arrived, the hygienist and dentist looked at the girls’ teeth. The hygienist called me over to show me a better way to brush Athena’s gums. The dentist, who was examining Hesperus, did not look up.

“Could you take five minutes to talk to me about fluoride?” I asked the dentist.

She did not take her face mask off.

She did not agree to sit down with me somewhere private.

Instead, she spoke in front of her staff and in front of my kids, who were both lying on their backs with their mouths uncomfortably open.

“Fluoride does no damage whatsoever to the human body,” the dentist said. “It doesn’t cause cancer.” Here the hygienists giggled, as if the idea that fluoride might be carcinogenic was actually funny, it was so preposterous. “I believe in prevention: good diet, good hygiene, and fluoride. I will treat problems if I have to but that should be a last resort.”

“It sounds like we do agree,” I said, relieved. “I believe in prevention too. My kids eat well. They don’t drink soda and rarely have candy. And we are trying to improve our oral hygiene. Other than my concerns about fluoride, we’re on the same page.”

“We can’t see you here,” the dentist said. “I am leading the campaign to fluoridate the water. If you won’t do fluoride, I won’t treat you. Besides, the insurance you have requires it.”

I honestly don’t know as much about fluoride as I should. But does it matter whether the dentist is right that fluoride is an absolute necessity (which, since my children have no cavities, it obviously is not) or whether my cautious, I’d-prefer-not-to stance is correct? Should a dentist have the right to kick your child (or you) out of their practice because you refuse an optional treatment?


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on Wednesday, March 31st, 2010 at 10:33 am and is filed under rejecting modern medicine.
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