I must admit, with a tinge of embarrassment, that my dental care is supplied, not by our beloved NHS but by a private dentist, courtesy of Denplan. The reason for this is that some years ago I suffered a sudden severe bout of toothache and visited several NHS dentists in search of alleviation and cure. None of these dentists was able to diagnose the problem and all suggested I “…go home, take a couple of paracetamol and come back if the pain persists” – hardly a helpful response as the pain had already persisted for several days.
In desperation, I phoned a dentist I had used years ago but who had since abandoned the NHS and set up a private practice in the West End. He was sympathetic but couldn’t see me as he was about to depart on holiday and was only in the surgery tidying up. He did, however, recommend another private dentist near where I lived. I rang the number and was given an immediate appointment.
Used to the NHS, I was agreeably surprised by the surgery. The waiting room was clean and comfortable and contained a little igloo playroom for children. Instead of being full to bursting point, it was quiet because the well-scheduled patients arrived at intervals and were called into the consulting room after a few minutes’ wait.
When it was my turn, I entered the consulting room in a sceptical frame of mind, expecting the usual quick non-diagnosis followed by advice to take two paracetamol and by a bill for £50.
What actually happened was that I was invited to sit in the famous reclining chair while the dentist sat down near me on a stool and engaged me in conversation. Through the haze of pain I realized that he was trying to calm me down while eliciting a few basic facts about my problem. This made an agreeable change from the NHS dentists who usually couldn’t get rid of me quick enough. When eventually he proceeded to examine me, he said “Tell me how this feels” and tapped a tooth. I nearly jumped out of the chair. He smiled and said that I had a dying root that needed to be killed.
I enquired, rather acerbically, why the NHS dentists had not been able to diagnose the problem that he had detected so quickly. “Did they tap your tooth?” he enquired with a smile. “No,” I admitted. “Well, there you have it,” he said. He didn’t add a Reggie Perrinesque “I didn’t get where I am today by not tapping people’s teeth” but he might as well have done.
Over the next few days he drilled away at my tooth and the pain subsided. I felt relief – both physical and emotional – wash over me and expressed my gratitude in almost embarrassingly fulsome terms. In fact, I was so relieved and grateful that I could not contemplate returning to the old appointment-in-six-months-if-you’re-lucky, in-and-out-in-five-minutes NHS dentistry. I signed up for Denplan and have been going to this dentist ever since.
There is only one fly in the ointment. I had not been to see a dentist for several years and was not surprised when I was told, in slightly pained tones, that I needed the ministrations of the hygienist. No one likes having his teeth scraped but I was willing to go along with it because I do like clean teeth and hate the idea of being thought unhygienic. Nor was I unduly surprised when the hygienist, a pleasant and, as far as I could tell, competent, young lady, after toiling for some time over my molars informed me that I would need another session to complete the work. This was done and I thought I was ready to flash my sparkling ivories at a dull world for several months to come. I was disappointed: “See you in three months, then!” chirped the hygienist brightly. And thus was the pattern set.
After a while, I did begin to feel a little resentful. I don’t smoke, I clean my teeth regularly and I can whistle through my teeth. Why, then, do I need to visit the hygienist so often? When I put this to the dentist during one of our regular check-up sessions he said with a vague smile “Well, you’re paying the money so you might as well get the benefit”. I must admit that I felt a shadow on suspicion fall over the proceedings. After all, I assume that the dentist receives remuneration from Denplan every time I go for a check-up or a session with the hygienist so the more often I go, the more money he receives. Could my frequent invitations to sit in the chair and have my teeth scraped have anything to do with keeping up his cash flow?
Not that I am suggesting he is doing anything improper. Maybe it is a good thing to have your teeth cleaned regularly and, if so, the labourer is worthy of his hire. On the other hand, I don’t want to be inconvenienced more than is strictly necessary.
Since moving, I haven’t visited the dentist or the hygienist. I did tell them my new address but I haven’t received any letters or cards suggesting an appointment. I am still paying my Denplan subscriptions (which go up every year) but the money is wasted at the moment. Perhaps I should make an appointment – after all it’s better to discover problems as early as possible rather than wait until floored by pain – and tell them plainly that I will visit the hygienist only once every six months, not every three months.
What do you dental cognoscenti think the frequency of hygienist sessions should be?