Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Back from the Dentist

Now that my annual income, thanks to SAFER and the Canada Pension Plan, has jumped 40 percent - from $7,200 to $10,0001 -, I made an appointment for a consult with the dentist just around the corner from me. He and another dentist were recommended to me by my doctor's office.

It was a toss-up which dentist to choose. I went with Dr. Tom Roozendaal - who I will, from this point forward, affectionately refer to as Dr. Tom.

Had my first visit to a dentist in ten years been as traumatic as I'd been expecting, I'd have given Dr. Tom a different moniker. As it turned out, there was nothing to fear.

Patients are made welcome and comfortable the minute they enter Dr. Tom's office. They are offered a coffee, which I was assured Dr. Tom didn't mind - I hesitated at first, concerned about stinky breath. The reception room has a water wall that makes a pleasant, relaxing sound. A large Samsung screen to the right of the water wall and just below the ceiling displays photos of restful landscapes. Everyone in the office is friendly, relaxed and welcoming.

Patients are not kept waiting; at least I wasn't.

On to the inner chambers.

I was immediately made comfortable in Dr. Tom's dental chair, with extra aids to ease my back. (By the end of the visit, I didn't want to move and could easily have fallen asleep, almost free from pain.) Soon after, Dr. Tom came in. He was easy-going and within minutes had me feeling relaxed, which surprised the heck out of me. He asked all the right questions, plus more I wasn't expecting; was extremely knowledgeable - I could see why he finished first-place at dental school and received the College of Dental Surgeons of British Columbia’s Gold Medal (naturally, I'd checked him out beforehand); did a thorough examination, never once poking an instrument near a sensitive spot; and limited the consult and his recommendations to my budget, having been made aware of my financial situation.

Prior to help from SAFER and the CPP, dental care over the past ten years had been out of the question.

Still, help from those programs or not, dental care is expensive.

Given the passage of time, I'd lost a filling and chipped two teeth, one being the same tooth whose filling came out. I feared more damage, although I'd tried my darndest to maintain good hygiene over the years.

Dr. Tom's verdict:
two fillings (over two visits) to fix those teeth, one filling of the regular type, the other a white filling; and a visit to the hygienist.

That's it.

Of course, had I the money, I'd get two caps instead of two fillings. As Dr. Tom explained to me and would have recommended had I been able to afford it, caps would have preserved those teeth considerably longer.

But who, on $10,000 per year, can afford $1,200 - per cap?

The estimated cost of the four visits, including today's consult, is $672, plus or minus a few dollars depending on what the hygienist does.

For the preservation of what teeth I have left - am missing three molars - I think that's a good deal.

Thank you, Dr. Tom, for making my first dental visit in a decade such a good one.


Those chipped teeth and lost filling tell a larger story, one about poverty and its direct effect on dental health.

Dr. Tom said that chipped teeth are almost always caused by teeth grinding. He asked if I ever grind my teeth, either during the day or at night.

Let's just say that it's rare I wake up in the morning without fists clenched and jaw clamped tight.

Living at the bottom of the poverty well causes severe, unrelenting stress. The result of such stress has a direct effect on health, dental and otherwise. In the former case, poverty predisposes one to poor dental health, regardless of how well one maintains one's oral hygiene.

1My savings have never been much, although people of higher income could learn a lot about saving from those of us surviving on much less. On an employment income of only $12,500 per year, I saved $5,000 annually.

As the years have gone by, without my being able to find employment that could accommodate my disabilities and with interest rates punishingly low for people who save rather than go into debt, my savings have rapidly diminished. Originally living on $8,000 per year, my annual withdrawal from savings went down to $7,200 - as costs continued to go up.

Since I can't go on BC's disability assistance for reasons I've explained elsewhere, without both SAFER and the CPP I'd have been homeless within another 18 months.

ETA: See follow-ups here and here.

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