Thursday, April 16, 2015

The British Dentist Experience


It took me roughly two years to muster up the initiative to visit a dentist here in the UK. I don't know what took so long; I probably had unfounded fears about the quality of this country's dentistry.

There's a well-known stereotype that British people have less-than-perfect teeth. Is it true? Partially. The average Briton's teeth are not likely to be as straight or polished as the average American's.

There are a few reasons for this. First off, British people don't care as much about it. It isn't a status symbol to have perfect teeth (nor the opposite), so it becomes a lesser priority. You don't see nearly as many kids with braces in the UK as you do in America.

I have a theory that it also has something to do with the amount of tea people drink and its cumulative staining effects, mainly from the number of times I've seen stains on the inside of teacups.

But to understand a large element of it, you have to think of dental care in the context of the rest of the healthcare system. Brits are accustomed to the NHS, where from childbirth to routine exams to all kinds of surgery, there aren't any out of pocket expenses. I had a minor operation on my eye last year and was astounded how I didn't have to pay a penny for it (NHS taxes notwithstanding).

But dental care largely falls outside of the realm of the NHS. As a Guardian article from several years ago put it,
In Britain today, you can stuff yourself on deep-friend Mars Bars, drink 20 pints a night, inject yourself with heroin, smoke 60 cigarettes a day or decide to change your sex - and the NHS has an obligation to treat you. You might go on a waiting list, but it will do its best to cure your lung cancer, patch up your nose after a drunken brawl or give you a hip replacement. It doesn't charge for operations or beds; it may even throw in some half-edible food. 
But if you have bad teeth, forget it. You may be rolling on the bathroom floor in agony with an abscess, your gums may be riddled with disease, or people may recoil at the sight of your fangs as you walk down the street, but the NHS doesn't have to help you.
To see a dentist, you likely have to pay out of pocket to visit a private practice, which is against the normal habits of Brits with regards to healthcare. Therefore it's not something that many people make a priority to do.

On my way home from work one day, I walked by a private dentist office with a sign out front advertising a 'scale and polish.' I looked it up online and saw it was synonymous with a routine cleaning, so I made an appointment.

A few differences to note: The dentist didn't do x-rays because after a cursory glance, "there was no need." Fine by me. Next, instead of removing plaque with a metal scraper, he fitted me with safety goggles and used an electric scaler. 

This sounded and felt like a drill, so I was a bit uneasy at first. It's a device that uses rapid vibrations to remove stains while simultaneously spraying a mist.

After a polish, there was no flossing, and I was done within about 25 minutes. Altogether I was very satisfied with the experience, and the total cost of £75 seemed reasonable to me.