Monday, March 27, 2006

Sometimes, the stereotypes are true

So, under the guise of “doing fieldwork,” I’m going back to Seattle in May to visit the dentist.

Okay, so I actually am doing fieldwork, too, for which I need about a thousand vaccinations (more on that later), but the significant bonus is that I get to visit a dentist.

I’m really not kidding.

If there’s one stereotype that’s true here (and there may be many), it’s the poor condition of anything pertaining to dentistry. You see, the health care system here doesn’t require that dentists practice under the NHS (National Health System). Instead, dentists can choose to be NHS dentists, or they can go into private practice. You have one guess as to which pays lucratively, and which offers the reward of feeling satisfied at the end of the day because you’ve fixed people’s teeth for little monetary compensation. But hey, you get to be an NHS dentist!

Consequently, because citizens have to pay out of pocket for private dentists unless they have expensive private healthcare plans, NHS dentists are in hot demand. As in, they are overbooked to the point where one friend recalls an episode where people lined up the night before a new practice opened, just to see if they could get on the clinic’s patient list before it filled. Most students here stay with their family dentists as long as they can, even if that means taking six-hour train rides to have their teeth cleaned. It is that hard to find a dentist here.

As you may imagine, this puts international students in an interesting spot. Most of us can’t hop on the next overnight flight home if we develop a toothache, yet every person I know was warned by our various colleges “not to waste our time” trying to sign up with an NHS dentist (we’re all covered by NHS here), because it would take months to be seen by one. One of my husband’s friends at Oxford didn’t really believe this and decided to make an appointment. In husband’s presence, he dialed the local dentist’s number. The conversation apparently went something like this:

“Hi, I’d like to make an appointment for a cleaning…No, I’m an international student…uh-huh…uh-huh…really?...oh…Are you sure it would take that long?...Is there anyone else I can call? Really? No? Um…”

The friend wound up flying to Poland to have his check-up, something that I thought seemed a little extreme until I mentioned it to my British classmates, all of whom began exclaiming, “Oh yeah, yeah, that’s a great way to go! Poland has lovely dentists, and they’re so cheap!” Who knew about the booming Polish dentist industry?

Meanwhile, one of my friends, who’s plagued by bad teeth, cracked a molar last month and knew she probably needed a root canal. She called her dentist at home and received an over-the-phone diagnosis (they know her well). She then called the local dentist here and explained the emergency. They listened calmly and then replied that they could definitely work her into the schedule. Of course, she’d need to come in for a consultation first…would sometime around the end of April work? Then, she could come in for the root canal in early summer?

By this point, my friend is in agony, and the prospect of waiting two months to be told that she’s in agony doesn’t appeal. So, what’s a girl to do? At first she, too, thought about applying to a geography conference in the United States so she could swing by her hometown and have her tooth fixed, but instead she opted for two flights to Ireland for the procedures. She’s now spent two weekends in Ireland to have a small country dentist fix her tooth.

It doesn't help that my teeth seem to have instinctively picked up on the generally poor state of oral hygeine here and seem hell-bent on trying to fit in with the crowd. I've never had tea stains in my life, but there's a telltale line showing up on the edges of my teeth that I can see if I squint in the mirror. I'm taking better care of my mouth than I ever have after being warned by a dentist, "Whatever you do, don't get anything fixed in England. Lie, tell them your parents want to pay for it, suck on an ice cube if it hurts, but just don't get it fixed there." Yet, despite all of the flossing, brushing, scraping and Listerine-ing, my teeth are being swayed by peer pressure. Consequently, when I knew I could a) go straight to California for my fieldwork or b) spend the same amount of money on a flight to Seattle first and visit the dentist, I choose option b. This might seem a little extreme...but try spending a night in a pub here looking at other peoples' mouths as they laugh, and then tell me you wouldn't hop on the first flight home, too.


kristy said...

Funny, I've been lamenting how difficult it's been to find a new dentist here in Washington State after my regular dentist made it clear last summer that he deserved to be fired. It's torture finding someone who's taking patients! In fact, I have an appointment with the same old guy tomorrow (after an extended prayer vigil tonight). Good luck!

Meg said...

Ugh, bummer! I know a great guy in Seattle who may take patients because he has two practices (one downtown and one in Renton)...let me know if you want his number. Good luck today!

Tucker said...

I am not sure if Bryan was aware of this but our family's dentist was killed in car accident about a month ago. He was in the process of training a new guy to take over his business because he was about to retire so at least we still have someone to go to. Still it is sad because he was a nice man and our mom had his kids at the high school. It is also unfortunate that his daughter, who was in the car with him, has been in a really bad coma since the accident and it is more than likely that she will never awake from it.