where, oh where, is a good dentist? how do I find one?

dentistYou knew it was coming. I don’t get all lovey-dovey about docs for long. So here it is, the consumer-interest dentist story. In our grossly capitalistic medical system, where money is more important than people, somehow we’ve forgotten that we are consumers as well as patients. Are we ever right? Or have we given our rights up entirely to the bizarrely god-like status of american doctors? Some of these characters need to be questioned.

Overheard on the street tonight, just after I started writing this. Two very skinny UWS women talking to each other about plans:

Women 1: Well, Anna has a dentist appointment that morning which I totally forgot.

Women 2: Oh yes, who do you see?…oh yes. No, I haven’t been. They say every six months, but really, I’m a once-a-year girl myself.

Women 1: Well, you know, I could try to change the appointment, but, well, I have this thing about…

Women 2: Oh heavens no, I understand…

Every six months indeed. What a racket. I won’t admit how long it’s been since I’d seen a dentist because I’m sure my health degree would be yanked away by some wrathful authority. It is a double-digit multiple of 6 months, though. Why? At first, no insurance. Then I couldn’t find a decent one who took my insurance then—I just never got around to it. Busy with many other things. Look, I brush. I floss. I gargle. And thank heavens, it’s paid off. Yes, I have a dodgy-looking front tooth from a childhood incident when a kid jumped on, instead of over, my head at Maca Pool, poorly fixed with a pin by my childhood ghetto dentist. It’s strong though, and the root is alive and healthy. I’ve always considered getting it fixed, when I had the money (which always seems better spent on other things, quite frankly, though I know many don’t agree).

Alas. I have dental insurance now and it was high time to get a checkup. I asked everyone I knew, then everyone with my insurance, if they could recommend someone. With the exception of a guy out in Queens, no one could. So, I consulted my health insurer’s website and found a place on 125th Street. I made an appointment for my lunch break the following week. I showed up on time, and waited 45 minutes. The place was a circus and I sat wedged between a water cooler and the bathroom. Luckily, I had my book.

After 45 minutes, I asked the receptionist, who was very kind given the stress of her position, how long it would be because I had to go back to work. She checked, and asked if I could wait just 10 more minutes, which we all know means at least 25. I said no, and left. I waited a day or two, and after momentarily considering a trip out to Queens, logged into my insurer’s site again. I found a place fairly close that I’d avoided before because of the name, “Dental Passion.” Oh dear. It reminded me of some unfortunate experience my mother had with a dentist when she was young and under the influence of laughing gas. To be brief, he behaved inappropriately.

Nevermind, it was close. I went early, this time, and was assured on the phone that I wouldn’t have to wait. This was true. I was the only person there. The tech was to first give me x-rays, but I didn’t want them. So the very young dentist came in and talked me into them. Full mouth. It’s been a long time. Less radiation than daylight.

toothKnowing I might not see a dentist again for awhile, I agreed. The tech was very sweet. She had me bite on a huge square thing that cut my lower mouth and was extremely painful. After about three, the computer froze and stopped processing the images. She had to retake them over and over, and it became more and more painful. The dentist wasn’t sure why it didn’t work. Neither did the receptionist. They explained to me that she was taking over a previous dentist’s business. He’d retired. They were setting up a newer, faster, more efficient x-ray system. It wouldn’t hurt as much, the tech explained.


I’ve no idea how many attempts at the x-rays had been made at this point. Surely over ten. This is when the tech decided to put the lead vest on me. Not at the beginning, but now, way in. Didn’t I say I didn’t want x-rays because of radiation? Wow.

Ten or so attempts later, they all gave up. They’ll give me a call when the new system is in. So the dentist got on with the cleaning.

Maybe a minute into the cleaning, my chair starting moving. Up. Then down. The dentist didn’t know how to stop it. Nor did the tech. At this point I thought I was trapped in an SNL skit. I laughed, but I was annoyed. The chair was still moving to and fro. The receptionist, who’d been there with the previous dentist and so knew a thing or two (especially about insurance) came and unplugged the chair. I was told we had to move to a different room. The tech helped me up. The chair stopped with me in a backbend, my head closer to the floor than my feet. As my head lifted away from the chair, at least 25 hairs were pulled out, tangled in the metal bars of the headrest.


The other room was much less dramatic. I got my cleaning and was told I have 3 cavities, perhaps more, and might need a root canal. She wouldn’t know for sure until after the x-rays. I thought this very strange, as I’m in no pain. Hmm, I thought. I told her in the beginning that I’m into what she termed, “less aggressive treatment.”

I went out to pay a co-pay, but was told by the receptionist that my insurance covers up to $3,000 of dental work a year. She looked at the dentist and said, “They’ll pay for everything. Let’s schedule those fillings now.”

I reiterated that I’m into less aggressive treatment and suggested we wait until the new x-ray system was in, especially as my calendar was at my desk at work. I asked her, for future reference, how much the treatment would be without insurance. First time visit, $125. Cleaning, $75. X-rays, $225. (These are approximate, from what I remember after all this. These prices are an important reference for the next post.) My insurance wouldn’t be billed for the x-rays, as they were far from complete. She told me about dentalsave, which is dental insurance anyone can buy, which seems a good deal, especially if you’re a every-six-months kind of girl. Not that I advocate extra insurance.

I left. During that visit, I was the only person in the office. Nary another patient.

I told my boss the story and he found it odd the retiring dentist hadn’t referred his patients on. Two weeks later, I received a letter at home from that retiree, who I’d never seen in my life, recommending a third dentist (also unknown to me) to his beloved patients, whom he will miss dearly.

After a few days to recoup (I swear I couldn’t sleep well after all the radiation), and a more serious consideration of the trip out to Queens, I logged back into my health insurers website. Story of the third, x-rayed, cavity-free visit to come.

2 thoughts on “where, oh where, is a good dentist? how do I find one?

  1. Wow that sounds horrible. My uncle is a dentist, and I guess I’ve always taken for granted how amazing it is that I always have free dental care from a good, reliable dentist. He’s not in the city, unfortunately, and that makes it a bit difficult to see him. But once a year (I also think every 6 months is too much :)) I make it a priority to see him when I’m home for a longer vacation. The only time I’ve really had to wait a while was the day after a big snow storm. Do you remember my friend BethAnn? She’s working as a dental assistant right now in the city and anytime she talks about work she mentions how horrible the office is and how she doesn’t know how anyone finds a good dentist in the city. And both her parents are dentists, so she would know.

  2. You, Shoshana, are very lucky. Perhaps I should trek out to Philly before I leave. 😉

    As an update, in June, I got a bill from Dental Passion for $14 that my insurance didn’t cover. Ok, only $14, but they did charge for the x-rays, and I was explicitly told that because of the hideous experience, I would not be charged for them, especially as they were not able to use them. And I was told everything would be covered by my insurance. I didn’t call and complain because my time and peace of mind are worth more than the frustration and $14. I still hate, on principle, that I paid them anything though.

    Further, the card included with the bill was for “Robert Shick DMD,” who was neither the woman I saw, or the man with the previous practice at Dental Passion.


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