How the pandemic has impacted dentists

In the U.S., it’s not uncommon to hear about people griping about their dentists — the out-of-pocket costs for this, the pain from that; why so many recommended procedures? Is this suggested treatment really necessary? And it’s all with some warranted suspicion: dentists are known in the U.S. to try to get every last dollar out of their patients and their dental insurance plans as possible. That’s why some even force you to get X-Rays or CT scans just to get a basic dental cleaning; hey, that’s another line item to bill your insurance for, so why not “require” it?

It’s easy to not feel sorry for them during the pandemic, as it’s pretty likely your dentist has been screwing you (and/or your dental insurance) for as long as they could. But today, for a moment, I actually did: after about 9 months of not seeing my dentist, I texted them a week ago to see if they were open now and if I could come in for a cleaning and to get a new mouth guard. They called me, explaining that their Manhattan office actually had to close, as they could not renew their lease under the current circumstances, and once the city had opened more, they would then look into a new Manhattan lease. In the meantime, they were operating out of their Yonkers dental office, which they own, and so they asked if I could come see them there. They would even pick me up and drop me back off at the train station! I hesitated, thinking about how atrocious it would be to find a new dentist who would probably force me into treatments I didn’t need or convince me I needed jaw surgery, another coat of braces, or even root canals…. fine. I’d go. So I went today and made a half-day trip of it.

For months, no dental office could operate here. They received warnings that randomized inspections would occur, and if they were caught working, their license to operate could be permanently taken away. And when they received word of “essential” treatments they could operate for, it was a very narrow list that was extremely restrictive: gum bleeding, multiple abscesses (yes, multiple, not just one!), implant replacement for rupture (not usually done by a regular dentist), and emergency oral surgery (they’re dentists, not oral surgeons). Nothing else. Wait, what – that’s it? That explains why my colleague told me that she chipped her tooth about a month ago, and when she called her dentist, the dentist said she couldn’t see her because repairing a chipped tooth wasn’t “essential service.”

I felt bad.. for my colleague, the dentists, the dental industry in general, as weird as that sounds. If no patient visits happen, they don’t see any money at all. No money means no income, which means nothing to pay rent with other than savings, so it’s no wonder they shut down their Manhattan operation. The Manhattan office was actually shared by other dentists, and those dentists also did not renew their leases, either. And what’s worse is that the entire building they were operating in had shut down during quarantine, so the landlord shut down all gas and electricity! My dentist even said that many of the labs he relied on shut down operation completely, so even something like a mouth guard or X-rays could not be created or processed. He ended up buying his own machine during this time since mouth guards are in high demand, and I waited to have mine made, finished, and fitted.

Everyone was hit by the pandemic, even those who we think have glitzy lives and endless money coming in.

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