Toothache is a pain. Having a root canal and crown that costs $4000 in Singapore is heartache, especially since dental insurance here is too expensive to be worthwhile. I grind my teeth and have successfully cracked all 3 of my back teeth so it was no surprise then when the dentist took a quick look at my tooth with a UV light and declared that yet another tooth had fallen victim to my disregard for relaxation. I had ground it down and cracked it very badly. Yes, it was as painful as it sounds.
“Help me doctor, I’m in pain, how do I fix this?”
“The same way we’ve fixed all the others – root canal and a gold crown. Let’s fix up an appointment to have this done soon because I’m on leave for three weeks next month.” He looked so sympathetic and understood how uncomfortable it all was for me, but there was no other way to stop the pain. I liked him, he had time for me, we laughed together. Yet, something about this visit bothered me. My dentist, at a very reputable and popular expat style clinic, spent very little time looking at my tooth and a lot of time explaining why I should have a root canal plus a crown. But what do I know about teeth? I’m not a dentist.
But I’m also not a fool. Even though I’d been down this road before, I wanted to get a second opinion, just to be sure. The next dentist I saw was very reluctant to contradict a fellow practitioner. Although she couldn’t find any crack in my tooth, she strongly recommended a root canal to solve the pain and I was booked in for the very next day for emergency treatment. OK, so I needed a root canal and a crown but there’s no crack in the tooth, so why is it hurting? I asked this question directly and her answer was, “That just happens sometimes, the nerves get sensitive.”
I was now in pain and fed up.
Did I just accept what these two well trained and well respected professionals told me, did I just go along with their recommendations because they were dentists and should know more about my teeth than I do? After all, I did already have a second opinion from a separate clinic. The critical thinker in me could back off now.
But I wanted decent answers and so went off to a public dentist who had no financial incentive to sell me a treatment I didn’t need. He prodded and poked my tooth and the adjacent ones. I yelled in pain as he applied scalding then freezing cotton swabs and an electrical current through my tooth (I kid you not). No sitcom to watch on an overhead TV, no coffee in the waiting room, actually no waiting room to speak of … you get the picture. By this time I was wishing I hadn’t been so foolish to think I knew better and would have preferred the root canal there and then. Could this dentist even be as good as a private one?
I was now in pain and fed up and doubting myself.
Finally a giant telescope on a floating arm appeared above me. He studied my pearly whites through his Carl Zeiss lenses. And what did he find? I lay trembling, fearing the third and final call for a $4000 treatment that would involve much pain, multiple doctor’s visits, and baby food for two weeks.
“Mmm,” he finally said, “Well, I can’t find any cracks but it’s very clear that the filling currently in the tooth is old and leaking. It needs to be replaced.”
“Root canal?” I squeaked?
“No Need,” he confirmed as he whipped off the old amalgam filling and popped in a new one.
The pain was gone by the time the anaesthetic had worn off. I was healed!
What did it cost? $89.
Any doctor’s incentive is both to care for patients, make a living and avoid litigation whilst doing so. In a city as expensive as Singapore this balance can easily tip and financial gain can become the driving motives. Every one of us was taught from a young age to respect experts and listen to their advice, because they know better than we do. “The doctor said you have to take your medicine little Jake. So you have to take it.”
Of course, they do know more about their field of expertise but nothing stops us from questioning their frames and motives and to keep demanding answers until we get them.
Now don’t let me start on the cardiologist in Singapore who sent me for a $2000 CAT scan that I absolutely didn’t need. I went, paid, got ripped off, felt like an idiot for being taken in – but I’m so much wiser for it.
Tremaine is a behavioural economist and lecturer in Critical Thinking, based in Asia. Follow Tremaine on Facebook for thoughts on thinking and raising your children as critical thinkers at http://www.facebook.com/tremainedupreez or her blog at http://www.tremainedupreez.com/raising-thinkers-blog/
Her book, Raising Thinkers - Preparing your child for the journey of a lifetime will be out soon.