How NOT to Visit an American Dentist: A Brit’s Confession

(Photo: Fotolia)

(Photo: Fotolia)

I realize now that I was laughably unprepared for my first oral examination by an American. One of my back molars has ached, on and off, for the last eight years. I mentioned this to a British dentist once. He investigated and surmised, casually, that I needed a root canal. I should really see a specialist, and that would cost, he estimated, the best part of a thousand quid. Ouch. Somehow I never quite got round to it, and eventually the pain went away.

You see, American readers might be surprised to learn that while the National Health Service technically provides dental care, actually finding a fully NHS dentist that will take on new patients is difficult. Patients often end up on a waiting list and will pay at least part of the cost for a visit. And for something as intricate as a root canal, you’re advised (but not obliged) to see a specialist. And in most cases, this will not be free or subsidized.

When the throbbing started up again, around the time I moved to the U.S. three years ago, I did what seemed appropriate in the circumstances: took a horse-size dose of ibuprofen and forgot about it. When this approach stopped working, around 48 hours after the initial searing pain, I broke down and trawled Yelp for a well-reviewed dentist who took my insurance. The lady on the phone was pleasant and even managed to book me in for that afternoon. I marveled at the efficiency. And hey, I thought, like a foolish child waiting for the Tooth Fairy, I have insurance now! Free (or heavily subsidized) root canal! That’s how it works, right? I’d never felt so excited at the prospect of bargain basement pain.

So I’m in The Chair. The examination room has the usual angle-poise lamps and sinister humming machines, plus a silent nurse filling tiny paper cups with pink mouthwash. The dentist, however, is late. Twenty minutes go by and my four-star rated tooth doc is still off doing whatever it is dentists do when they’re not rummaging in mouths. I’m annoyed. I draft a disgruntled Yelp review in my head. The nurse is not warming up either, standing there with her arms crossed, not speaking. We’re so close we could hold hands, but that probably isn’t going to happen.

Finally, the dentist arrives and, without comment or explanation, he fits me out with a lead bib and takes approximately 37 X-rays of my mandibles. I had—and still have—no idea why this happened. In the U.K., you’ll likely only get an x-ray if the dentist is investigating a specific problem. Apparently, American dentists conduct numerous X-rays to provide a thorough examination of any possible dental issues, but cynically, I suspect it’s because they can bill my insurer for the cost or cover themselves in the event of any legal issues pertaining to my teeth. Or perhaps, low-level radiation poisoning is the secret to most Americans’ gleaming white choppers.

At this point I should add: the guys still hadn’t looked in my mouth. When he does finally have a peek, he’s not impressed with the landscape. “You clearly aren’t flossing,” he snaps.

“Erm, yeah I am!” I protest, dishonestly.

“Then you’re doing it wrong. You have gingivitis.”

“Oh,” I say, trying to mentally Google “gingivitis”—a term that always makes me picture orange teeth. But I think it’s actually something to do with gums. If I could only reach my phone…

Next, Dr. Blunt McLate proceeds to unfurl a length of industrial-grade floss and set upon me like a tardy sadist at a fetish club catering to individuals fond of both soft, pliant gums and sharp, thin ropes. It’s agony. He still hasn’t asked me why I’m here. I’m quite certain I didn’t sign up to have my chops shredded by a tardy brute.

Next, he (verbally) attacks my silver fillings and my wisdom teeth: “You should have those replaced with white ones. And these wisdom teeth need to go,” he adds, offering no further explanation. But my fillings are sturdy. And wisdom teeth don’t—and have never—bothered me. Why would I want to have them removed? My heart is thumping as I ask the question. I feel that by doing so I am rocking him to his dental core. Most adult Americans I’ve discussed this with subsequently have had their wisdom teeth taken out, and none of them are quite sure why. It’s just “what you do.”

When the dentist has finished being silently horrified, he triumphantly lists the reasons for removal: they can cause bad breath and discomfort. I’m sure this is true, yet I’m pretty certain my wisdom teeth are doing neither. But I don’t feel confident protesting my minty freshness when my detractor’s nose is mere inches from my tattered, sweating jaws.

I decide it’s time to take control of this situation. “I actually wanted to asked you about this molar that hurts,” I say, tapping the parallel bit of face. “Pretty sure I need root canal.” Now I’m talking his language.

“Sure,” he says, after some exploratory tooth prodding. “I can recommend a specialist.” Great! Finally.

“And it’s free, right? Because, you know, I have insurance.” Again, silence.

“Erm, not with your basic dental coverage, I’m afraid. It will likely cost upwards of $1500, depending on the complexity of the root.”

Oh. I feel like walked into Tiffany and tried to pay for a diamond necklace with a $25 gift card for PetSmart.

“You know what,” I say. “I think it’s all better.”

What are some tips on navigating American doctors and dentists? Join @MindTheGap_BBCA on Twitter to discuss using hashtag #MindTheChat for a chance to win a prize from BBC AMERICA.

See more:
10 Ways to Stay Healthy and Fit in 2014
6 Differences Between American ‘Drugstores’ and British ‘Chemists’
A Brit’s Guide to Health Matters in the U.S.: Learning the Lingo

  • Gary Holmes

    Ruth, i enjoyed this article and found myself nodding in agreement as i read long. Each time i visit my dentist i am reminded that my wisdom teeth should be extracted, yet they give me no pain. Like you, the dentist makes me feel like the x-rays are mandatory. I politely, but firmly decline the request. I feel British dentistry is lacking in some areas, but feel US dentistry is over zealous in their approach, mostly due to insurance reimbursement.

    • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

      I went through this dilemma a few years ago with my then 18 year old, whose wisdom teeth were impacted. There’s definitely a chance that things will be alright, but with the lower wisdom teeth (which were all she had, and which were already growing in sideways) they fuse to your jaw bone, it becomes major surgery and its very close to a major nerve. You take a risk.
      As an adult, if they’re not giving you pain, there’s probably no need. In my case, I only had top wisdom teeth and the right one only started giving huge problems in my 40′s.

    • kate

      If you want to detect cavities when they are tiny and easy to fix, you need the x rays. Why put it off for years and years only to need a root canal later on?

    • alkh3myst

      For your information, impacted wisdom teeth (which nearly everybody has) can start growing even in adulthood, without any warning, and grow right into your jawbone, which can make things “a bit more difficult” for your dentist, to use UK-style understatement.

      Stop whining, and go brush your tooth. Brits…

  • Jessica

    As an American I can honestly say that I have never had a truly positive experience with a dentist, granted I have only ever used one dentist so far as I was limited by my insurance. My complaint is almost always with the dental hygienist rather than the dentist, however. I don’t know if it is because this woman has known me literally my entire life or if she is just that terrible at her job, but I really can’t stand her. Each time I go she is so rough with my gums that she causes me severe pain. Up until recently I had this part of my gum that just happened to have formed strangely on top of my tooth. It didn’t bother me–it didn’t hurt and it wasn’t readily visible. However, she insisted on poking it and trying to pull the gum up off of my tooth each time that I went in to the office, despite the dentist specifically warning her to leave it alone. Low and behold her messing with it caused a small cavity to form underneath the gum. She always acts as though I have bad oral hygiene when I really don’t and the one time I had a different hygienist she popped in and insisted she talk to the other woman about me; I suspect that she was further insisting that I don’t take care of my teeth. I really don’t see why dental office workers can get away with acting this way.

    • Jodi

      Unfortunately there are plenty of bad dentist. I find you have to go in and be somewhat aggressive BEFORE anything is done. Be specific and to the point. If they are rude or not what you want, find a new dentist. I have done this and found a good one the third try. I even explain why i fired my prior doctor so that the new doctor and i were on the same page. I also disagree with taking wisdom teetb out with no medical reason. I have plenty of space for mine and have no reason to remove them. Ps…Im an American

    • crispy

      Why are you still going to this dentist? You’re an adult – find a new one.

    • V Lamb

      You should find a new dentist. I love my current dentist and the hygienists at her office. They are always asking if I’m experiencing any pain during any procedure. There is no reason why you should be putting up with this hygienist!

  • CO2VA

    I agree 100% with everything said here. I ticked off a dentist I used to visit by telling him that he needed a gun to go with his mask, because that’s what all robbers looked like. He wasn’t at all amused at my little joke.

  • Glenda

    Most Americans do not have dental.insurance because it really only covers cleanings and office visits and very little else and it is expensive. I am an American and I hate dentists. I brush and floss and only go when I have to. The x-rays are to find all the hidden cavities which, of course, cost a fortune to fill. The thing that the dentist didn’t tell you is that once you have a root canal, you will also need a crown to keep the tooth from becoming brittle and eventually crumbling. I had it done about two years ago and I would never do it again. It cost $2,700 per tooth.

    • MeiTow

      Sounds like you need to find a cheaper dentist if your fillings are so expensive. I just got a whole mouthful of cavities filled for less than $400 out of pocket. Of course, that was with insurance who did cover part of the cost. I have had them done without insurance for as little as $70 a tooth before though and it’s not like that’s a major investment considering.

  • Liz

    I am an American, who happens to work in a dental office. It’s unfortunate that so many people seem to have had terrible experiences with their dentists, so I feel compelled to put in a defense of the profession. Not all dentists are crooks and/or sadists. Everyone that I work with is professional and extremely caring. The well-being of the patient is always consideration #1.
    A few other counterpoints I can’t help making:
    1. We strive to run a tight ship time-wise, but it can be really difficult… sometimes impossible. And it isn’t always our fault. There are times when your first patient in the morning shows up 15 minutes late. After that, your whole day is pretty much shot.
    2. Flossing really is important. If you could see what your mouth looks like when it’s being cleaned and you don’t floss… you would start flossing. No joke. It’s disgusting. I know it’s a hard habit to get into, but if your gums bleed, and your mouth is all sore after a cleaning, don’t blame your dentist. It’s your fault. Floss your dang teeth.
    3. X-Rays are also important. They often uncover problems that would be undetectable otherwise, and the radiation you’re exposed to is minimal.
    Once a year, people. It’s not that bad.
    4. Leaving in wisdom teeth CAN mess up your mouth. It might not, but it can.
    5. It is true that having your teeth worked on can be costly. But you might want to take into consideration the fact that dentistry is a very stressful field to work in. Do you know how many people would choose to become dentists if dentists did not make good salaries? I am certain we would live in a dentist-less world. Which might sound nice to the haters, but pretty soon we’d all be forced to extract our own rotten teeth like Tom Hanks in Castaway. It would not be pretty, my friends.

    I know nobody likes going to the dentist. But I promise we’re not all villains. I do apologize if this sounds like a rant. I’ll go now. Please don’t throw things.

    • Michaela

      :) I love this :) I do not work at a dentist office, but I love your attitude. The only thing I would change is, the stress is not the reason its expensive.. each time you get a root canal, its considered surgery. Your Dentist is your friend, and if you are going to spend money on your looks and heath, getting your teeth fixed at 1500 dollars is a great price

      • Jwb52z

        That is, if you HAVE 1,500 dollars.

    • Guest

      I love my dentist. He always explains exactly why I need whatever it is that I need. Also: X Ray –> Find cavity –> fill cavity = no root canal. Makes perfect sense to me. If your insurance doesn’t cover fillings and other basic dental work, then you need better insurance. It’s not the dentist’s fault. Even the “low” plan at my work covers 50% of that kind of stuff. The “high” plan is $15 more/month and it covers all of it.

    • Guest

      Nicely said – my dentist is a University of Michigan trained dentist who is always professional and caring. Perhaps I’m extremely lucky, but have had generally positive experiences with the DDS’ and staff I have interacted with over the years.

  • Jodi

    Unfortunately there are plenty of bad dentist. I find you have to go in and be somewhat aggressive BEFORE anything is done. Be specific and to the point. If they are rude or not what you want, find a new dentist. I have done this and found a good one the third try. I even explain why i fired my prior doctor so that the new doctor and i were on the same page. I also disagree with taking wisdom teetb out with no medical reason. I have plenty of space for mine and have no reason to remove them. Ps…Im an American

    • Orion Antares

      Most recommend taking them out because they are so easy to have cavities develop in. I put mine off until that happened and my dentist actually said it would cost more to fill them than to take them out because a wisdom tooth root is so weak.

  • Eliza

    I adore my dentist and my dental hygienist! If you don’t like your dentist then find another one by asking friends and colleagues who they use. PREVENTIVE care is the key to a healthy mouth and nice looking teeth. If you only see a dentist when you’re in pain then of course your visit will be unpleasant but you have only yourself to blame for that. I have a full checkup and get my teeth cleaned every 6 months without fail. X-Rays are taken once per year. I also floss every day. Keep in mind that your dentist, whether you realize it or not, also checks your entire mouth including gums, lips and tongue for early signs of cancer and other potentially nasty conditions.

    • Northeast DMD

      Yes, yes, yes! Patients like you are the best! Preventive dentistry is the best way to keep costs low and visits much fewer and far between!

  • Michelle

    I have to chime in. I went for my normal cleaning, and had the newest dentist in the practice for the first time. She took one look in my mouth and said “Why do you still have your wisdom teeth.” She wanted them out immediately even though I have never had any problems with them. Now every time i see her she comments on it. It’s ridiculous.

    • Eliza

      Why is that ridiculous? Your dentist is trained and highly educated and obviously sees a potential problem with your wisdom teeth that you are unaware of. If she brings it up ‘every time’ you see her don’t just dismiss it, have a discussion with her about it. Get a second opinion if that makes you feel better.

      • Anon.

        Or, she needs help paying the country-club dues.

  • scootergirl

    if you have a terrible toothache… call A dentist… say you are in desperate pain with your tooth and you want an emergency visit… than and only than… will they get down to business first and the general business later….
    my dentist is amazing… and my chairside is just outstanding… yeah… they are out there… just gotta get recommendations from your friends….

  • Valarie

    I’m an American and have had two dentists throughout my life and loved both of them. I’ve been very lucky. That said, I wish I would’ve listened to my first dentist when he told me to get my wisdom teeth out at 16. My parents had never had theirs removed and they’ve been fine, so I thought, why should I? But when I was 18, they suddenly – literally overnight – started causing me enormous pain, like having shrapnel in my mouth, so I had 2 removed. Then 2 years later, another one started hurting – again, with no warning – and I had to have emergency surgery. Finally, I had the fourth one removed a couple years later. Also, regarding flossing – it took me a long time to start doing it, but the dentist could actually tell right away, without me telling him I’d finally started. It makes a big difference.

  • Michaela

    yeah, dentists can cost a ot of money, but its worth getting it fixed. Altho, I am going to point out a few things – white caps are recommended because usually kids get silver ones, and white ones are more solid, are to where silver can bend easily. Gingivitis is serious, please floss. Wisdom teeth are taken out because you can accidentally chew the side of your mouth when you sleep and tear up the inside of your cheek, and Wisdom teeth can also move your teeth when they grow in, causing your front teeth to overlap, and not be straight. And this experience with this dentist is completely normal.

  • catmom3

    If you need root canal it is because you have an infection. You can mask the pain but it won’t clear up the infection. Put on your big girl (or boy) pants and get it taken care of.

  • Sylvia

    Wow, I do NOT understand the anti-dentist attitudes expressed in the original post and in many of the comments. The biggest complainers seem to those who simply don’t take care of their teeth and rarely (if ever) go to the dentist unless there is a problem and then moan about the cost to fix things.
    Educate yourselves on the importance of proper dental hygiene and oral care and learn how tooth decay and gingivitis can affect not only your smile but your heart as well.
    There was a billboard I saw years ago that said “Ignore your teeth and they’ll go away.”

    • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

      My dentist has a sign on the wall – “You don’t have to floss your teeth. Only the ones you want to keep.”

    • Desertmer

      So very true! I do not get the aversion to simple hygiene found in the UK. Gross gross gross! And of course the other health effects you mentioned are even more vital. I lived in the UK as a teen while my father was working there and was horrified by the funky gooey teeth and how stained they were and lets not even get into the breath issue. It seems things have not improved a whit in 30′plus years.

    • Jwb52z

      What I want to know is why they can’t make toothpaste for humans that doesn’t taste like sweet mint or some other kind of candy. I want toothpaste like they make for dogs that tastes like food I would eat during the day. I can’t stand that “clean fresh” thing most people seem to go crazy for now. I’d rather my mouth taste like I’ve just eaten a steak than eaten wintergreen candy or a candy cane.

      • Cecelia Elizabeth

        You should try the toothpaste they make for dogs, some of them are meat flavored.

        • Jwb52z

          I always thought that humans couldn’t do that because it was only supposed to be used on dogs.

          • Cecelia Elizabeth

            If it is safe for dogs it is safe for humans. Excluding medications of course. Toothpaste isn’t a medication, it’s toothpaste. It’s just flavored different.
            I have a friend that likes to eat dog biscuits! He likes the flavor and texture :p Gross!

          • alkh3myst

            You’re absolutely right! Dogs are from a planet with a fluorine atmosphere, and dog toothpaste is made from hydrazine. This is why dog food is deadly poison to humans.

  • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

    I often joke that I’ve put my dentist’s kids though college. I first went to my current dentist with a dying nerve in my largest molar (- more painful than having the baby I’d just had 8 weeks previously.) Needed a root canal, which took five weeks as my molars turn out to have three roots and five nerves each, and if he operated on my mouth for more than an hour my jaw would lock after the treatment. Sigh.
    After that, he put me on a “plan” to address all the things that my NHS treatment had apparently done wrong. I was very skeptical and held off some of it, however, everything he said would happen actually did. Nearly every tooth in my head contained a large silver filling with decay underneath, and my NHS dentist had taken out so much of my teeth that they shattered when the fillings were removed. The one crown I’d had done was causing the gum to treat it like a foreign object and retract, so I was also having major gum issues. (Nothing to do with neglect on my parents’ part as my two siblings haven’t a filling between them. Genetic bad luck).

    Anyway – although I do think that American dentists can be slightly OTT with their “plans” and preventative stuff, it’s worth listening to them, doing some research and perhaps getting another opinion, because some of the NHS treatment we had as kids was the cheapest fix they could do.

    Oh, and if it hurts the gums when you get your teeth cleaned, there’s a topical gel the hygienist can apply first, which makes a lot of difference.

  • Stacey Kaylor Butcher

    This is NOT the way my visits go. Even after not going for about 20 years! Now if a patient is late, that WILL throw the whole day of appointments off and things will run late. Brush at least twice a day and floss and you should be good to go! While I agree with Liz on all her points – I disagree on the whole wisdom tooth thing. Every dentist I have ever gone to did not tell me that I should have my wisdom teeth removed. The top ones grew in straight. They did NOT push my top teeth together or crowd out any other teeth. So, my dentist never felt the need to pull them. I believe I had fillings in them to prevent cavities since they were back there pretty far. My bottom wisdom teeth did not come in. They are there … in my jaw .. sideways. I guess it’s called “impacted”? They too are not causing havoc in my mouth. My bottom teeth are not being pushed or crowed by them. They are still in my jaw. Hanging out. Now my top wisdom teeth have been removed. One did get a cavity in it, under the old filling. So, yeah … it was infected and thus pulled. The other one was pulled due to an infection in the gums between that tooth and a molar. There was a cavity in the wisdom tooth below the gum line. So, I have had mine removed … but only because they caused a problem. The last one was pulled when I was 37! So, I had them in my head for decades! And technically I still have 2 that are impacted. So, any dentist that says you need to pull them as a preventive is wrong. If they are causing issues, yes. If not, wait until you need to have them pulled. You are in charge of your mouth people. Get second opinions. If you are not happy with a visit. Find another dentist! My dentist is great. Staff is friendly and they really work on you liking the dentist and pain free care! They are out there. Just look.

  • Dejahthoris

    You need to go to an endodontist and get a root canal, or get the tooth pulled. The infection in that tooth can be dangerous. Dentists dont do that: only endodontists or oral surgeons

    • http://mangabotblog3000.popanime.net/ Brand

      My Dentist is a DDS and he did my root canal in his office. In fact I came in for cavity fillings but it came apparent that I needed a root canal (I had not been to the dentist for years, for lack of health insurance). He moved around his other appointments and preformed the procedure right away.

      My only issue was my insurance didn’t cover it. I’ve upped my dental plan to a better one since then.

  • Jodie

    I see where everyone is complaining about the dentist and costs. You can say NO to a dentist. I’ve seen now days they are telling parents to put braces on baby teeth. Which really is a waste of money and you can say NO.

    I have to admit I have perfect healthy teeth. Yes I had braces and my wisdom teeth out. My dentist told me my wisdom teeth would cause me all kinds of problems and gave a full explanation as to what would happen if I let them grow in. When I was 16 the only 3 I had were removed.

    I go to the dentist every 6 months for my cleanings. My dental hygienist even gave me some pointers on how to brush properly and at an angle. I took her advice and the next visit was spent less time in the chair. Then she finally convinced me to get an electric brush. She noticed a massive difference and that resulted in less time in the chair. Now I’m still horrible about the whole flossing. The funny thing is I only actually see my dentist for less than 2min. each time. I can’t even remember his name. I’ve got healthy teeth because I take the time to make sure I do. Some people just have bad luck when it comes to teeth and that is down to genetics. My mom has all kinds of dental work done. Whereas my father to my knowledge has strong teeth.

    To those coming to the States just because you have health insurance doesn’t mean your care is free. Far from it!

    • frozen01

      I think the insurance thing is what causes the most shock. I noticed this with my English in-laws. They were planning to move to Las Vegas (how is beyond me; they seemed to think you could just up and move there) and I asked them what they planned to do for health care. “Why, we’ll buy insurance” was their response. Cue their faces draining of color when I explained about networks, co-pays, deductibles, and co-insurance. They seemed to think that you could just walk into any hospital whenever you wanted and your insurance would pay 100%.

  • Michele Deetlefs

    Under federal law every insurance provides a breakdown of what it covers in the form of a booklet or pamphlet given to the subscriber (the person carrying the insurance, which will be Ruth if this insurance is purchased by her or from her employer or her spouse) every year prior to sign up. It is those sheets you get from your HR normally in October or November. These are also available at the insurance’s website. Clearly Ruth made the choice to NOT read these.

    What Ruth is describing is a standard new patient dental exam. Clearly she did not tell the dentist’s receptionist that she wanted a root canal when she called or the dentist would not only NOT have done this service but would have directed her to the appropriate specialist. (Informed conscent is also a federal law.)

    So basically Ruth failed to familarize herself with her benefits and failed to ask for the services she needed. These were her mistakes and do not in any way reflect a failing on the part of this dentist or the American dental care system.

    • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

      Unfortunately, when you’re a new Brit in this country, this information is usually available only in hindsight. The whole insurance system is a complete mystery and v confusing when you haven’t been brought up with it; HR departments unwittingly assume a lot of knowledge that we simply don’t possess. Even the terminology is completely new and means nothing.

      • alkh3myst

        So, it’s clear that in the UK, you don’t have newfangled innovations like this thing called the Internet. I use this amazing source of information to research many, many things. It’s very easy, even for Brits.

        • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

          The problem is that it’s hard to investigate what you don’t even know exists. Brits aren’t used to having to fight insurance companies (in a foreign, insurance language) for the coverage they’ve paid for. They might know about the broader concepts of the system here but they usually have no idea about the vocab (PPO, HBO, out of network, co-pay, deductible etc.) Not that easy when you’re also trying to navigate getting a bank account and a driving license without a SS# for example.

  • LF

    Going to the dentist at least once a year for a regular cleaning is important. If you flossed and brushed regularly and used mouthwash then it won’t hurt when they clean your teeth… it’s as simple as that. Also, yes, it may cost a bit of money, but isn’t it better to spend that to fix the problem instead of being cheap and letting it get even worse? It’s not going to get better, and it will cost you even more down the line when you need even more extensive surgery to fix it.

    Also, if you didn’t have a good experience with this dentist, find another. Don’t rely on internet reviews… ask friends for recommendations on what office they go to. A good dentist/dental hygienist will ask you before they start looking at your teeth if you are having any issues or changes you’ve noticed since your last visit. X-rays are usually done every other visit as long as you haven’t had a lot of prior issues.

    • frozen01

      Some dentists are very rough during cleanings. I’ve always had pretty good oral health, but when my regular dentist got his own practice and I switched to a new one within my normal office, all of sudden my gums started bleeding really bad during cleanings and they hurt when it never had before.

  • hard seen news

    yes, Health Insurance is not what you expect it to be, like a lot of things in the US that have ‘Insurance’ in the title. In some cases – my work plan from a year or so ago – was like paying $50 a paycheck for discounted services; I had a $1500 deductible to use up before the Payer would chip in with a co-pay. They also seem to spend more effort finding ways to not pay out.

    And yes, I felt that the dentist was particularly condescending, not only towards my teeth but to British Dentistry. That said, having moved here from Wales, I suspect UK Dentistry on the NHS is dependent on the severity of the issue and the money they have in the budget for the area/Health Trust, and as Wales had free prescriptions and a large number of people eligible for free dental work on the NHS, your teeth had to be an imminent health issue before they would do any more than give a you scratch and poke and a clean and polish. And you can forget X-Rays!

  • Anne-Maire Nurnberger

    I’m a Brit living in the USA. Last year I had a toothache so I selected an american dentist and booked a check up. He took lots of X-rays and did a through exam. At the end of it he said I needed 2 crowns. my wisdom teeth removed and a filling or two. He said it would cost $4000 as I had no dental insurance. Seeing as at that point it was already expensive I booked a flight home and went to a dentist in Glasgow. He said I needed 4 fillings…cost me £300 lol. I haven’t had any bother since. I do think american dentists are prone to put making money over patient needs. I really have never had a good experience with a dentist in the usa although I will say they are excellent an well trained.

    • V Lamb

      I’m American, and I’m sorry to say I agree with you. My parents have both had terrible experiences with dentists who only care about making money. When I was looking for a new dentist a few years ago, I ended up choosing mine because she is a great dentist but has also done extensive dental work in our community for free for those who cannot afford it. I figured she wasn’t just in it for the money, and I was not wrong. I am very happy with her!

  • Autymn

    I’m an American and I have had a long dental history. I had all four wisdom teeth and three teeth behind those teeth. They all had to be removed. I also had my four teeth behind my canines removed so I could make way for braces. As to the cleaning thing, it is likely your fault if your gums bleed. I know I should floss and when I don’t I know that I will have bloody gums and pain when I see the dentist. Having a little wait is not abnormal in a dentist office because there is normally one dentist and a team of hygienists. They clean your teeth and the dentist gives you a once over. X-rays are routine and not painful and they really help find important things a visual exam could miss. I had 4 wisdom teeth, 3 tiny extra teeth remember? They would not have known about those without an x-ray. I really don’t think your experience was that bad given how much you avoided the dentist. Floss and pay for the root canal already.

  • Englishman in New York

    I have to say; I am a Brit and I have lived in America for over 6 years (also in the NJ/NY area) and I LOVE my American Dentist.

    My teeth are rubbish, they always have been (largely, I believe, because England does not put fluoride in the water) and I have had lots of fillings despite always brushing my teeth and not eating sweets. But the dentists I went to in England were absolutely rubbish. To give a few examples of my interactions with British dentists; one gave me multiple fillings without any pain killer (yes, I felt the whole thing) and another wanted to give me a costly root canal (he had a friend he could recommend) before admitting that actually it wasn’t that bad and a simple filling would be more than sufficient.

    (I should note that I am also someone who will prefer to just take multiple ibuprofen’s throughout the day/week until the pain has gone.)

    My American dentist I have now though is awesome! I’ve never “liked” a dentist before, but this guy is great! Everyone who works there is very friendly, shows a lot of interest in you and fully explains everything. He is determined to make sure that I keep all of my teeth despite the fact that I have a molar that is steadily crumbling away and has a thoroughly dead root. My mouth has never felt cleaner or in better condition. I actually look forward to cleanings now.

    Sorry that you have had bad luck with your first dentist visit here, but as you are a Brit, like me, then chances are your teeth are rubbish and you need to find a good one. Try asking people you work with (don’t ask the other kids, ask older people, more experienced, preferably married with children) for recommendations and you should do better research in the future, especially into what your insurance covers and deductibles. Time to put those big boy pants on junior!

    • alkh3myst

      You don’t need fluoride to brush and floss. If blaming somebody else makes you feel better, then by all means, go ahead. Also, fluoride has many negative health effects, and even it’s “tooth protection” ability is now debated. Water fluoridation has been gradually phased out in the USA, with few municipalities still doing this.

  • V Lamb

    I’m surprised your dentist was so well-reviewed! I am American, and I would advise you to find a new dentist. I found my dentist a few years ago, and I love her and the entire staff at her office. Before I found her, I had not been to a dentist in a few years and was afraid to go back because I had a couple of cavities and didn’t want to be scolded or judged. She and all the hygienists make me feel completely comfortable, no judgements, and they ALWAYS explain why they do something and answer any questions I may have. I must be weird because I now actually enjoy going to the dentist and have a hard time staying awake in the dental chair. I find it so relaxing!

  • Morgan

    I feel like Yelp maybe isn’t the best place to find a dentist. I never liked my dentist when I was a kid because I felt they were rude and cold, and I was a CHILD for christ sake. When I got older and had my own insurance I asked my friends and family for referrals and made my decision that way, and I am happier for it!

  • kate

    I don’t understand the author’s disdain for x rays, does she not want to know there is a problem until it is so bad it needs a root canal?

  • Randy Townsend

    “British dental care” is a contradiction in terms. Brits have abysmal dental care, in large part because they have to pay for it personally (NHS doesn’t get involved…. Sounds a lot like Obamacare…). Sorry your dentist didn’t treat you well, but if you keep putting off treatment, it won’t be the dentist’s fault when you wake up at 2 in the morning in so much pain you’d gladly amputate a body part for relief.

  • Desertmer

    My dentist would never behave like that. Did you make your appointment stressing you had an emergency? If not why? You need to change dentists and fast. Most endodontists, those specialists who do root canals, will charge more than the insurance company accepts as usual and customary

  • Sara Servalis
  • James

    How in the world do you not floss? That’s disgusting! X-Rays are necessary to see possible cavities. Then they do a little drilling, fill it with the white stuff, which looks much better than silver, and it gets rid of the problem, for the most part, so you can avoid root canals if you brush and floss regularly (2x a day). Nothing to do with liability, even in our litigious, responsibility-free society. Wisdom teeth can get impacted, and push your other teeth out of alignment, giving you crooked teeth.

    Yelp’s not the best place to find a dentist, I would say. It sounds like you should’ve done some word of mouth investigation instead of trusting the internet, along with asking what your company’s dental insurance plan covers. Whenever insurance time comes around at a company, don’t go bargain basement, since it’s usually pretty cheap to get really good insurance. My vision insurance paid entirely for my contacts ($300 without) and all but $100 of my glasses. It was great.

  • The truth

    Wow you Americans do get upset when someone calls out a dentist as a con artist . The whole health care system is a con , but then you wouldn’t know that as you believe everything the rip off health industry tells you . I have never in my life seen such a sickly bunch of weak DNA as people in the USA

  • Olivia

    Sounds like a horrible dentist. It’s key to find an office with both knowledgeable AND personable staff. My dentist and his staff are amazing. My teeth were seriously messed up (three root canals, several fillings, and about half a dozen crowns), I put off going to the dentist for so long and it cost me. Their number one concern was everything being pain and anxiety free. They’re quite liberal with the numbing medication, offer free nitrous, and even offer “sleep services” where they use anesthesia to put you to sleep. I had so much work to be done and there was no way I could pay for it while continuing to make progress. My doctor put me on an interest free payment plan and had me come in over the next few weeks to get everything done.

    Now I go in every six months for my cleaning and exam… easy peasy.

  • Kwwspin

    You need to find another dentist–quick!! I’m American and have my wisdom teeth. This guy is after money. Find a dentist whose philosophy is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Trust me. They do exist.

  • Jwb52z

    I’m so glad this article came up. I am in desperate need of a dentist, but my disability and physical condition require me to travel by ambulance on a stretcher and I can’t find a dentist with an office that can accommodate a stretcher. I’m starting to wish regular hospitals housed dentists because I think that’s the only way I’ll ever see one again short of a miracle or winning the lottery.

  • threeoutside

    Another American here, who loves her dentist and hygienist (the one who does the 6-month cleanings). What you got there was a jackass who happened to have a dentist license. Don’t paint them all with the same brush, okay? And if you got in on the same day you called, maybe it was because the jackass has a habit of driving away patients and he’s got plenty of openings as a result. Many good dentists will also rush a person in pain in to help them out, though, so you never know. But if a person’s a rude jerk, it doesn’t matter if he’s got a DDS after his name. And question *every* procedure they “advise.” Over the years I swear some dentists have seen their yacht payment in my back molars. I withheld that reward from them and my teeth are fine.

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  • alkh3myst

    Wow, you can’t get oral surgery and an expensive cosmetic procedure paid for with basic coverage. Imagine that. You can’t get a First Class flight with a coach, 14 day standby ticket, either. Boy, we Americans are so strange! Just as strange as an entire nation of people with rotten teeth…