A fortnight ago Zenon told me that he had a pain in the back of his mouth and wanted to see Dr C, the paediatric dentist we have been using for the last nine years. “I think I’m getting a new molar… maybe a wisdom tooth!” So, counting backwards, I realised that about six months had past since the Littles' last uneventful appointment with Dr C -- they've never had any dental problems except for an accident that chipped one of Zenon's front teeth eight years ago, (the Big Ones go to Dr Lenia, my dentist), and made an appointment for the following day.
Zenon went first, clambering into the chair while Leo played quietly with the toys in the colourful reception area.
After agreeing that a molar was indeed breaking through at the back of Zenon’s mouth, Dr C frowned. “You still don’t use fluoride toothpaste?” I confirmed that we are a fluoride-free family. “He has some very bad cavities!”
I peered inside Zenon’s mouth and saw a black area between two teeth. Dr C scraped with a probe. “This tooth is affected, and, “ he scraped its neighbour. “This one, also. He will need two fillings.”
We decided to do them then, as I had plenty of time that morning, so with Leo floating between surgery and waiting room, Dr C drilled and filled Zenon’s teeth. Because one cavity was a little bigger, Dr C had to use local anaesthetic, but Zenon bore the procedure with no complaint and only a few winces and wry expressions.
Then it was Leo’s turn. As soon as he took the chair and opened his mouth ‘as wide as wide!’, Dr C frowned again. “This one needs lots of work, look! At least six teeth are affected with decay, but these are much bigger!”
With no time for him to do Leo’s that morning, Dr C sat me down at his desk, flipped open his lap-top, and began explaining the procedure for ‘pulp amputation’, a procedure that he would have to do on at least four teeth to ensure that there would be no possible infection, abscess, or later trouble. “Even though these are baby teeth,” he explained. “We must work to block any possible route of trouble.” Even though Dr C’s English is fluent, I wanted Best Beloved to hear this, and asked if I could bring him to the next appointment “When we will do the first, easy, filling as I want to see how Leo reacts to the drill.”
“Of course, bring the baby’s father, and I can explain everything to him!”
Next week the three of us trooped into the surgery, Leo endured his filling without a murmur, and Dr C explained his plans to Best Beloved. He also presented his bill.
The fillings that Dr C had done were fifty Euros each. The extensive work that he was planning for my six-year old would work out at one hundred and thirty Euros per tooth.
As we left the surgery, my husband turned to me. “Take him to Dr Lenia and see what she says,” he advised. “Lenia’s a great one for not intervening, and a second opinion is always a good idea, especially when the first opinion says to rush in with all sorts of complicated and expensive solutions.”
Music to my ears. My confidence as a mother had plummeted; my children’s teeth were riddled with decay and I had a crackpot attitude to fluoride. Dr C had made me feel seriously inadequate as a parent.
Our appointment with Dr Lenia was yesterday morning. She peered into Leo’s mouth, said “I can see four teeth affected by two minor areas of decay. My recommendation is to leave it for six months, make sure he brushes every day and use floss a couple of times a week. Continue to use the Mastic toothpaste – it has excellent properties, and I know that you don’t like fluoride. When you bring him back in March, we will fill them if the cavities have deepened, otherwise we will just wait for him to shed the teeth naturally.”
”No pulp amputation?” I asked. She gasped and rolled her eyes.
“Is that what he told you?” she asked. “Do you know how many of my patients have brought me their children after the paediatric dentist has done this and I have to extract the teeth and deal with serious infections?”
Lesson learned. Faith in my ability as a parent restored. Another layer of cynicism added to my carapace concerning certain members of the medical establishment and their addiction to tampering.