Wednesday, 22 September 2010
In recent weeks thousands of NHS doctors have found themselves under fire for the sheer, unbelievable vastness of their salaries and I know that I should feel massively aggrieved on behalf of all my hard-working relatives and friends who pay for them via the tax system. However, I prefer to direct my ire at a different breed of healthcare professional.
Last week I finally took the plunge and went to the dentist. Yes, I know – I'm a mad, extravagant bitch, but I had seen an ad in one of the local freebies offering a check-up and clean for 19€. Much to my amazement this was, in fact, the amount that was charged. It was a bargain, especially considering that I hadn't had my teeth examined or professionally cleaned since a cavity necessitated a visit in 1998, an experience that still gives me nightmares of the darkest and most depraved kind. Later I discovered that the same butcher already had several complaints lodged against his name with the British Dental Council, a fact that didn't surprise me, but it has left me with a lasting grudge against the profession and a more general disinclination to subject my poor, plaque-ridden gnashers to any more rough treatment.
Yet it's not just the pain and suffering that has put me off going to the dentist, despite the fact that my gums are receding faster than the Spanish economy; it's the mind-boggling bill that accompanies it. A friend of mine went to the dentist this week, a visit necessitated by an exposed nerve. The cost for a temporary filling and a squirt of fluid to kill the nerve was 150€! Of course, he still has to go back in a few days to have a permanent filling – another crafty 150€. At those prices the Civil List begins to look like good value for money.
I'm not suggesting that dentists shouldn't be rewarded for their years of training and their expertise, but this is now beyond a joke. Unfortunately the profession's insane get-rich-quick mentality is having dire consequences for the health and welfare of the people of Britain. Every day we are bombarded with some new warning of what health horror lies in wait for people who fail to look after their teeth, yet with NHS dentists becoming an endangered species and private treatment being beyond the means of many, what are we supposed to do?
When I lived in South Africa my medical aid scheme was so comprehensive it allowed me a pair of specs every other year and two dental check-ups annually. It helped that my dentist was so skilled that I experienced not even the vaguest twinge of pain in all the years that he treated me, so I was quite happy to book my next appointment before leaving. No worries about payment – as long as it was a necessary procedure and not a cosmetic job, the medical aid scheme would take care of it. These days, while it's still possible to find a few vaguely affordable private healthcare schemes, it is a rare thing indeed to encounter a medical aid deal that includes dental treatment. Therefore, it's either a question of finding an NHS dentist (good luck with that, boys!) or going private.
Admittedly I'm slightly out of touch but it seems that the closest NHS dentist to my hometown of Pembroke is 25 miles to the east in an even smaller town called St. Clear's, which is in Carmarthenshire - a different county! As for getting on to his overcrowded books you might have to offer sexual favours or clean his car every Sunday for a year.
Over the years Americans have delighted in taking the mickey out of us Brits for our dodgy dentition and, while I have no desire to see U.K citizens turning into the Osmonds (I am quite fond of teeth looking functional rather than purely decorative) I am beginning to see their point.
If these insane dental charges continue I fear that a return to a nation of medieval mouths is inevitable.