Why your mouth is more important than your iPhone
A few months back I had a 17 year old boy in the dental chair. He came in with his mother and was crying. He was gaunt, pale and in obvious pain. I really felt bad for him. The young man was suffering from a toothache. Actually, he was suffering from several toothaches. When I interviewed him, I learned that he had been “dealing” with this pain on and off for a year. Finally, his mother couldn’t stand the whining and finally “forced” him to come to the dentist.
I examined him and his x-rays and easily diagnosed multiple abscesses (infections) and several severely decayed teeth which reached the pulp (nerves). It was amazing to me that this patient had been able to suffer through all these infections until now. Luckily for him, it was 2011 and not 1911, all but one tooth was savable and had a good prognosis. And if we acted fast, he could be pain free and back on his feet in no time….but of course, that is not how this story ends.
With considerable effort the office prepared a very conservative treatment plan outlining the cost associated with saving the young man’s teeth. In almost one fluid motion, the mother looked at the estimate and tossed it back declaring, “we can’t afford that…how much to pull the bad teeth?”. As a father of 2 boys, I was caught off guard and was at a loss for words. With all the chairside manner I could muster, I replied, “Pull all the bad teeth!?…that’s….6,7,8…9 teeth! Most of them are molars. He is going to have a hard time eating”. “Well,” she replied matter of factly, “we just can’t afford that much right now. He’ll just have to deal with it.”
I was saddened to hear of their financial difficulties and considered proposing a financial arrangement because lacking teeth this early in life was going to be a life changing event for the young man. Just as I was about to speak, a cell phone rang. It wasn’t the ring tone, “Don’t stop believin’” so I knew it wasn’t mine. By the second ring, the boy sitting in my chair reached into his pocket and pulled out his iPhone4 and turned the ringer off. “Who was that?” asked the mother. “Dylan”. “You better tell him you’re not going to be able to go snowboarding with him this weekend, if they pull your teeth,” she threatened and reached into her purse, “That reminds me…”. Out of her bag came another iPhone4 and she quickly began texting someone as I sat there taking it all in.
This patient interaction got me thinking. I too have an iPhone4. It cost me about $200 for the phone and $120 a month for the service. It’s not cheap (about $1,400 a year) but I rely on it quite a bit for communication and entertainment. But then again, I rely entirely on my teeth for the same things and more. In fact, my healthy teeth (and gums) give me considerably more pleasure than my iPhone4. I can eat and taste everything and anything. I can smile with confidence and speak clearly. I can even whistle. Simple as these things are, they make our lives easier and enjoyable. We all take them for granted until we can’t do them.
To sum up, people are always happy to pay for things they enjoy, like videos, apps and the ability to talk to a friend whenever they feel like it. Equally, people dislike paying for things they don’t enjoy, like x-rays, cleanings and dental work. This is because they don’t derive pleasure from the dental treatment itself. However, it’s not actually the treatment that they are paying for, it’s what the treatment affords them. A confident smile, the ability to eat wonderful foods, and peace of mind that they are doing their best to stay healthy and strong.
As for the 17 year old boy…he went though with the extractions and is now wearing two temporary partial dentures. He is infection free but very dissatisfied with his false teeth. He complains that he can’t eat the foods he once enjoyed and wishes he saved his teeth. It breaks my heart.