Monday, June 15, 2009

"Indental Servitude"

I feel ashamed.


A total loss of control.

How can people do this to other people? Whither decency? Whither self-respect?

Maybe I’m over-reacting. You decide. I’m way too distraught.


Recently, the dentist I’d been seeing for twenty years decided to retire. And as dentists do, Dr. K – it’s really another letter, I’m protecting his identity with a fictitious last initial, though I’m not sure he deserves it – my dentist, Dr., let’s say, K, sold his practice to another dentist.

This is not unusual. “Practice selling” is an accepted procedure in the dental profession. In ways which I’ll mention shortly, this seems extremely strange. But maybe I’m just jealous. When I retired from writing for television, there was nothing I could sell.

“Would you like to buy my brain?”

“Don’t you need it?”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot. Never mind.”

When dentists sell their practices, partly what they’re selling is their inventory – the chair, the drill, the x-ray machine, the “spit sink”, the bibs, the big light, the “air hose”, the drawers full of pointy things they poke into your gums…

Dentists have a lot of paraphernalia. And that paraphernalia’s obviously worth something. Not to my retiring dentist. What is he going to do with a Cavitron machine? UPS guy brings a parcel to his house:

RETIRED DENTIST: “Hey, you got a minute? Come on in, I’ll blast some plaque off your teeth.”

They’re retired. They don’t do that anymore. But new dentists, they’re just getting started. And why buy a new Cavitron machine when you can pick up a used one that’s already broken in?

I fully understand that element of selling your practice. You’re selling your equipment. The weird part is that’s not all you’re selling. The retiring dentist is selling something else, something that’s considerably more valuable.

They’re selling their patients.

Now think about this. Dental patients, who voluntarily came to one dentist, are being sold, without their being considered or consulted in any way, to a total stranger.

Am I the only one who finds this bizarre?

My dentist sold his practice to another dentist, and part of what he sold to that dentist

was me.

That just seems wrong.

You can’t sell people to other people.

That’s slavery, isn’t it?

“You’ve been sold.”

“Without my permission?”

“I don’t need your permission.”

That sounds like slavery to me.

I know this doesn’t come close to the really horrible version of slavery, but the process – being randomly transferred from one owner to another – is still very upsetting. I can imagine Seinfeld’s “Kramer”, under such circumstances, whimpering,

“I’ve been sold, Jerry.”

I’ve been sold.

I wonder what’s involved in this sale? How is the negotiation transacted? Do they sell us in bulk? Or do they haggle over our individual value:

“Pomerantz. Clenches his jaw. But he always pays on time. I’ll take a thousand.”

“Two hundred.”

“All right! But I hope he bites your finger!”

The unacceptability of transferring ownership of human beings obscures an almost equally troubling issue. Dentists aren’t interchangeable. Just because the new dentist will be working in the same office doesn’t mean that nothing has changed. Everything’s changed.

It’s an entirely different dentist!

What if I don’t like the new dentist? What do I have to do, buy my freedom? Say I can’t afford to. The treatment is unbearable, but I lack the resources to buy my way out. What do I do then? Run away, and seek asylum from a different dentist?

Can I do that? I mean, legally? The other dentist paid for me. I’m essentially their property.

I’m not sure if the Dred Scott case was ever overturned. Maybe freeing the slaves made it a non-issue. But if Dred Scott’s still on the books, as a runway patient, they may be legally obligated to bring me back.

Maybe I should calm down, huh? Who knows? This new dentist may be better than the old one. More compassionate, gentler care, extra free floss. The transfer of ownership might turn out to be a godsend. There could be a noticeable upgrade in my treatment.

The thing is, my new dentist is no spring chicken. In a few years, she could decide to retire. You know what that means.

They’re gonna sell me again.


Nancy said...

When my mother sold her trucking company, she also sold her clients. And her goodwill. I can't imagine putting a price tag on goodwill, but they were able to come up with a figure that was acceptable to both parties.

She referred it as selling a piece of the blue sky.

growingupartists said...

It's good to see you facing your issues with honesty. I have a feeling your new dentist will stay in business for a long time, you'll make sure she knows what the last dentist lost in selling you.

A. Buck Short said...

Why it’s practically whitener slavery.

We have been going to the world’s most expensive dentist for 20 years, since I broke four teeth on the set of a Joe Bob Briggs shoot (don’t even ask). And we can’t figure out how to stop, because we’re too embarrassed to admit to the huge staff that we can no longer afford him. It’s the only practice in Texas where you go in and get gang-flossed by 15 hygienists. There isn't a gadget that comes out he doesn't have and we don't pay for. I am not making this up, if you say a procedure costs a little more than you had planned, they send you to the office’s in-house “financial advisor” who works out a payment plan that can extend until you no longer have any teeth. It's like the last guy you sit down with on the car lot to arrange the financing.

Customer good will is equally paramount. Several Christmases back, all of his highest roller patients received an appreciative $100 gift certificates to Lawry’s Prime Rib. We just kind of thought that the only thing funnier than being treated to a restaurant by your dentist would be something going awry. Hope this isn’t an imposition, but maybe you’ll be amused by the dummied up fake news story I’m posting next that we emailed to the staff, with an actual photo of the incident described. (Hey what else can I do with this special one-time-only material? I’m like the Bruce Valanche of oral humor.):

A. Buck Short said...

Dallas man chips tooth on Lawry’s popover
by Neda X. Ray, Staff Writer

DALLAS -- Paradentists rushed to Lawry’s the Prime Rib restaurant Saturday night after a North Dallas man chipped a crown on one of the dining establishment’s famed popovers. The man, ironically named Bucky Dent, had (also ironically) gone to the restaurant with his wife to celebrate their upcoming wedding anniversary -- using a one-hundred dollar restaurant gift certificate given to them by Richardson dentist Dr. Tom McDaniels (not his real name) in appreciation for their many years of loyal patronage.

First to arrive at the scene was EDT (emergency dental technician) Binaca Jagger, an illegal alien from Guatemala, who said she knew she was taking a chance showing up with no green card. “But when a dental emergency like this arises, you can’t just stand by and let the suffering continue.” In heavily accented Spanish, Ms. Jagger explained she had taken a “Jippocratic oath.”

Paradentist Yentl Floss was next after a call went out over police radios that assistance was needed to aid the stricken diner. Ms. Floss described the scene in the restaurant on her arrival as “udder chaos.” It was apparently the first time in dental history anyone had chipped a crown on something as soft as a popover. She questioned the man as to whether he had attempted to munch on anything that might have had a slightly higher specific gravity.

“We’d just ordered a rather nice Chardonnay,” Dent was heard to mumble. “The waitress was doing whatever the hell they do with that spinning salad. I’d gotten through half a serving of creamed corn, but pretty much, that was it.” The man’s Diamond Jim cut of prime rib lay uneaten beside him on one of the restaurant’s trademark rolling silver carts -- a vehicle approximately the size and weight of an Abrams tank.

The man’s wife, a vegan, felt their dentist had been somewhat insensitive in his presumption of an acceptable restaurant to begin with, “and now this,” she added. “It’s like rubbing seasoned salt in a wound.”

Dental responder Floss explained the injury was actually to a set of bridgework Dr. McDaniels installed a year and a half ago. It had been at least that long that Mr. Dent had gone without a cleaning, she tattled.

“I can’t explain it,” she added. “The guy always uses the highest quality materials. “Spares no expense. Must have just been a bad batch.” It was noted that the only reason the City of Dallas was hiring Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava to design a suspension bridge over the Trinity River is that Calatrava came in $1.5-million less than what the North Dallas dentist traditionally charges for his bridgework.

“Sometimes I feel that he just sticks that mirror in my mouth trying to see the next payment on the Lexus,” the stricken diner scribbled on a napkin.

Despite the incident, the couple said they would continue to patronize the dental practice. “It’s one of the few places you hear the adjective mesial in casual conversation, drooled Dent through a large gauze pad – sounding reminiscent of Brando.

Anonymous said...

Most dental appointments are made for tooth hurty PM.