A few years ago, I ended up getting an unexpected root canal. My gum was sore. I was having all of these weird nervey face issues. And then I went to the dentist and he was like, you need a root canal and we are going to do it right now. Since then, I do not like going to the dentist. My root canal tooth is, for all intents and purposes, a black fang hiding under a crown. I often say that if I had to get another root canal I would have them just pull the tooth.
A week ago I started to have weird feelings that felt like the bad root canal days. I have heard of teeth having to be re-root canaled. I was sure that I was going to be that person. The person who needed a second root canal during a pandemic. I needed to have the tooth looked at.
I have individual insurance. It literally costs a fortune. This individual insurance includes dental coverage. When I chose it myself, a scary prospect, I made sure that our primary care physicians were in network. I did not really look at the dental coverage. Perhaps I should have.
I called around locally to see who takes our plan. I was striking out. Completely. Finally I went to my insurer’s website and checked the provider directory. I found a dentist a few towns up. I called and explained that I thought I was an emergency. I was able to wrangle an appointment for today. I tried not to get all worked up about going.
The office is in a strip mall in between a Chinese buffet and a nail place. It had a very 1970s decor vibe. The waiting room was full. An African American family with a dad and three kids. A Hispanic couple. The ladies behind the front desk were speaking Spanish to the patients coming out and those on the phone. The only other white people in the office were what seemed to be a couple of office managers and a technician. And the reason that they really stood out was that they were not wearing masks, Not even pretending. Not on their chin. Or hanging off an ear. Not one anywhere. And I could not help but think how disrespectful this was to the patients. To everyone else in that office wearing masks. And I really wanted to report them. To someone. But then I felt like this was my privileged self talking. Knowing how hard it was for me to find a dentist that took my insurance, I felt like I couldn’t take this provider away from these patients. I felt like a reverse Karen.
When I come across this type of behavior (see blog post on my conspiracy theory stylist), I want to just walk away. But I stayed. I really wanted that x-ray. While I waited to be called into the back, I did so outside of the office entirely. I just couldn’t sit in there with the unmasked people. Unmasked white women. When I was taken in the back, I was put in the station closest to the front. That was good for me. There were no plexiglass shields between where I was sitting and the patient in the next cubby over. That was not good for me. The woman who seated me told me that I could take my mask off. That seemed like a bad idea. So I didn’t. The technician was a young African American guy. I explained my situation to him and he took one x-ray of my root canal tooth. It showed nothing. He ended up taking two more x-rays of the area. The dentist came in. He was Indian and spoke with an accent. He looked at my tooth. Looked at the pictures of it. Ultimately the diagnosis was that I am suffering from bone loss in that area. I will need to go to an oral surgeon. He told me that he liked my last name. He said that it was how he always thought about things that went together. That they just clicked. He took the time to show me my x-rays. He showed me where I am losing the bone. And the root canal tooth that looked like some alien plant life was living inside of it. He told me that I should stop using whitening toothpaste. And he referred me to an oral surgeon.
So my experience on the inside was so much better than what my initial reaction was. To the outside. I wanted to say something. To the ladies at the front desk. To the technician. But I did not. And I struggle with my responsibility when it comes to this. Where does that lie? Should I report them? Or does that cause more harm?
I have no answers. And I feel like I should quarantine myself for 14 days.