What to do when a dentist wants to drill holes into your healthy teeth

in healthcare •  last year

It happened to me once. Years later, it could have happened four more times.

Forgive me. I know talking about this is like scratching brittle fingernails on an old dry chalkboard.

I promise the hard-earned-lessons I share within and at the end of this story make it all worth it -- so no dentist ever excavates any part of you without a rock-solid-good reason.

So, a few years before a man in a white coat buzz-sawed my healthy tooth, a different dentist had examined my teeth and told me about some coffee-colored stains on the crowns of all four molars in the back-most tooth-spots of my mouth. But the x-rays showed no decay. He asked if I had any pain (I didn’t), concluded the teeth were probably healthy, and let me decide whether or not he should bring on the deep-penetrating magic of his Black & Decker power-tool to find out for sure. (Need I say: I opted out.)

A few years after that, I was a student at UCLA. Which meant I was unlucky enough to have a student-health-insurance plan that covered visits to the on-campus dentist office, and certifiably stupid enough to use it. One dark sunny-L.A. day, I noticed the building where student-health-coverage dentists did what they did and, after giving it no sensible thought whatsoever, walked in to ask about getting an appointment for a check-up. It didn’t occur to me, as I was promptly escorted farther inside, that the age of the guy I was delivered to looked to be about 80. Looking back, I’d have to say the clueless youngsters who went in for his robot-like tooth-mechanics were the unsuspecting hobby-fodder of “something he did just to keep himself busy.” Kind of like a taxidermist’s bags of stuffing for a dead barn owl.

I stretched my jaws apart as far as I could. He whacked a metal hook onto a tooth at the far back of my mouth, and proclaimed: “Here’s one.”

His assistants jumped to it. I didn't move. My mouth was fully occupied by the pudgy hands and clanging tools inside it, so I was forced entirely out of the conversation about this “one." I couldn’t, at least I didn’t, tell him that “one” was one of the ones my previous dentist told me was simply stained, but healthy. Maybe I thought he’d give some thought to the complete absence of any indication of decay in the x-rays. Maybe I thought he knew what he was doing.

Anyway, he didn’t. He just started drilling. Then the sound of the drill screeching in my head stopped. And he went: “Hmph.” In that way you do when something isn’t what you thought it was going to be. And he drilled some more, and hmph’d some more. For what seemed like a very long time considering how small a tooth is. Searching and searching, digging deeper and deeper, for some decay under that perfectly innocuous stain. Never finding it. Then filling up the hole he'd dug with mercury amalgam poison and sending me out of the building.

Thirty years later, I still remember this Little-Shop-Of-Horrors scene frame-by-frame. I remembered it when the tooth started to ache, and the mercury had to come out, and the enormity of the poison-protection system of the mercury-removal dentist’s office, and the discussion of what replacement filling-material might be least likely to cause cancer for people of my particular body-type, and what a deep hole that dentist dug as he Hmph’d and drilled and drilled and Hmph’d, and the pill-size lump of charcoal I was given to supposedly get all the spilled mercury out of my body after the removal. I remember it when this repaired tooth flares in pain if I bite on it the wrong way or turn my head too quickly, and when I check to make sure the lump in my neck under that tooth is still getting smaller, and when the back of my eye hurts and does weird stuff because of this unnecessary filled-up hole in my tooth.

I also remembered it when, about 20 years ago, I went to the teeny, tiny office suite of a different dentist near where I worked (at a company with about 200 prospective dental patients on the same health plan) for a check-up. I remembered the scene when this different dentist left me for what seemed like a very long time in a tiny room on his dental-operations chair from which I could read a photocopy of a PR piece about some charity work he'd done, and paperwork from a diagnosis of one of his patients, Celeste, which said she had nine cavities, which reminded me of a gal I knew who told me, five or so years prior, about her sense of horror upon getting an 11-cavity diagnosis (dentist unknown).

A near-eternity later, this dentist came back in and told me I had 1) “severe gingivitis,” 2) so much plaque that I’d have to come back for a two cleaning sessions, and 3) FOUR cavities that needed to be drilled and filled.

Maybe because I was now free of the herd-instinct influences of the University of California, I couldn't help but think this just might be a whole bunch of bona-fide Hogwash. So was really glad that, this time, I wasn’t basically tied down with somebody’s drill-full hands in my mouth when the fateful dentist-enriching/patient-torturing proclamation was made. Even if I had been, I think this time I would have fought my way out of there and escaped, as I did, with all my undrilled teeth still in tact and drill-hole free.

Soon as I got back to work, I made an appointment with a different dentist. A week later, I’m in a new dentist’s chair. Diagnosis? NO gingivitis. No cavities. Teeth cleaned in 20 minutes. (By a hygienist who pummeled my gums like a butcher with a meat tenderizer, but my theory on this lady and what sure seemed like some very scary, misplaced anger is a diversion I won't go into.)

I think the story might have some sort of happy endings. One, I reported the lying dentist to my insurance company. Whether they did anything about it, I’ll never know. I was also able to compare notes about him with a co-worker of mine who had posted his business card on a lunch-room bulletin board with some kind of thumbs-up comment. She’d visited him after I did and her experience was positive. As I was telling her about my quite opposite experience, another co-worker stuck his head over the cubicle wall and enthusiastically chimed in with his own horror stories about the guy, which included having been told (like me) that he’d have to go back for two cleaning sessions and (unlike me) having gone for both sessions, then wondering what danger he'd gotten himself into when the hygienist said she had no idea which teeth had been cleaned in the first session. The three of us unanimously voted to remove the endorsement from the bulletin board.

More to the happy endings is that a few years later, the subject of my experience with a dentist's plan to undermine four of my teeth came up in a conversation I had with a “success coach” I’d hired and, to our mutual surprise, the dentist was one of his clients. Which led to the dentist attending an event I also attended, and, while there, nonverbally communicating a sense that he really wanted me to initiate a conversation with him. I didn’t. I figured he could do the initiating if he wanted to talk to me. I’d already escaped from him once. Maybe he had a conscience. More likely he was kind of worried about business. And had figured out some practical reasons to shape up a bit.

That was a long time ago. I’ve since learned a lot about what to do not just when, but before, a dentist wants to drill holes in your healthy teeth.

One is to find out as much as you can about “holistic dentistry.” You might decide, like I did, to never go to anyone but a holistic dentist in the future. (For more hair-raising dentist horror stories like this one, read up on the insanity of putting mercury in people's mouths, and about root canals.)

I also learned a bit about the research of Weston Price and a book inspired by Weston Price called “Cure Tooth Decay” by Ramiel Nagel. Lots of incredibly interesting stuff you'll wish you’d known a long time ago, plus good advice, although maybe geared to people who are lactose-tolerant? But Price’s research heralded the amazing dental health of both old and young pre-Westernized Maori people – who I believe would probably not be lactose-tolerant. The idea being that anybody can have healthy teeth without techniques of modern western-med dentistry. In any case, what Price and Nagel have to say sure does BS-detect a lot of nonsense about how to take good care of your teeth.

I also learned about “oil pulling.” Best explanation of it that I know of is at EarthClinic.com. Great not just for teeth enamel, but also your heart and your whole immune system.

And about an all-healthy-ingredients mouthwash called Periobrite that I swear can change your life. Sounds like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.

Sure wish I’d known all this before I walked into that antiquated horror-shop at UCLA so many years ago.

I didn’t.

But now you do. And I hope it saves somebody out there from a similar fate.

(P.S. I hope to write and post more articles about healing naturally soon! I would have provided links to the resources mentioned above, and the song below, but it doesn't seem to be possible.)

(P.P.S. Song from “Little Shop of Horrors” will make you… uhm... smile... or bare your teeth... or grind them in your nightmare-tossing sleep.)

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Nice thread. I can relate to most aspects being someone who has been converted to the values of holistic dentistry recently. We need to go through these traumatic experiences to come out the other side eh? ;)
I managed to go up to the age of around 25 without having any fillings whatsoever, then, in the space of two years I had around 5 (mercury) fillings, looking back I don't even really know how I let that happen, but one thing I do remember was asking the question "Are these mercury fillings safe", to which the dentist replied "of course!".

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Yeah, sometimes you can't know which road not to take until you're already far along on it. I just hope you really did need those fillings. Be sure to look at the stuff about oil pulling, about PerioBrite mouthwash, and by Price and Nagel. ("Trust me! Really! It's safe! I swear!" LOL)

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That's just it. I probably didn't need these fillings, and certainly not of the mercury nature. I've been to see a holistic dentist who do 'safe amalgam removals' so that's something I'll be considering in the future, although the cost is somewhat restrictive!
Oil pulling is a daily routine, can't recommend it enough.
As for PerioBrite I've already looked into it and totally sold, will be purchasing some soon. Thanks for that!

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You're welcome! And thank you for your comments here. Sorry for taking so long to reply.

That sounds awful! I wonder how many dentists and doctors perform more work than necessary just to milk our insurance companies.

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Yes! We should all be wondering and asking! Great project for an investigative journalist.

Although it sounds like a horrible experience, I enjoyed your humorous touch to the story :P I can totally relate as well, as throughout my life my experience was that every time I went to the dentist, I'd have a cavity that needed drilling and filling. Then one time I went to a different dentist and all they said was "just floss more and you're good to go". No dentist had ever even mentioned to me that flossing can actually heal a starting/growing cavity. Thanks for sharing your story, more people need to be aware of what to look out for when it comes to dentistry.

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We complain about car mechanics, but for some reason dentistry is sancrosanct or something. We can't bear to confront the BS that goes on in dentistry. More painful than a root canal.