Warning: What I’m about to report may be offensive to dentists or other health care workers in Utah and elsewhere. Let me first state that Utah has many great dentists, and I think that most dentists, LDS or otherwise, are decent and honorable. In fact, all the ones I currently know in Wisconsin and out West are ones that I think are honest are trustworthy. But there may be some disturbing exceptions. . . .
Tonight I had two people in my home tell me about how they had a puzzling diagnosis from dentists in Provo, Utah. One, when she was a young married student at BYU years ago, had a Provo dentist tell her that she had 10 cavities suddenly show up, allegedly due to the biochemical changes associated with pregnancy. She was skeptical, got a second opinion, and found that she had no cavities.
Another, a recent BYU grad, visited a dentist and had the hygienist tell her that she had a “disgusting mouth” with about 10 cavities, after which the dentist told her she had at least 8 and needed a lot of work. She was puzzled because she just had a check up six months before and had been practicing outstanding dental hygiene. He said there were marks showing that she had just had her braces off and these were related to early cavities. She resisted and explained that it had been 10 years since her braces were off, after which the dentist backed down and said she didn’t need work after all. After coming to Wisconsin, dentists praised her for having such great teeth – and no cavities.
My stomach sank as I heard these stories, for I had a similar experience in Provo – with less wisdom on my part.
After returning from my mission, I went to a trusted family dentist in Salt Lake who gave me a clean bill of dental health. No problems at all. But in Provo, a little over a year later, I saw a dentist who told me news that shocked me. My mouth was heavily decayed with 22 cavities! It would require a lot of work – a lot of expensive work that would take up a lot of what I was earning. I hadn’t been diligent enough in flossing, I suppose, but I couldn’t imagine how I could have developed so many cavities. The dentist, knowing I was a recently returned missionary, said this happens frequently to returned missionaries. Two years of inadequate dental care can catch up with you quickly, and perhaps the problems that had been building up were still too small for the Salt Lake dentist to have noticed. Changes in food and other habits can all contribute, blah blah blah. Well, who was I to question the authority of a skilled dentist?
Note to self: thank goodness I’ve been questioning authority a whole lot more in recent years. Keep it up. (I can hear the critical guffaws here. But don’t assume that because I’m a defender of the LDS faith that I believe in blind obedience and that I merrily go along with whatever anybody says in the Church or elsewhere. Details aren’t for this blog. But it’s possible to respect and honor authority while challenging apparent errors of judgment – and I can attest to the fact that church leaders are fallible, especially based on my personal experience as a bishop, for example. Trust me, I’ve stirred up more than my fair share of trouble, some of which was immature over-reaction on my part, and some of which was not.)
As a gullible returned missionary in Zion’s shielded outpost of Provo, I trusted and paid through the nose for the work in my mouth. For many years I’ve have been embarrassed over how many cavities I had filled – over 20! – and wondered how I could have been so stupid as to have let my teeth go so bad so quickly so shortly after my mission. And now tonight, I felt even more stupid. Perhaps my teeth were fine. Perhaps I was exploited. I hope not, but it’s possible. How stupid to not get a second opinion. Maybe my mouth was somebody’s gift horse.
When you get a medical or dental opinion that doesn’t seem right, do the drill of getting a second opinion. Question authority. You can’t undo a filling or most other procedures.
(Ditto for tattoos. Get a second opinion before you add something that you regret decades later. Here’s a good second opinion: don’t.)