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May 08, 2006

DIY dentistry on the rise in the UK

Pain, originally uploaded by Fabio Sabatini.

Dentists call it autoextraction, and with the UK's public dentistry system on the ropes, more and more Britons are taking matters into their own hands. [NYT]


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There's a joke in here somewhere...

Mike, you're right. From The Day Today, ten years ago:

ROMELLA BELX: Dentists. Time was when dental care was free. But now, rising costs are forcing people with sick mouths onto the streets. Last night, I went with a team to there.

BELX [V.O.]: Soaring costs have forced dentists to use telephone boxes as reception areas, and the back streets as their chair.

BELX: It's daylight here, and the streets look quite normal. But when night draws in, like a great dark thing, this area becomes the stalking ground for scores of dentists.

[An infra-red camera shows several dentists plying for trade under a bridge.]

BELX [V.O.]: Up to 150 practicioners can operate under this bridge in any one night. We saw seven of them, all after one mouth.

DENTIST: Just turn round, just pretend you're yawning and open your mouth. Right... probably a molar needs doing.

[A car pulls up at the side of the road. A woman in a white coat approaches and leans through the window.]

HAMBEL: Hi, do you need any dental work doing? Any fillings, hygiene, root canals? 25 quid. Done. [She gets into the car.]

BELX [V.O.]: For the past three years, Hambel has worked alone. Without equipment, or basic surfaces.

HAMBEL: I used to do a wet polish with my tongue, I used to blow on their faces to keep them cool, because there was no anaesthetic.

BELX: Without anaesthetic, it must have been hard to stop people screaming. How did you do that?

HAMBEL: I used to hold their throats with my hand.

BELX: Can you show me?

HAMBEL: What, on you? Well, I used to press their windpipe like that-

BELX [strained]: Uh-huh. Ugh!

BELX [V.O.]: Nighttime, with the police's undercover social unit.

[The police find a pile of bloody swabs on the pavement.]

COP: Kids play with one of these, they get big ideas. They see a swab, think 'Oh that's pretty cool', they all want to be Clint Eastwood. [Picks up a drill bit] Here we go, our old friend Mr Drill.

BELX: Now that doesn't look like a dental drill.

COP: It's not. There's two drills here, they're both masonry drills.

BELX: Can be sure that was used for dental treatment?

COP: Yeah, there's traces of enamel here.

[The cop discovers a dentist at work on a patient round a corner. A chase ensues.]

BELX [V.O.]: A back street dentist and his client. We chased and filmed at the same time. The dentist managed to escape on a nearby yacht, but the dentee was less fortunate.

BELX: Can I ask you how you feel?

DENTEE [blood streaming from his mouth]: Rather disorientated, obviously.

COP: Okay, what's wrong with the NHS?

DENTEE: I waited three weeks for an appointment!

COP: He's made a real mess of your face, you know that.

DENTEE: So I used an illegal dentist, I hardly think it's a criminal offence.

COP: Well, it *is* a criminal offence.

DENTEE: It's not! Is it?

BELX [V.O.]: The next night, our dentist was back at work.

[An infra-red camera picks out the dentist ripping someone's teeth out with pliers.]

BELX: Proof, if proof be need be, that it's going to take more than a big syringe to cure Britain's mouth.

I'm waiting for artisan street dentists to start cropping up in the developed world. Street dentistry is an ancient and highly-refined craft in India and elsewhere in Asia. These folks not only do extractions, but also cast gold teeth and do other rudimentary mouth metal work.

I'm half-serious about creating a modern equivalent for routine dental care in the developed world. These people would be credentialed and licensed as para-professionals. They could team up with hygenists to provide dental primary care at a fraction of the cost of real dentists.

At least the Brits are doing dentisty, now.


...fuck. now the British aren't going to vote for us.

I just knew I saw this in Life of Brian! Couldn't put a finger on it...

Honestly, though, the problem with dentists refusing to take on NHS patients is localised to London and the SE, and isn't representative of the NHS as a whole. Dentists got special treatment when the NHS was founded, and over the last 20 years, they've racked up the cash.

(Me, I was back in the UK for a couple of months, and since BCBS doesn't cover dental, I popped into my old NHS dentist for a checkup. All's well.)

It is frightening to think that this is happening, but health care dentistry is all but disappearing. The alternative huge private fees charged are just too much for many to bear, especially pensioners.

Great post, really informative article!

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