Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dental Work and LDS Missionaries

Recently my daughter returned from her mission. She had some dental problems while on a mission in Korea but being in a foreign country she waited until she came home to take care of her cavities. When she went on her mission even though she was in Provo she had a non LDS dentist who didn't insist on her having her wisdom teeth extracted he did take care of one root canal. Most LDS dentist on the other hand are more meticulous and would have insisted they be removed knowing that nineteen to twenty-one years are at the point in life when they should be removed.

Potential missionaries are anxious to get their papers in and try many times to cut corners to get them in fast. They are doing themselves a disservice when they wait until the last moment since dental treatment can take a few weeks if not a few months. Dentists are busy people. I recently tried to get my younger kids in and sometimes we wait three or four weeks for an appointment.

I find that dentist are very socially conscious people and try to give back in their communities. I know personally coming from a non-Mormon family that I didn't have the money to pay for my dental work and more than a few hundred might have been enough to keep me off a mission. I also knew no one was going to help me out since my bishop made it clear to me in the process. My non-Mormon father had not encouraged us to go to the dentist even though he had health insurance at work. I guess since he never made over $25,000 in his life and had a gambling addiction problem it would have strained his limited resources. He told me I would have to take care of my own medical and dental bills. I went to work at nine with a paper route and worked as a dishwasher by fourteen in a casino. At nineteen I worked fourteen hours a day to go on a mission working two different janitorial jobs that I got through LDS Employment in Las Vegas. Luckily for me for whatever reason I only had a couple of minor cavities and the LDS dentist was kind enough to charge me less than his usual rate and he did the work within a couple of days of calling him. The doctor also helped me on my medical part giving me a couple of free vacinations. Many LDS dentists and doctors offer missionary discounts and some do few free consultations when the person is in need. I met a couple in Utah who privately told me that they didn't charge anything to those who couldn't afford it or would only take the insurance portion for those who could. Many LDS dentists go unrecognized for their generous support of LDS missionary work.

Even with health insurance which my daughter has now through my work her recent work cost over $1000. I know that many hundreds of missionaries go on their missions and don't take care of dental problems for several reasons. A major reason is that they don't want to lose time on their mission when they can be out working. A second reason is that they don't want to be a burden to their parents who many times are helping them financially.

I am convinced now that potential missionaries and missionaries need to stay on top of their dental needs. Last night my daughter called me from the intensive care unit of Utah Valley Medical Center. Even though she has been home a few months she became engaged to another returned missionary. He has been home for three years from his mission. About three weeks ago he went in to get his wisdom teeth extracted. He began to experience agonizing pain. The dentist proscribed a painkiller since he had gone in to the emergency room and the attending doctor said that the gum looked healthy. By all outward appearances he seemed fine but the pain continued. Yesterday he went in and they discovered an large abcess growing in his gum. If the infection had spread a few millimeters down or up he would have had his airway closed off or his brain infected and he would be dead. He faces ten days in the hospital and he will not be able to make up the semester at BYU. The weekend will also tell whether he lives or dies.

Potential missionaries who are going foreign should have their mission teeth extracted in my opinion before their missions. This came home to me yesterday when I went in for my fifteen year old daughters orthodontic consultation. The orthodontist showed me the digital pictures of her mouth. Her wisdom teeth are sideways and will erupt in such a way that the enamel will cause erosion of the molars next to them and decay them. Wisdom teeth are not something to mess with.

I tried putting them off myself when on a mission. I also gambled and loss on the process. I had to go in to a dental surgeon in Toronto who extracted them. My mission picked up the expense which was a drain on the church's resources. I also had a bad experience where I got a dry socket. The dental surgeon had to reopen the infected area and drain it. I was more fortunate than my daughter's fiancee. Don't mess around with your dental work. Take care of it early.

I am sure there are stories that abound in how nothing happened and I am sure there are stories that abound of nightmares of not getting a cavity attended.


Naismith said...

"Most LDS dentist on the other hand are more meticulous and would have insisted they be removed knowing that nineteen to twenty-one years are at the point in life when they should be removed."

I am not sure "meticulous" is the word to describe it. Best dental practices do NOT recommend that wisdom teeth be removed in the absence of impaction or some other medical indication.

And since it is surgery, there is non-trivial risk, and issues with insurance coverage, which likely won't pay in the absence of documented medical necessity.

What really happened is that those LDS "meticulous" dentists were willing to lie to the insurance company about the necessity of the removal.

Anonymous said...

"What really happened is that those LDS "meticulous" dentists were willing to lie to the insurance company about the necessity of the removal."

When I went in 1985, the church said point-blank on the mission paperwork that wisdom tooth removal was highly recommended.

My dentist said that it wasn't a good idea to remove otherwise healthy teeth, my parents concurred, so I didn't get mine removed. 23 years later, I still have them with no adverse consequences whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

Since a missionary most likely will not be receiving dental treatment for the next two years, the wisdom teeth can cause a real problem. Dental techniques today are such that the xrays will show exactly how the wisdom teeth are situated and whether they will cause problems within that time period. I would think that if the dentist advises removal, it would be best to do it early rather than risk problems on the mission or later, when they have caused damage to other teeth or to the bite. Yes, sometimes this involves "creative" billing.

Anonymous said...

Uhhhh . .

"Creative billing"?

Doesn't that mean cheating the insurance company by misrepresenting the patient's condition?

Sounds awfully unethical. .

Dr. B said...

When I wrote this post my intention was to encourage people to just take care of their dental work ahead of time. I don't condon unethical practices. I think dentist must go by their professional opinions. Our recent orthodonist recommended both our daughters age 15 and 17 have them removed. The first is medically imperative the second just gives her more room to align her crowded teeth. I have never consider that all dentist nonMormon and Mormon are cheating the medical companies. As a parent we don't really do much but follow their advice. Being as I am not a dentist I try to make an informed decision. I will go back to them and make sure this is both medically necessary and ethical. Thanks for pointing this out. I am sure it is an angle few of us lay people consider.

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