Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Brace yourself

Recently, my son paid a visit to an orthodontist, after a referral from our dentist. I was reluctant to take him initially as, apart from two teeth at the side of his mouth that are a bit cramped, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the arrangement of his dentures.
Despite my reservations, I took him along to the ‘brace man’, mainly because I trusted my dentist’s judgement – after all, teeth are what he is supposed to do best.
After a very short examination, the orthodontist recommended that my son did indeed need a brace. Not just any old brace. In order to correct the miniscule dental problem of two teeth that are a tad too close for comfort, my poor boy was expected to wear some weird contraption on his head for twelve hours a day.
As the orthodontist showed us a picture of this device, I winced and couldn’t help thinking about the Spanish Inquisition. My son looked at me pleadingly.
We left abruptly, having told the orthodontist that we’d think about it. As soon as we got out the door, my son said to me,
“ Do I have to wear that thing, really?”
I reassured him that unless he had any ambitions to be either a model or a member of a boy band, he would never have to even think about that instrument of torture again.
As I drove home, I felt content that I had spared taxpayers a big wedge of cash and my son months and months of discomfort and humiliation.
Every year, nearly 100,000 children have corrective dental treatment at a cost, on average, of around £800. Is it just me, but at a time when NHS dentists are as rare as rocking horse droppings, doesn’t this seem like a big case of getting priorities a bit confused?
Eighty million pounds are spent every year on appeasing parents who demand that their offspring have perfect teeth, yet people have to tolerate prolonged dental pain that can result in chronic pervading infection because they cannot afford treatment.
I’m aware that some children need and deserve corrective dental treatment. We all remember poor old Johnny Buck Teeth at the back of the class. But if my son was recommended such extreme and unnecessary treatment, millions of pounds are being wasted on treatment that is, to all intents and purposes, purely cosmetic.

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