The Dentists’ Tale

This is a rather unusual tale of a friend, newly arrived in town, looking for a new dentist. He knew of a few business acquaintances, who tiring of the corporate world, had gone into dentistry as a mid-life career change and decided to try them out.

He first went to a chap who had been in banking and duly went to the surgery but was surprised to find there was apparently no dental equipment. It was explained to him that the dentist would be only too pleased to help him as long as it was apparent that there was no work needed but there would be a monthly commitment fee to recognise that my friend was a patient of his.

Somewhat disillusioned my friend then contacted an investment adviser turned dentist. This was more promising as the surgery was obviously set up for dental work. First though the receptionist explained the charging system – if any work was needed the fee would be pro-rata to the number of teeth he had, regardless of how much work was needed. This seemed rather strange to my friend but he was even more disillusioned when he was told that once the number of teeth in his mouth dropped below ten it would no longer be possible to have him as a patient. Additionally there were two charging scales for managing the teeth, one being a passive method which meant that his teeth would be treated according to the average condition of the nation’s teeth, and a much more expensive scale for active management based on his own needs. The only alternative was an enhanced passive scale where the applied average condition would be as per a carefully selected population of similar age, occupation etc. Disbelieve set in when it became apparent, on enquiry, that the active management of his patients’ teeth actually produced a worse result than the basic passive system.

Believing that an ex-lawyer would be a better bet he tried another dentist. However before any dental work was started he was presented with a bill of the costs to date which ran over a few pages. He thought that couldn’t be right as it included such charges as answering phone, making an appointment, perusing dental practice legislation, preparing bill of costs and arranging malpractice cover, all as though my friend was the only patient who had ever needed dental work doing.

My friend’s wife found it hard to believe all these stories and arranged the two of them should go a dentist friend who had been an investment banker. He saw both of them and agreed there were certain problems and made a proposal to them. He recognised that each set of teeth fell short in some way and that the ideal would be to take the best of each and make one set of false teeth out of them, a synergy set as he called them. It would be quite expensive but the merger of the two sets would provide efficiencies and savings down the line and it should be a workable arrangement.

In desperation, and wondering if the latest guy had been a management consultant at some point, it dawned on them that a former accountant and auditor would obviously be the best bet. However they found that there was minimal equipment in the office from which he worked, just the chair, light, x-ray machine and some inspection tools plus the dental records of his ‘patients’. He explained to them that it was not his aim to actually have to do any work on the teeth but that he would inspect them and certify if the dental chart was a true and fair reflection of the state of the teeth, provided however that the patient signed a statement that he took responsibility for the chart being absolutely accurate in every respect. Also under no circumstances would the dentist be liable to third parties, for example anyone he bit. What seemed even more unreasonable was that the charge would be a turnover fee based on the amount of food he consumed annually, provided that no additional work of any sort was necessary, failing which an extra charge would apply.

Anyway the outcome of all this was that my friend decided to take up dentistry himself but neither I nor my gold fillings will be seeing him any time soon – he was a hard rock mining engineer with Anglo American.

© J R B Livesey 2016

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