17 Dec Great dental care starts with trust, information and an affordable payment plan
“When you don’t have a lot of money, when your family isn’t wealthy at all, and when the government offers little to no support, dental care is often last on your list of priorities,” says Cheryl Fitzell. “You’re always told it should be right up there but when you’re struggling to pay the rent many people put up with a cavity until they’re in so much pain there’s no alternative but to go to the dentist. You say to yourself, ‘Teeth are a vanity, food and shelter are necessities, if I have to lose a tooth or two, that’s a price I’m willing to pay.’”
The problem, says Cheryl, is that when you put off going to the dentist, you end up going when it’s too late and by that time the choice is often between having an extraction or having expensive root canal treatment. “And if you’ve left it that late because of funds, you usually end up going to the cheapest dentist you can find and you’re not always sure how good they are. I’ve had extractions where they told me I didn’t need a needle to numb the pain because the tooth would come out easily, they didn’t x-ray the tooth, didn’t realise there was an abscess underneath the tooth and then pulled it out, skin and all. It was a nightmare. I can tell you all sorts of horror stories but my point is, I ended up being terrified of the dentist which only made matters worse. I’ve sat in the chair and been too terrified to open my mouth. I’ve tried the gas to relax myself, I’ve tried the Penthrox, which is what ambos give to people when they’re panicking and in pain, but nothing ever worked. The fear was always there.”
Cheryl was in her 50s when her teeth became even more of a problem. “They’d started to loosen, I’d lost so many teeth I couldn’t afford to lose any more, I was finding it difficult to chew and I knew if I didn’t do something about it I was facing a future of mashed potatoes and gruel. It was the last straw. I decided to ask a doctor I knew for his recommendation and he put me on to Dr Nidhi Berera. I admit I wasn’t at all confident and I was really worried about how much it would cost but I made an appointment anyway.”
From the moment they met, Cheryl says things started to look up. “I was in the waiting room, petrified about pain and my purse strings, when Nidhi walked up to me and introduced herself. She had this big, beautiful smile and was very warm and welcoming. We went to her office and she sat me down and asked me to tell her all about my dental history. It was the first time a dentist had done that – wanted to know the full story. After I explained my history and told her my fears, she asked what I wanted from dental work. I replied, I wanted to be able to eat properly and, best case scenario, have a smile like hers. We laughed together and that made me feel even more comfortable. She then took me through all the options and offered a series of payment plans that I could actually afford. I didn’t even know dentists had payment plans! I could finally see a glimmer of hope but there was still the fear to overcome. There’s also a certain amount of shame that comes with having bad teeth. You want the dentist to see the extent of the work needed but you also don’t want to show them because you’re ashamed. It’s a Catch-22 situation.”
Cheryl says the first big difference she noticed with Nidhi was the time she took to make her feel comfortable. “We talked for ages before the work began,” she says. “She was so patient and understanding and gentle. She explained that she’d ‘seen it all’, showed me pictures of previous before and afters, really took her time to get to know me. I wasn’t a number. And she only charged me for a normal appointment time even though I know we went over the hour several times. It was a big difference to my previous experiences. Once we worked out what was to be done, her admin staff helped me to find the best payment plan and put it in place.
Then we started from scratch, with x-rays, a full dental clean – which was also really scary but they gave me something to relax and it helped a bit. Even during the cleaning, they had to pause numerous times while I had a little cry out of terror. But every step of the way, they were building my trust and confidence. After they’d established a thorough knowledge of the state of my teeth and gums, we went ahead with a couple of little fillings and, by that time, I’d started to trust they had my best interests at heart, so we got through it together. Once upon a time, I would have been shaking with fear and barely able to open my mouth to let someone do the work. After that came the big one; all-on-four dental implants. They told me I’d be under a general anaesthetic for that because they knew it would be too much for me if I was awake for the procedure. After the surgery, the team followed up constantly to see how I was going and walked me through the recovery process, always patiently and with enormous gentleness and care.”
And how does Cheryl feel now? “Frankly, I can’t believe I made it through! If it wasn’t for Nidhi and her team, I’m sure things would have gone from bad to worse. But they made it such a staged and sensible and logical process. That was the key; the personal support and the constant informing about what was going on and why. And because I knew the financial side of it was sorted, that was one less thing to worry about and a huge impediment removed.
I’ve gone from someone who hid their smile for years, to someone who walks into a room, teeth first. And while I’m still a tiny bit anxious about visiting the dentist, I’ll go. I won’t put it off. Because I know they’ll look after me. Really, really look after me. I am beyond grateful. If I could give anyone any advice, it’s to shop around for dentists who take the time to get to know you and explain what needs to be done, instead of sticking you straight in the chair and giving you a bill at the end of it. Your teeth aren’t just teeth; there’s a whole world of psychology and history behind your smile. If you can find someone who understands that, you’ve hit gold.”
If you have any dental concerns of your own, book a one-on-one consultation with Dr Nidhi Berera today. While you’re there, remember to ask about the many payment options available, including HICAPS, Zip Pay, Total Life Credit, the list goes on.