COLUMN: Hooped without a good dental plan

Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former District of Maple Ridge councillor who writes monthly for The News.

Anyone who thinks Tung Sheng (David) Wu has been the only unlicensed dentist to carry on his trade illegally in this province is delusional.

It is not uncommon by any means for retired dentists and even some who are still active in their profession to carry on business in their homes in much the same manner as Wu.

We have even had examples of this right here in little old Maple Ridge.

While the College of Dental Surgeons, the self-governing body for dentists in B.C., will likely deny the widespread existence of such illegal practices, thousands of patients of these basement practitioners take regular advantage of the bargains available in such unlicensed operations.

The main differences between Wu and many others is that Wu is not in good standing with the College of Dental Surgeons, nor does he possess a licence or adhere to adequate sanitary standards.

There are many reasons why people will patronize illegal or unlicensed basement dental operations but the biggest reason is affordability.

The general lack of affordability of unsubsidized dental work is a many-headed monster and people like Wu are only one aspect of it.

Practically from birth, parents are besieged with dentists’ psychological claptrap that, if we want our children to have a vibrant and prosperous life, they must have perfectly aligned, perfectly formed and perfectly white teeth.

Of course, this all costs money; plenty of money; indecent sums of money, and most of all, money that many parents don’t have unless they have a good, employer-supported dental plan.

According to too many dentists, those poor children whose parents can’t afford these socially vital dental works will be condemned to a substandard life with few friends and a bleak future.

A cynic might claim that the greedy element in dentistry is more interested in esthetics and their own bottom line than they are in the dental well-being of their patients. The advent of dental plans has only made the financial burden of dental costs for many people even more impossible.

Retainers, braces, bridges, root canals, and full or partial dentures can cost many thousands of dollars. In the parlance of today’s world, if you don’t have a dental plan or a huge income, you are hooped.

While some dentists struggle along on net incomes that are not startling, many rake in more than $200,000 per year.

People with dental plans have little regard for how much or how little their dentist makes but people on low incomes and pensioners without dental plans are left in the lurch.

Even at lowest average income for dentists, most old age pensioners earn about one-tenth as much. Without additional resources, many of these people either ignore their dental health or they patronize illegal basement operations such as Wu’s.

The health care system in B.C. is failing in a huge way when it comes to dental health. Only in rare cases will medicare pick up the tab for dental work.

Dentists, dental hygienists, and almost any health care professional will attest to the importance of good dental health on the impact of a person’s overall physical well-being.

By ignoring or evading the issue of dental health costs, the province’s health care system is probably incurring even greater overall costs. And so people with no alternative affordable option will continue to seek out illegal basement dental operations where they can receive treatment.

Editor’s Note: A B.C. Supreme Court justice issued a warrant for Wu’s arrest after he failed to show up for a scheduled court appearance. His whereabouts are unknown.

Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former district councillor.

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