Dental Phobia: National Sterilization Scandals Edition
August 11, 2017 11:01 PM   Subscribe

I am Asian and live in an Asian country which just experienced two sterilization-related scandals in a row due to medical negligence. I have a dental appointment booked for Tuesday and I am terrified to go. What should I do?

I have read through the other dental phobia askmefis but they were all about fear of the dentist/procedures, not about patient safety.

Background (If you google you can find out the details): In the first scandal, the most important public hospital here failed to sterilize equipment properly, resulting in several kidney patients being infected with hepatitis C.At least one patient has died since.

I happen to be a patient at this very hospital though not of the department affected. I have been skipping my appointments however. I do not think my condition is serious though obviously I can't avoid medical care forever.

In the second scandal, the main public dental center here failed to sterilize their instruments properly leading to at least 72 patients being exposed to infection. The public has not been informed if anyone has contracted anything from this lapse.

I go to a private dental clinic (i.e. am not a patient at the public center) and am way overdue for my 6 monthly checkup/cleaning. As you can see from my avoidance of my hospital appointments, I am a generally anxious person. I have always had paranoid thoughts about "What if they didn't sterilize properly?". However, I have always gritted my teeth and forced myself to go because I don't want to end up needing a root canal due to neglect.

With the two recent scandals, I no longer have any faith in the local healthcare system and I'm having trouble making myself go to the dentist. The anxiety has gotten so bad it's affecting my sleep and my work (I have been literally having nightmares about the dentist).

I am not wealthy and cannot afford some swanky upmarket dentist(the wealthy here do not use public health services or smaller dental clinics obviously so they are not affected.Local health insurance does not cover outpatient dental care).

Am I bonkers or are my concerns reasonable? Should I attend my dental appointment next week? If I do go, do I air my concerns openly with my dentist? How do I do so without sounding like a nut or like I'm doubting their professionalism? What should I do? Deep down, I am convinced I have already or will be infected with something serious if I go and am on track to dying horribly.I am tempted to cancel but my teeth needs cleaning badly. I could switch dentists (choices limited by my budget) but I'm not sure if that will solve the problem of my worry. Help!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (4 answers total)
You aren't bonkers and your concerns are reasonable.

That being said, if you are not-old and healthy, you have far, far less to worry about. I mean, yeah, you should expect professionalism at all times from professionals. And even the best have off days. Point is, you have a much, much larger margin for error than otherwise and it is possible to overstate the risks. Especially as this is just a cleaning and not, say, an extraction or root canal.

So, go have your teeth cleaned. Then, find another dentist in the months to follow if you find the work was suboptimal.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:11 PM on August 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

I may have good teeth genes because I am in my 30s and I've never had a cavity in my life, but I only go to the dentist once per year. I don't know if you need to agonize about going twice per year. That said, I agree that if you are healthy and not elderly, the chances are that, even if you got some sort of infection, you'd be totally fine.

As a patient, you have the right to ask questions and take control of your care. Why not just ask them about their sterilization procedures? Sometimes when I am at the doctor and I am feeling chatty, I do ask random questions and they are always happy to answer them. You could easily ask them, "Do you use the same equipment from patient to patient? How do you ensure you're not spreading germs around?" If they can't answer a simple, curious question like that, then feel free to run for the hills, but maybe if they can explain this to you, you'll feel better.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:07 AM on August 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

You're talking about Singapore, right? My youngest gets pediatric dental care through NUH and though I checked the dates, I was fine taking her for her subsequent appointments (she has my terrible teeth and thus early cavities) because the relative risk was overall was lower than the risk of the carried over, plus post-scandal, hospital and clinic staff tend to be super-cautious and diligent about hygiene for a long while.

The cost difference for a private dental cleaning vs a public hospital cleaning isn't that huge - if it's just a regular cleaning, most of the little private dental clinics under an HDB block will be $75-$100, with the big advantage of flexible scheduling. It's when you get into lots of fillings and root canals that the prices start to sharply differ. If you'd feel more comfortable with a private clinic, go for one. You can go public via a polyclinic or emergency appointment for a root canal etc later on if you need to.

As far as sterility goes - most of what's happening is out of your sight because it's in the hospital or in the dental clinic. You have to trust the doctors and the nurses and the associated staff.

I'm critical of many aspects of Singapore's medical system but I believe the care they deliver is excellent overall as a frequent flyer patient. They could have buried the dental sterility issue easily enough, but for whatever internal politics, they're pushing to improve.

I've got a compromised immune system and for anything more than a filling, have to get an okay from my doctors and sometimes go on antibiotics in advance. I'd be fine getting treated at NUH or SGH for sure. More than some private clinics I've been treated at.

This seems much more like anxiety over dental issues, hooking onto existing germ phobia issues. Dentists are totally used to patients with anxiety issues and will be able to answer questions and talk you through the procedure and explain sterilisation and so on. If you aren't comfortable starting, you CAN walk.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:14 AM on August 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Ha, I was going to ask if you were talking about Malaysia and suggest Singapore as an option...

You could try Johor Bahru. I know Malaysia doesn't seem to be as "high tech" as Singapore but the dentists I've seen have been pretty decent. Feel free to message me if you want recs.
posted by divabat at 11:11 PM on August 13, 2017

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