My Indian Dentist

While I’m here in India, I’ve been watching the U.S. Health Care bill start and stop its way through the Senate. Whether you love Obamacare or Trumpcare, I can’t help but think…our whole idea of health care in America is backwards.

Rather than create a system that truly serves the citizens in our country…we’ve placed profits ahead of people in this one vital area. We all know this is true. We’ve even been raised to believe this is normal. Hospitals and doctors and insurance companies and drug manufacturers are in this business, first and foremost, to make money. And because health care is a business…providers can charge whatever the market will bear. As the cynics might say: If health care is too expensive for you…don’t buy it. Sorry, but not everyone can buy a sports car either. For iPods and software and MRIs, America is a capitalist country and we do not apologize for making money. This is the American way. Cue the anthem.

Before anyone starts to rant about our “envy of the world” health care system or casts any “love it or leave it” aspersions on my patriotism, let me give you just a single example that happened to me recently.  A tale of two cities, if you will.

When I was back in the States, I was over at my daughter Jackson’s apartment, biting into a piece of leftover Easter candy when I chipped a tooth. It was one of my back teeth that had a filling drilled into it when I was a boy, and one corner of the tooth crumbled into tiny chips.

Worried that the tooth would completely fall apart, I called a local Aspen Dental office the next day. Aspen Dental is a dentistry chain that takes walk-ins and advertises low rates. Not wanting to break the bank over my broken tooth (and without dental insurance), I called and hoped for the best. I explained the chipped tooth to the nice woman who answered the phone and asked how much it would cost to fix.

“This type of procedure is very common,” I was told. “The procedure starts at just $1500 but can go up substantially from there depending on the work needed. Shall I schedule an appointment?”

I declined. “You know, I can probably fly to India, round trip, and have the work done over there for half that amount,” I said.

“Then you should probably do that,” the nice woman replied before bidding me a good afternoon.

So I did.

My ticket to India was $800—which is a very good price. Then just the other day, I went to see a local doctor. I was actually going to have a skin rash looked at but saw pictures of teeth on the doctor’s office walls. “Are you a dentist?” I asked.

“Yes, sir. Dermatologist. Dentist,” the doctor said with a smile and a back-and-forth bobble of his head. And so I told him about my chipped tooth. “Come to my chair,” he offered.

With no wait or appointment, I sat in his standard-issue adjustable dentist chair and he started up some kind of machine. “What are you doing?” I asked him, worried by the whirring motor.

“I’m fixing it,” he said.

Into my mouth he placed sharp objects and a tiny round mirror. A plastic suction tube was hooked onto the corner of my mouth. It was all happening so fast. “Am I going to need any anesthesia or something?” I wondered.

“No, sir,” the dentist/dermatologist said. “We have some music though.”

As directed, an assistant switched on a radio. Elevator music began to play. Billy Joel sang “I Love You Just The Way You Are.”

After that…the doctor fixed my tooth. He cleaned it out, prepared some kind of putty, fashioned a tooth right there in the office, pressed it in place, hardened it with a UV light wand, shaped it, smoothed it, and fiddled around till it was done.

Total time: ten minutes. Total cost: just 500 rupees or roughly seven dollars and seventy-five cents. (For the record, he charged nothing for the dermatology appointment. $7.75 covered the entire visit.)

So what exactly is the point of this story? you might be asking. Am I saying India has a better health care system then the good old U.S.A.?

No. But I am saying: When you can fly half way around the world and have a routine medical procedure done for half the cost you’d pay at your local for-profit health care provider just down the street… maybe, just maybe, you’re being charged too much at home.

What do you think?


  • Victoria Beck
    Posted at 13:26h, 17 July

    Okay… you might be surprised to know that the MOST surprising part of this story to me was “JOHN EATS CANDY?” LOL. Aside from that, I would add that it is not only corporate profits of pharmaceutical companies (and the like) that drive up the cost of health care, but HUGE amounts of government regulations and the litigious nature of our culture. Your doctor / dentist in India was (I’m guessing here) able to be licensed differently and run his practice more loosely. He doesn’t pass on the high costs of malpractice insurance to his patients. He probably doesn’t worry about EPA regulations that necessitate new equipment, with parts and pieces that are government approved / changed every year. It’s a complicated equation – I agree with you – and the reasons for the high costs go well beyond merely the socialized medicine / spread the cost of each among the wealthiest or simply the corporate greed arguments. It is complicated because we have complicated it on EVERY level and, as we have done so, we have also de-personalized it as well. The latter is what I find most egregious; depersonalization has stripped us of the care of our own bodies and the freedoms of choice we like to associate with the American way. Now… I’m just going to savor that image of John Marshall eating CANDY. 😉

    • Clifton
      Posted at 22:06h, 17 July

      Yeah, I think you are right Victoria. It’s a combination of a bunch of things… I am sure there are more factors too that have yet to be mentioned. I agree wholeheartedly about the denationalization, but I think it also runs both ways. In the west we as a society raise Doctors up to this incredibly high standard of accountability, forgetting that they are humans too; and humans make mistakes. In India if a Doctor fixed the wrong tooth or made a minor mistake, most people would just accept that he was doing the best he could and just made an innocent mistake (crazy how different that is from our mindset in the west). Obviously there is an argument for the other side too, Doctors do need some form of accountability… but perhaps the pendulum needs to swing back, if only a little bit, to the other side.

    • John Marshall
      Posted at 23:18h, 17 July

      It is definitely a complicated issue, Victoria. And under all the partisan bickering, I think both Republicans and Democrats can agree that the current system could be improved, to say the least. So how do we improve it for every American? If an estimated 23 million American adults STILL do not have coverage, how do we cover them? What is the best, most compassionate, most economical way to do that? I sure don’t know. But we as a nation have not figured this one out. We’ve got the military thing done; that is a huge priority for us. But the health care thing…not so much. Until we think of health care as a system that supports ALL Americans at EVERY income level, we as a nation have work to do. And yes, I eat candy from time to time. My secret is out 🙂

  • Natalie Graham
    Posted at 14:06h, 17 July

    The way health care is administered has been a perpetual problem over here in the States. While I understand that the way we do things here is mostly profit-driven, I’ve always questioned the ‘profit’ level to which services like healthcare should go from an ethical standpoint, since that care impacts the fundamental well-being of all who live and work here.

    One thing that drives me crazy about the whole us vs. them debate over healthcare is my rather practical extrapolation of ‘what happens next?’ after this group or that group of currently covered people lose coverage. I’ve only seen these big numbers that say how many will lose insurance. If they do, what is the societal cost for the inevitable care that those people will need? What happens to the children born to moms who didn’t get good care? Or the developmentally challenged kids who lose the therapy and medical care they need to support them through their entire lives? How will the chronically ill or elderly be helped?

    It comes back to all of us one way or another. There were already significant gaps and any way our legislators move the shells around, there doesn’t seem to be consideration of the longer-ranging impacts of what will happen when we have restricted access to the web of medical and social services needed by those who now cannot afford them.

    • John Marshall
      Posted at 23:07h, 17 July

      It’s so true, Natalie. The root problem with our system (though it’s an incredibly complicated one) is the profit motive we have with health care. There are so many powerful groups whose growth and wealth depend upon us keeping and expanding the current broken system. And so we vilify any “socialized” idea…as if the care is inherently substandard or the people are universally unhappy with it. But if EVERY industrialized nation on earth EXCEPT us has figured out a way to do it…and I’m talking Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Solvenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom…why can’t we see what’s working in these parts of the world and adopt the best practices? How does providing care for everyone somehow go against our values? Sadly, so long as profit comes before people, we will continue to be the most notable holdout on this list.

  • Aaron Tuthill
    Posted at 14:22h, 17 July

    John, if you bump into an orthopedic surgeon in Khatima let me know!

    • John Marshall
      Posted at 22:42h, 17 July

      Orthopedic/gynecologist/electrician. A man’s got to diversify. I’ll keep my eyes open, Aaron.

  • Meredith H. Jordan
    Posted at 17:19h, 17 July

    I’m coming to India to have my broken tooth fixed! May I have the name of your dentist/dermatologist? Smart medicine being practiced for the right reasons, which is NOT what’s happening in the US. No wonder people are going all over the world to have their hips and knees replaced.

    • John Marshall
      Posted at 22:37h, 17 July

      Hey Meredith, It’s true. And really not a bad idea. You get a vacation AND the medical care. See The World Dentistry. Why settle for overpriced local care when you can travel somewhere new and save money? It’s one hidden benefit to an overpriced system.

  • Bill Rapier
    Posted at 22:30h, 17 July

    Great post John!!! I’m in bed waiting for 2 Vicodin to kick in after having a cracked wisdom tooth pulled. Total cost: about half your ticket to India. Blessings for all you do. God is smiling as you serve His kids.

    • John Marshall
      Posted at 22:39h, 17 July

      That’s not Indian prices, Billy, but not too bad. Hope the Vicodin helps you travel to a distant land, if only in your mind. Blessings to you too as you carry His kids as well.

  • Maggi Brown
    Posted at 13:37h, 18 July

    Wow. Amazing story. Is the tooth staying in OK and not bothering you again? We have had the dental work that costs thousands here and sometimes the teeth still ache and cause problems later! Less than $8. Just astonishing.

    • John Marshall
      Posted at 05:21h, 19 July

      The tooth is fine. Honestly I’ve forgotten all about it. Now in the interest of full disclosure, when the job was done, the dentist asked how it felt and I said…”It feels a little…big.” So he ground it down a little. “How’s that?” he asked. And I said: It felt better but…not quite there. So we had more grinding until my bite felt normal. Which is another way of saying, this is not fancy, dental molds, perfect teeth kind of work. I’m not sure if it was a front tooth that I’d be so quick to grab a $8 job. But for a far back one? I’m more than satisfied. And I got a trip to India out of the deal. Win Win.