December 7, 2011

Expat Life and Orthodontics

Expat life and orthodontics don’t mix very well. In fact, moving anywhere doesn’t agree with orthodontic treatment in your children. This sadly is one area of our expat existence where I can’t proclaim any joy at all. Except maybe one little silver lining, and that’s just because I’m a hopeless optimist.

Our troubles in this department, so to speak, started in Wisconsin, when Jabulani needed an expander to make more room in his mouth for future teeth. We dutifully turned the little screw and happily expanded away, until we had to move to Kansas. The new orthodontist there ordered us to stop, with a bit of alarm at how much his mouth had been widened. Maybe the first one had never encountered such a diligent family before. In any case, the recommendation now was adjusting the front teeth. In the braces went, and we even stayed long enough for them to come out again a year later. We were sent off with Phase I of his treatment pronounced finished (even though for us it felt like Phase II already) and the advice to seek out a new orthodontist in South Africa, where we were moving next, to consult about Phase II.

With all this focus on Jabulani, we never quite gave our other children’s orthodontic situation much notice. You would actually think that’s the dentist’s job, right? But in hindsight our family dentists over the years seem to have been a bit asleep at the wheel. Because when we set out to find yet another one upon our arrival in South Africa, he immediately sent us all off to the orthodontist, especially Zax, who is already fifteen. The orthodontist confirmed his suspicion, with the result that I found myself sitting at the orthodontist last week waiting for three out of our four kids being fitted out with braces. You don’t want to know what kind of bill I got presented with afterwards, but let me just say that orthodontics, unlike medical care, is actually more expensive here in South Africa than in the U.S.

I always thought the whole business of rearranging teeth was very technical and straightforward, but I am beginning to think that it is more a form of art than anything else. Everyone seems to see something different and recommends a new approach, with the effect that when you move from one place to another, you basically start from scratch. And, sadly, start paying from scratch as well. Which your insurance won't cover because you've exceeded your lifetime cap. Maybe they know a thing or two about orthodontists.

All the orthodontic paraphernalia we walked home with in addition to the braces

Jabulani - who you'll remember got a bunch of metal taken out of his arm only last week, just to now have put more of it in his mouth - is furious, feeling he has wasted several years already on his teeth and is still making no progress. What makes us think this orthodontist knows any better than the other ones, he wants to know. Zax isn't happy either, considering most of his friends are now getting their braces out, not in. And Sunshine can't talk anymore for the moment what with all the wires in her mouth. The only one escaping braces is Impatience, who in a twist of irony typical for our family is the one who actually wanted braces and has been pondering color schemes for years.

And the silver lining? Well - I really do feel the dental care we're getting here is excellent, both from the dentist whom I've mentioned in a previous post and Dr. Thomadakis, our orthodontist, even if it is expensive. So maybe it's a good thing we ended up here. Funny. I venture to guess that most of you considering Africa as your next destination aren't coming here for the dental care, which just goes to show that you shouldn't be prejudiced about these things.


Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane said...

That's quite a dental saga you have there! I'm glad you are happy with the care you have in South Africa.

In my travels I have found that sometimes there is excellent dental and health care available in poor countries for those who can afford it, like expats and the local well-to-do. Here in Moldova we just got a brand new international hospital and clinic with the latest equipment and excellent doctors, in our experience. Most locals cannot afford it, but for Americans and European expats it is very cheap.

And of course in many poor countries they've found a new way to attract foreigners: Medical tourism.

Good luck with all the wired up family members!

Sine said...

You're making a very good point, Miss Footloose, one that I always forget to mention: you have to have money to pay for these nice services. I don't want to know what dental care looks like on government medical care, but I suspect it's pretty much nonexistent, judging from all the toothless smiles I see day in and day out...

Daniel carter said...
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W. A. Jeffrey said...

I've had dentures for 8 years now so my dentist saga is over for now.

I'm amazed that the dental care was so good in SA. I figured that with the UK influence it would be horrible. For some reason the british have the worst teeth in the western world. I'd blame the NHS but it was already backward before socialized medicine came along so it probably just made it worse or not much better.

Sine said...

I share your views on British teeth. Germans are in the same group - it always shocks me to visit there and see people with bad teeth, wondering why they don't fix them. Somehow SA must have followed more in the USA model for teeth, most orthodontists there seem to be US-trained.