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Designer Duds and a Disaster at the Dentist: Did Race Play a Part?

A few weeks ago my daughter had her first appointment at a dentist in our new neighborhood. We hadn’t been there before. And even though I spent the day working in a comfy leggings and a tunic, when it came time to make this first time appointment, I pulled out my nicest Calvin Klein "I-just-came-from-work" pant suit, took the BCBG pumps out the box, grabbed my bag and drove three blocks to meet the local dentist.

When I tell you why I did this, some of you will understand, others will think I’m nuts.

I’m cool with that.

Last week, my 10-year old daughter chipped her front tooth when she fell down while playing with a school friend. I was totally upset, but it could have been worse.

Coincidentally, I also recently switched my children's health insurance to a state run plan.  As a self-employed mom, I’ve been shelling out $450 a month just for my kids to be insured (not me), which was really just bad math when I looked at my state’s Child Health Plus plan. It’s not free for me, but it’s a lot more affordable than what I was previously paying. And I figured that money could be better used in their college funds.

Has anyone used this? I'd gotten some positive feedback before I joined. 

Anywho, having keenly watched the previous debate about health care reform, I deeply understand the undertones of assumptions about people who use government health care programs. More importantly, I also know that black people receive a lower quality of care even when they have private insurance. Read my post about breast cancer diagnosis and black women.

And recently in New York City, a report on maternal deaths showed that black women, regardless of insurance, die at a rate nine times higher than white women, despite education and private insurance. More strikingly (and sadly), of the black women who died, 84% of them died of embolisms—a preventable cause.

0% of white women died of embolism.


You can find the NYC maternal mortality report here if you can stomach it.

Embolisms are easily prevented by making sure the patient gets up and walks around and by using compression stockings.  Very simple, but somehow black mothers are dying because no one is making sure they get up and walk. Seems senseless, but the kind of care they are receiving needs to be questioned.

But as Khiara Bridges, an associate professor of law and anthropology at Boston University said to me in a recent interview for a story I’m writing, “In my work with women of color, they receive a lower quality of care regardless of class and insurance type, so we have to begin to query where bias begins to come into play here. It’s fantastical to believe that just because one has decided to become a doctor that this will cleanse him or her of their racial biases. There is nothing cleansing about studying the sciences that makes doctors immune to the race thinking that all humans possess.”

So, with these thoughts as a backdrop, I grabbed by Louis Vuitton hoping I had enough of the right look and right kind of designer labels to dispel any stereotypes this doctor may have about me and my children, based on their type of health insurance (Of course, there's the other ghetto fabulous stereotype…so it's a slippery slope indeed)

I wanted to look like a mother with a “real” job,  like the one I voluntarily left so I can be home instead of sporting the wear-what-I-want freedom of my new self-employed life which makes private health insurance extremely expensive.

Things did not go well. The dentist completely botched the bonding job on my daughter’s tooth.  I had to ask him to rebuff it several times because he had left an extremely obvious bump where the bonding began. There was a visible crack at the base of her tooth.  He never once explained what he was doing. I had to ask question after question after question. His own dental assistant repeatedly gave me the sympathetic eye and SMH look and whispered to me to demand better. (By the way, on the way out, she secretly handed me a balled up piece of paper with the name and number of her own dentist on it.) 

To make matters worse, he used a composite that was several shades yellower than my daughter’s natural tooth color (see the pic for yourself).  When I questioned him about this later, he said that was his best match in the office and he would have to order a better match. Ummm, wasn’t this something he could have told me before completing the work, I asked him. Wasn’t that a decision that I needed to be involved in, perhaps deciding to wait a few days for the cosmetic work, since there was no dental danger, rather than leave my daughter with a yellow tooth blatantly standing side by side with her white one?

Check out his handiwork here.

Needless to say, I unleashed the power of a journalists’ vocabulary along with a little grizzly bear mama on this man.  And by the time I was done (no cursing, no yelling) he was clear, I was not THAT black mother.

The one he thought should take what was given, yellow tooth and all.
The one whose child didn’t matter, let alone her confidence over her smile. 
The one he thought wouldn’t demand quality service.

 I am fully aware that this guy could just be a crappy dentist. And in my haste to have Kayla seen and x-rayed to make sure there was no structural damage to her tooth, I certainly didn’t do my usual due diligence for this provider. But by the crowd of people of color in his waiting room, I got the feeling that this is what this dentist does best.

In the end, the power suit was powerless in helping me get quality care for my daughter. I will spend today searching and researching another dentist to fix this mess. But perhaps the scathing two page letter I am writing to the health insurance company will.

Have you ever had a bad experience at a health care provider and had this gut feeling  that race played a part?


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