Kicking Back With Jersey Joe: How Can I Get Out of Taking Bitewing X-Rays at the Dentist Office? Feb11

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Kicking Back With Jersey Joe: How Can I Get Out of Taking Bitewing X-Rays at the Dentist Office?

As if going to the dentist isn’t bad enough… aren’t those terrible bitewing x-rays they shove in your mouth like going through a horrible alien abduction?  Why does my insurance company say that I have to have them, and is there any way not to gag on these medieval things?

Last Saturday was my six month regular checkup at the dentist.  I had no problems at all, just going in for a routine cleaning.

I found my dentist by doing a simple Google search when I moved to northern New Jersey five years ago.  I had been putting off a dental visit for years and now that I had dental insurance that was being deducted from my paycheck, I really had no excuse not to go.

I had seen all the commercials for 1-800-Dentist.  But, honestly with the computer, there is no need for that.  A simple Google search, put me on Kannekt, which is a website that has sections broken out for the larger cities of Jersey City, Hoboken, Weehawken, Manhattan (NYC), and other areas of North Jersey.  The site is quite good, rating everything from car dealers, to restaurants, to doctors.

I had found mine within walking distance of my apartment and he had nothing but glowing reviews.  I had also found a few glowing reviews on other website by doing a simple internet search.  It was easy and literally took ten minutes.  One final check to make sure he accepted my insurance and I made that initial appointment.

I hadn’t been to a dentist in probably eight years and if you read my opening paragraph, you’ll understand why this was. Having little information to go on, he asked me to fill out about a zillion health forms that seemed to cover everything from my current medications to my mother’s waist size.  He took the forms and I was off to the room… and that’s when I began to get nervous.

His assistant enters and on goes that giant lead vest and I knew it was time for the dreaded x-rays.  This is the exact reason I had stopped going to the dentist… I nearly lose my lunch trying to take those horrid bitewing x-rays.  I have a horrible gag reflex that just doesn’t want to be at the dentist.  I saw the assistant placing the film in the crazy device that looks like it should be holding up electric lines on top of a telephone pole.

I thought that maybe with all the time that had passed that I could make it through.  Eight years, maybe these things are better now… maybe even bubblegum flavor, right?

She shoved the device inside my mouth and I spit it right back out in less than 2/10 of a seconds later.  I kid you not.  I spit it out with such force that I think I nearly sliced her finger off.

She tells me, “Oh, we’ve got a fighter.”

Gee thanks, that just makes it all the better, right?

She tries again.  Same result.  I have to hand it to her, she doesn’t give up.  She goes for it a third time… same thing.  This time, I may have actually gotten some airtime when I spit it out.

“I’m not giving up yet,” she tells me.  Next, she breaks out the numbing cream.  She coats the entire inside of my mouth and tongue with what that stuff that tastes like Vicks Vapo-rub.  I would have lost my lunch right there, except that I hadn’t eaten yet and that was lucky for both of us!

After a few minutes, the inside of my mouth feels like a four alarm fire and she bravely goes for it again.  It worked!  I was doing it!  She stepped away to turn the machine on and the sensation became just too unbearable and this time I spit it out so fast that the whole thing went flying on the floor.

It was her fault; she had about 5 seconds to snap the photo.  I could have taken a bunch of Polaroids in the time!  Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.

The next thing I know the dentist walks in and she informs him that… “we’ve got a gagger!”

A what?  I thought… oh, no!  I’ve been labeled at the dentist office!  I saw her writing something down on my chart.  She then directed me to another x-ray machine down the hall, where all I had to do was put a small round piece of Styrofoam in my teeth and she was able to take the scans.

Yes!  Much better!  Why didn’t they just do this in the first place?  I then glanced over at my chart to see “severe gagger” in nice bright red letters and circled as though I had just failed a high school Spanish test.

The rest of the visit was uneventful.  He cleaned and polished my teeth without a problem.

I was sad when I got the bill for $65, because my Delta Dental only covers bitewing x-rays and the others I had to pay out of pocket.  If $65 saved me from losing my lunch and making an idiot of myself, I guessed I’d have to pay it.

So, fast forward four years later to last Saturday.  We have a different assistant working in his office and sure enough, as soon as I sat down, on went that lead cape and I knew what was coming.  I had to fess up and tell her that I couldn’t do it, that I’ve never been able to do it, and that I am declining the bitewings.

She asked, “Are you serious?”

I so wanted to say, “I am serious and don’t call me Shirley,” but I sadly I just said, “Yes,” and that was it.

I’ve been taking a casual poll amongst my closest friends and have found that none of them enjoy having these x-rays done.  In fact, a few admit to gagging on them as well and one even said that they rush the assistant to get them done.

I did an internet search and found that there are a great number of patients who have the same problem.  It’s one of the bigger issues that dental assistants regularly deal with at the dentist office.

Most are able to distract the patient, some try numbing the mouth, while others actually get offended if they can’t take the bitewings.

The bitewing x-ray was originally introduced in the 1920’s.  Several different methods for holding the film have come and gone since their introduction, including self adhesives, plastic holders, and some that even fit under a football helmet; but the basic execution has always been the same.  Place the large device inside your mouth and bite down on the soft holders to allow the film to get a view of the inside of the mouth once exposed to the x-ray.

My thought is, with so many people having issues taking these, why are they forced on us?  My insurance will only cover bitewings and not the other x-rays, yet if I break a bone and go to the hospital, routine x-rays are covered there.

Some dentists also argue that the bitewings are necessary to give an early view of any problems, but wouldn’t a standard x-ray do that as well?  If a bone is broke or chipped, it would show up on both, right?

Or, how about using one a smaller version of one of those fancy airport scanners?  I could stick my head inside and they could take the scan.  It’s the 21st century, do dentist offices really need to jam these giant, uncomfortable metal devices inside our mouths?

According to my own online research, dentists say a bitewing x-ray once a year and a standard x-ray once every three years is useful for treating patients.  I think I’ll just wait for my three year due date and hope for the best.

If anyone has any ideas for how to make it through having one of these taken, please let me know… if not, I’ll just have to hope for the next technological leap forward.  Hopefully one we’ll be able to toss this invention aside, like DDT, Asbestos, and the AMC Eagle.


THE 411

What: bitewing x-rays

Where: mouth scan taken once a year at the dentist office

Cost: usually covered by most major dental plans, can be around $20 without insurance

Originally introduced: 1920’s

JERSEY JOE RECCOMMENDS: There’s got to be a better way to take an x-ray of the mouth at the dentist office.  Yes, they unhappily drag me out of the room and do a different scan, but it’s only after they’ve tried the bitewings over and over.

If we have bed bug sniffing dogs, airport scanners that detect explosives, and even barcode scanners on a smartphones, why can’t we invent a better way to take an x-ray at the dentist?  Come on…

featured image credit: teresia