How a Trip to the Dentist Got Me Thinking About Open Data

Warning: Tangent ahead, but I promise, there’s a point.

About a year ago, I went to my 6-month teeth checkup, and the dentist told me that I had a cavity on the bottom back left and another on the bottom back right. Since I was about two years overdue for a checkup (and didn’t floss every day), I wasn’t surprised.

One week later, I was back to get my fillings. I sat down in that terrifying chair that looks like something aliens use to probe specimens. The drilling began.

My teeth are really sensitive, so no matter how many shots of novocaine she injected (3 or 4), I still felt pain. Here’s how it went with the first filling. She drilled. I winced. She stopped. We took a short 1-minute break. She drilled. I winced. We took a break.

We went on like that for about 20 minutes — all the while she kept telling me it was a tiny cavity and that it shouldn’t hurt. Yeah, OK, whatever. Maybe if she actually stuck the needle in the nerve and not just some random place in my gums, it would have worked.

Anyways, she finally finished and suggested we put off the second filling until the next visit in six months. I thought to myself, “Uh, won’t my cavity just get worse in 6 months??” I was in enough pain already though (with beads of sweat to prove it) so I agreed despite my concerns.

I ended up missing that next appointment.

One Year Later

I finally got myself to a dentist last week. Since I moved, it was a different dentist. It’s been about a year since my terrifying experience in the probing seat and I went through the usual stuff — x-rays, teeth cleaning and friendly banter — with the dental hygienist. Finally, my new dentist comes in and takes a look at my x-rays. I thought,

“Oh goody, here we go. It’s filling time.”

“Your teeth look good,” the dentist said.

I paused waiting for the but. There was none, and I had no cavities! What the heck?? Either one of the two dentists was wrong or my teeth healed my some miracle of Colgate and Oral-B floss.

My Theory

My theory is that the first dentist made a “mistake” i.e. she was swindling my teeth for insurance money. Here’s why.

When I came in that day, her assistant had gone to lunch, and it looked like she was about to go somewhere. She didn’t even know I was coming (even though I was holding my appointment card that they had written). As a result, she seemed kind of annoyed and impatient.

Secondly, at the end of my initial appointment, she kept trying to pitch some super expensive teeth whitening like a sleazy car salesman, which shows her taste for money.

Support Open Data and Data Sharing

To me, my first dentist represents my life without transparency. I had no clue what the heck she was doing. All I knew was that I was in a lot of pain. She knew something I did not, and because of that, she was able to make a few bucks.

OK, back to data. Data provides transparency so that you know what others are doing. You should know what crimes have occurred in your neighborhood, how your local politicians spend the money that you’ve donated, where your tax dollars go, and how your environment is degrading around you. It’s your money, it’s your home, and it’s your body. With data piling up every which way in hundreds of thousands of databases, it’s becoming more important to care. If we don’t, then we’re just all sitting around not knowing what the heck is going on.


  • I have just about the same exact story, but it was my wife. They told her she had 5 (yes, FIVE) cavities and she said B.S.. We ended up moving and she went to a new dentist and miraculously, no cavities. They can be shady. My old dentist was legit and would always tell me I’m bad for his business, because my teeth never had problems. I said, “good for me, bad for you!”

    Get second opinions.

  • Wow, I can’t believe we have to deal with shady dentists. For some reason, that surprises me… a lot.

  • When you have a conflict of interest, there will always be those who try to take advantage of the situation. The more cavities or problems you have, the more the Dentist is going to make. They just don’t understand that trust is a big part of it, just like consulting. You can charge a client by the hour and bill 80 hours a week for months. Or, you can charge for the project and deliver value sooner. The earlier one is more lucrative short-term. The later provides huge rewards in the long run by building trust and relationships. They should always have your best interest in mind.

    I think shady is exactly the right word. It’s sad, but I think true.