Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Grinding teeth

The other day, as people were filing out of the day's Mathematical Problem Solving session, Aurélie from Congo came to me with a crumpled up tissue in her stretched-out hand. She didn't seem happy, and it quickly became clear why: the tissue contained a sizable chip of one of her molars.

The Ghanaian tutor seemed completely undisturbed, while us two Europeans immediately got very agitated. "Did you do that in class?!" -- "Oui oui, just now." "What happened?" -- "Ah, I bit my tooth and it split". "Does it hurt??" -- "Mmm", nod. "You have to go see a dentist!"

I've never seen anything like that happen; where I'm from our teeth are usually so well-preserved that in our early twenties they don't just split in our mouths. But what happened then is even more unbelievable for someone from a country with public health care.

I managed to overcome the Ghanaian inertia and sent her off with another French speaker in one of AIMS' cars. Our secretary called up the dentist asking if the girl could come by that day with her split tooth, and whether this particular dentist would accept her insurance. "Sure, but she might have to wait for a while." When they got there though, Aurélie was told she had to pay for her treatment up front. Then she'd have to get reimbursed by the medical aid. Our students haven't gotten paid yet, and even when they do they only receive the equivalent of about EUR100, so paying for whatever it takes to fix a falling-apart tooth was not an option. And no, they couldn't just write her a bill.
So they went on to the next dentist, another 20 minutes driving. By the time they got there they were informed that "the Doctor has gone home, there are no more appointments today." And came back with Aurélie, member of a proper South African medical and dental plan, still in pain, with the crumbles of her tooth in hand.

She got an appointment for the next morning, when she could go back in and get the tooth -- extracted. Age twenty-something, one down, thirty-one to go.

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