I’m living Larry David’s worst quarantine nightmare. A portion of my tooth broke off while I was eating yesterday, leaving a pointed edge that’s rubbing against my cheek and causing considerable pain and discomfort. I need an emergency dental appointment.
I’m not looking for any sympathy. Life is frightening and unpleasant pretty much for everyone these days, as the COVID-19 epidemic and self-isolation takes its toll. My dental pain relates to the Trump Administration’s farcical Payroll Protection Program, which supposedly was intended to help small businesses stay afloat. Instead, it’s been used to prop up publicly traded restaurant chains like the one that owns Ruth’s Chris Steak House, whose CEO Cheryl Henry in 2018 was paid more than $6 million.
The PPP well has already dried out. Let me introduce you to one of the victims of Trump’s improper use of taxpayer money to prop up companies managed by and catering to the rich: My dentist.
I knew something was amiss when I sent an email to him mid-afternoon asking for treatment guidance and he didn’t immediately respond as always with emergency inquiries. He got back to me at 10 pm, edited portions of his response I’m sharing.
I hope you’re safe and well, aside from the sudden tooth issue. It certainly does look like you broke something and a piece of the tooth is missing. Not sure if it was filling, or if it was something else that was previously there.
So, here’s the problem. My office has been closed for a little over a month now, as “most” offices are. Because of this whole coronavirus thing, and how it supposedly spreads very easily with aerosols from the mouth, it is not considered safe to work on patients unless it’s for “life-threatening” dental emergencies. (Which would mean severe pain, infection, needing root canal treatment or having the tooth pulled.) Those are the ADA/CDA guidelines following public health experts’ recommendations.
California’s Stay-at-Home order was last extended to at least mid-May. So my best guess is that we’ll be LUCKY if we’re able to get back to some normality by June. I’m running out of money paying the bills/business loans at the office. If this goes on for too long, I won’t have an office/business to come back to. (The PPP Loan they had is all dried up. Guess the wealthy prioritize for the wealthy as Ruth Chris was able to get $20 million loans and rumor has it they were able to apply for that 4-days before official applications were even allowed.) Go figure.
Personally, I wouldn’t mind going in to see more dental emergencies for my patients of record as I have a feeling I’ve been exposed to coronavirus early January so I would assume I’ve got some immunity to it now. The problem is that my wife’s dad had a rough year in 2019 medically and he’s still very weak. If my father in law gets sick he’d likely not survive because of his current condition. I’m basically not seeing patients during this time to avoid the potential.
We can both hope/pray that what savings I have left can outlast this shutdown.
My dentist, whom I’d guess is in his late 30s or early 40s, is a gentle soul of extraordinary talent. He’s been a dental godsend since I relocated to Los Angeles more than four years ago, cleaning up the shoddy work of the dozen or so hacks I’ve seen over the years. I know he’s been in business for more than a decade, and he employed at least six warm and caring assistants. His office is digitally state-of-the-art. Last year he took in an awesome dental graduate into his practice.
If an established dentist in upscale Santa Monica is in danger of being wiped out by the self-isolation edict, that spells trouble for the entire dental profession. According to a recent survey of the American Dental Association, 76 percent of all dentists nationwide have closed their practices to all but emergency patients. Nineteen percent aren’t seeing any patients and five percent are seeing a very limited number.
Dentistry has the highest per square ft costs of any American small business. In addition to pricey equipment, employee salaries are significant. The median annual salary for a dental hygienist in Los Angeles is $85,000 and $43,000 for a dental assistant; given the quality of my dentist’s staff, I’m guessing he was paying wages in the top percentile.
It doesn’t take a Dr. Fauci to figure out America is headed for a major dental pandemic. In fact, we’re already in the midst of one. The CDC says almost 50 percent of U.S. adults suffer some degree of gum disease, which studies in recent years have increasingly linked to other illnesses such as cancer, respiratory and brain disease, Alzheimer’s, and erectile dysfunction.
When dentists are finally cleared to go back to work, there’s going to be a huge backlog of patients requiring dental care. With unemployment soaring, many won’t be able to afford it. Complicating matters could be a shortage of dentists, which in turn will drive up prices because of supply and demand. Dental insurance sucks, so even those fortunate to have it could be in trouble.
I’m guessing the ADA’s swamp swimming skills are no match for the lobbying might of the National Restaurant Association, which is how Ruth’s Chris and other public companies muscled in on the PPP program. Bailing out Ruth Chris’s is particularly obscene, given that I recall a steak when I ate there cost more than $50. It will be years, if ever, that many Americans will enjoy a $50 or more steak.
The bailout is an insult to the memory of founder Ruth Fertel, the Louisiana businesswoman who in 1965 mortgaged her home to buy a local restaurant named Chris Steak House. After a fire destroyed her restaurant, her “enthusiasm and endurance” led to reopening a new restaurant under her name. I can find no record of her getting a government handout to stay afloat.
Even if you can afford Ruth’s Chris, I urge you to boycott the restaurant in solidarity with small business owners who will lose their livelihoods because of that restaurant’s greed. The company could file for bankruptcy and still continue operations, but that of course would wipe out its shareholders. Instead, investors saw their holdings rise more than 10 percent after the bailout was revealed.
Boycotting Ruth’s Chris is hardly a sacrifice. Cousin Rob talked me into going there about a year ago, and I found the restaurant soulless, the steak tough, and the service amateurish. If you go there and crack a filling or break a tooth, consider it a sign from God.
I, too, am making a sacrifice. Whenever I visit the Detroit area, I always enjoy eating at the West Bloomfield J. Alexander’s, whose martini I declared one of the best values in America. J. Alexander’s is another publicly traded company that’s taken a PPP loan. I will miss going there, but boycotting the place is my show of support for all the American dentists whose practices are in jeopardy.