Open wide. No, I meant your wallet

I've been thinking a lot recently about the similarities between plumbing and dentistry:

--They're both high-paying jobs with regular hours.

--Outside those regular hours -- in times of emergency -- both professions can charge extra.

--Insurance (homeowners or medical) rarely covers the really expensive jobs.

--Both professions use specialized tools for diagnosis and repair.

--Dentists and plumbers mostly work in dark, wet holes.

--Customers are almost never happy to see them. Except in times of emergency.

These comparisons come to mind because I've had both professions dabbling in my wallet lately. You know your life has gone awry when it's suddenly populated by plumbers and dentists.

(I said this to my wife, who responded, "Better a dentist than an oncologist." Her subtle way of saying: "Stop whining, you big baby." She's right, of course. Plumbing and dental problems are nothing compared to life-threatening illness or other disasters. But given a choice, you'd avoid both plumbers and dentists, wouldn't you?)

And yet, in the aforementioned times of emergency, we owners of plumbing and/or teeth feel like getting down on our knees and thanking the gods of dark, wet holes that someone, somewhere, has the devotion to take up these mystical, lucrative crafts. If you've got a toothache or a major indoor flood, you're willing to pay any price to get an expert on the job.

I've been lucky when it comes to dentists. My regular dentist and the various specialists I've seen have been dedicated professionals who make the procedures as painless as possible. (And, if they're reading this, I'd like that trend to continue. Thank you.)

Most plumbers I've retained have been knowledgable and competent, too. They've maintained a professional image by keeping their shirt tails tucked in, and by explaining in great detail the source of my plumbing woes.

These explanations bring up another similarity between the two professions: There's always the implication that the problem is somehow the owners' fault. With teeth, it's failure to floss or to perform other proper maintenance. With plumbing, it's neglect or ignorance or having children who flush entire rolls of toilet paper at one, er, sitting.

What these professionals fail to remember is that we customers know nothing, and our problems usually are invisible until it's an emergency. Much of our plumbing is underground or otherwise hidden and we never give it a thought until the drains start backing up. The same, more or less, goes for our teeth. Until there's a problem, we choose to assume everything's fine.

Which brings us to the biggest difference between plumbing and dentistry. Most of us -- unless motivated by extreme poverty -- would never attempt to fix our own teeth. But many homeowners attempt to tackle plumbing problems, often making things worse. After all, we've heard all those explanations from plumbers in the past. We own tools. How hard could it be to do a repair ourselves?

An example: I had a bathroom sink with a drain that had been partially clogged for, oh, years. The sink emptied slowly, and refused to respond to all store-bought remedies. I kept thinking, if only I had a snake small enough, I could reach down that drain and break up that clog and life would be good. So I straightened out a wire clothes hanger and slid it down to the U-shaped trap and, sure enough, cleared the drain. I felt like a hero.

A week or two later, another sink began exhibiting the same symptoms. Aha, I thought, I can fix this. I got my straightened coat-hanger, pushed it down to the trap and deftly punched a hole in the rotted pipe below. The pipe responded by bleeding on the carpet.

Now I was faced with an emergency. I studied the situation for a good hour before doing what I should've done in the first place -- I called my dentist.

Kidding! I called a plumber, who came to the house and replaced the leaking pipe in a matter of minutes. He had the tools, he had the know-how and he had the proper parts.

Me? I had a checkbook. And a grateful smile.


Bruce Ross said...

It took me about two years as the proud owner of a 50-year-old house to learn and adopt the maxim "Just call the plumber first."

Because the only thing worse than paying for a $150 house call is paying for a $150 house call on Monday after you've wasted an entire Sunday trying to fix the dadgummed leak yourself.


Well said, Bruce. I try to get the most for my money by watching the plumber do the work. Not that I'm learning how to do it myself, but I enjoy watching others sweat over a knotty plumbing problem.

The same can't be said for visits to the dentist. For those, I keep my eyes closed.

Traci Romero said...

That’s a good comparison. Be it with teeth or a plumbing system, its failure or decay all boils down to neglect. It’s good to know the professionals in both areas had your problems fixed quickly. Keep them both checked regularly, so you don’t have to make another trip and call to your dentist and plumber. Good day!

Traci Romero @ Harris Plumbing

Lovella Cushman said...

It seems to me that they do have a lot in common, but it only makes the difference between them more pronounced. You really shouldn’t attempt to fix your own teeth; I bet dentists also consult other dentists with their dental problems. Haha! Anyway, it’s a good thing you called your plumber, because it seems to be not one of those ‘do it yourself plumbing’. Thanks for sharing, and have a great day!

Lovella Cushman @ Perfection Plumbing