When it comes to equipment, early detection beats a late-game correction

As I stare at the ceiling listening to the metal instruments banging against my teeth, I wonder why dentists don’t place scenic pictures on their ceilings to distract patients. I guess it’s because the patients see the ceiling view more than the dentists do.

I can feel the pressure applied by the dentist as she extracts the decayed tooth. All the while, she is constantly giving instructions to her assistant. I must admit, I’m a little concerned about the petite stature of the dentist, and whether she has the strength to wrestle out my well-rooted molar. Its resistance to extraction had me hoping that the Novocain wouldn’t give out before her strength waned.

As I shifted my gaze from the glaring dental light back to the boring ceiling, I contemplated how I got here in the first place. After all, here was my molar, unwillingly being removed; a member of my family of teeth, with its siblings of incisors, canines and premolars. It had been a loyal member for decades, flawlessly performing its chewing and grinding duties with little expectation of recognition or praise.

So, what went wrong? Why were we divorcing?

Our bodies, just like the construction equipment we use daily on the jobsite, need proper upkeep. You can’t just ignore maintenance schedules for your project workhorses 90 percent of the year, and expect the equipment to keep on going without delay.

Simply put—I took my molar, like its other siblings, for granted. I wasn’t really abusive, so much as neglectful. I mean, I did bathe it every morning with toothpaste. But I didn’t routinely floss, despite knowing the virtue and benefits of the practice. Worse yet, I have a natural apprehension to the thought of having metal instruments and hands in my mouth.

Essentially, I failed to visit my dentist routinely, despite understanding the value of those visits. This proved to be another reminder that common sense isn’t necessarily common practice.

But I hated the thought of a stranger’s hand rooting around in my mouth with clinking tools and that high-pitched sound of the drill. This was only slightly less disconcerting than the pointy dental probes that seemingly want to find that one exposed nerve you forgot you had.

In retrospect, I don’t think it was the fear of pain. It was just the anxiety of all that bristling activity going on in my mouth. So, I put off going to the dentist until I had no alternative.

Finally, the dentist packs the cavity and asks if I’m OK. What was she expecting me to say? Of course not! I want to get out of here. After reviewing the options to move forward, I decide to go with a dental implant. It will involve several more visits and a lot more fun.

As I am standing at the counter reviewing the sizable cost estimates of extraction and dental implant replacement, I remind myself that my simple dental plan had two dental examinations and cleanings per year. So, what could have been a modest copayment of several hundred dollars and very little pain, hassle and expense had now grown to several thousand dollars and multiple visits.

How did I get to this point? How could I have forgone beneficial preventive maintenance activity that could have detected the tooth decay in an early stage and took corrective action before it degraded to the advanced and costly stage?

It’s a simple solution. We do it all the time with our equipment. I got busy. Life got too hectic to make an appointment to for a routine checkup. Besides, it was a hassle for me to go to “the shop,” so avoidance was easy to justify. I missed the window of opportunity to “inspect to detect to correct” and am, therefore, forced to live with the effect.

One of my clients used to say, “Let it crater—fix it later.” Excuses became reasons, delays became justifiable. As the tooth continued to decay, no professional was inspecting or monitoring that change in condition, and it ran to failure.

As I pull out my credit card to pay for all this dental work, I am reminded why we must develop the self-discipline to handle that scheduled downtime activity to avoid costly and more painful events later. On average, the cost to run-to-failure (RTF) is going to be 3 to 5 times the cost of early detection and correction. An early maintenance find equals an early, and often less expensive, fix.

Being proactive means more than believing it. You must practice it. Proactive scheduling is a great way to take a bite out of your equipment maintenance costs.