Category Archives: Health

Dental care in the UK: my introduction

Today I had my first dental care, other than a checkup I had last year just to get started with a local dentist. I had made an appointment for a checkup and “scaling” (the UK term for what we call a “cleaning” in the US), and I was kind of expecting the kind of cleaning I was used to getting. Dentistry is not covered under NHS care for most people, and I’ve been curious to find out how the cost would compare to what I’ve been paying in DC. I expected it to be somewhat less but relatively comparable.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

Since I arrived in the UK I’ve been flossing more diligently than I did before (although I was never exactly a slouch), because I learned that Brits expect to get a routine scaling/cleaning only once a year (as opposed to twice in the US) and I knew I would have to be more conscientious in my own care of them.

I did such a good job, it turned out, that the dentist didn’t want to do a scaling at all. He said they don’t do them routinely here, and he said I had so little tartar that it wasn’t really necessary except in the lower front. But I said that I wanted one and was prepared to pay, so he did a light once-over and polishing. It was less extensive than what I’ve been getting (possibly because of my recent diligence in flossing) and it took only 15-20 minutes rather than 45.

I was amazed at the fee: a whopping £18. Folks, that’s only about $30. And that included the nitrous oxide. As I recall, the last time I had my teeth cleaned in DC (a year ago), I paid more than six times that much (including nitrous).

Dental care is pretty different here.

Newcastle is good for my health

I’m finally ready to write about this. I’ve passed a milestone — the 25-pound mark. I’ve dropped almost 27 pounds since my first checkup with my UK GP last January. True, 27 pounds in more than a year is pretty slow, but actually I was a slug last winter and I’ve been working on this only since the middle of August. I’m averaging 0.9 pounds a week, and although I’d be happier if it were faster I’ve got a regime I can live with and manage comfortably, and at my age a pound a week is nothing to be embarrassed about.

It all started last spring, when I noticed that my feet and ankles were getting somewhat swollen at the end of the day. At first I thought it was left over from two transatlantic flights I had made in March, but it hung around. So my GP put me on a diuretic. That didn’t help much, though. So I naturally turned to the Web. I found information provided by the UK National Health Service and the US National Library of Medicine, both of whom said that fluid retention — edema (or “œdema” in the UK) — might be exacerbated by eating too much in the way of carbohydrates. I also discovered the “Two-Day Diet“, which has you eat very low carbs for two days a week (preferably consecutive days) and then eat moderately for the other five. I’ve been on a modified version of that for six months now (I have a little more fat and dairy than they call for on the two days), and I can say I’m more comfortable with it than I’ve been with any other program I’ve tried. And of course we know that the most successful program is the one you can stick with. By the end of the two days I’d kill for a few rich tea biscuits with (no-sugar-added) peanut butter, but I actually find that it’s easier to eat moderately the rest of the week after I’ve gone VLC for two days. I treat myself occasionally, and as long as it’s occasional enough (a dessert once or twice during the five days) I don’t feel bad about it at all.

The other thing I’m doing is getting more exercise. Last year, for example, I rode the Northumbria Shuttle bus whenever I needed to go to the Squires building or the library. This year I’m walking — it’s only just over half a mile, ferpeetsake. I walk to Grainger Market at least twice a week for fruit&veg (as well as chicken and eggs, but I don’t buy those every time), and sometimes I walk downtown and back twice in a day. (Sometimes I stay at home all day, but we’ll pretend that that doesn’t matter.) I aim to average three miles a day, and although I’m not recording my walking (I just notice, at the end of each day, how many steps I’ve walked that day) I think that’s about what I’m averaging.

Why, you may ask, couldn’t I have done this in Maryland? I could have done the eating plan, of course, but the walking is a different matter. Four good reasons come to mind:

  1. Access. Shopping is not easily walkable from my house in Maryland. The grocery stores are about the same distance from the house as Grainger Market and Morrisons are from my flat in Newcastle, but to reach either of them (and I detest Safeway, so Giant is really the only choice) I’d have to cross catty-corner one of two major intersections that have three lanes of traffic in each direction. Also, I bring my Grainger Market shopping home on the bus, and the buses don’t run as close to my Maryland house as they do to my flat.
  2. Temperature. For five months or so in Maryland, it’s just too damn hot. In Newcastle, when it gets up to about 23C, people start complaining about how hot it is. (I just laugh. :-) But the DC area usually has at least four months of temps above 30 each day, including probably a month or more of temps 35 or higher. I’ve long said that if I lived someplace where it never got above 30 I’d be in heaven.
  3. Appeal. The centre of Newcastle is just a nicer place to spend time in than is the commercial district of Wheaton. I know my Montgomery County peeps won’t like hearing that, but they should come visit and they’ll see. (Half of my route to the city centre is not all that appealing, but I can live with that.)
  4. Safety. Newcastle is far safer for a woman alone to walk around in, especially at night. Except in a few areas, in fact, it’s very safe, and I don’t worry about it.

One might argue that I could have improved the situation by moving into DC. It’s probably true that I would have had much better appeal and access than in Wheaton — perhaps even good enough — but there would still be that pesky heat. DC would be worse, in fact, as the city tends to run about 5F warmer than the part of suburban Maryland where I was living. I’m not sure how the safety compares in the urban areas of DC where I would consider living, but I can’t imagine they’d be as good as Newcastle. And they’d cost more.

Admittedly, I’m less inclined to get out and walk when it’s raining — especially because Newcastle is windy enough to make umbrellas impractical — but today I did it (I needed to go to my GP’s and do my weekly weighing) and I was fine, if slightly damp. I do need to buy a very warm jacket that’s also waterproof — my down jacket is plenty warm enough, but it’s not even remotely water resistant, and I don’t always want to wear my rain poncho over it. (By the time I thought of that this year, nobody had any left in my size.)

I’m feeling better — more energetic and slightly more flexible. I’m not yet seeing much of a difference when I look in the mirror, but a couple of people have remarked on it and my clothes are definitely looser, so I know it’s happening. (Loose jeans in the winter are a good thing, too, as I can wear thermal long underwear beneath them and save on my heating bill. :-) And my ankles are back to normal. (I’m elated about having found a solution to that problem that doesn’t involve medication!) I’m looking forward to improvements in my singing and my sleeping, as well.

Slowly, slowly — but steadily.