Everyday Living

The Economic Implications of Cavities

I found out a couple of things the other week when I went to the dentist for the first time in about five years. One? I apparently have a great tolerance for pain (as evidenced by the fact that I did not cry real tears when my lovely dental hygienist started scraping on my front teeth with the Cavitron – I swear, that’s what she called it) and I have about five cavities in this huge gaping maw we call my mouth.

Well … five years, five cavities. I guess that’s an OK average considering I haven’t had the money to go to a proper dentist since my first job when I decided it would be a great idea to finally get my wisdom teeth out. The only problem (other than the fact that my gums hurt for a good week after my gentle cleaning) is that there is one cavity in the back of my mouth, bottom row that might be a candidate for a root canal.

I’m 30 and I’ve gotten through life without major oral problems. Yes, the wisdom teeth extraction was unfortunate, but necessary. And it wasn’t too painful and it gave me an excuse to eat nothing but mashed potatoes for a weekend and watch the VCR cassettes of that terrible TV event “Scarlett.” (A very poor follow up to one of my favorite movies, “Gone With The Wind.”)

I’ve gone 30 years without a root canal and to be honest, I’d rather go 30 more. Because in my mind, I associate root canals with debilitating pain. I’m sure that I got that notion through watching my parents suffer with their own dental maladies and after witnessing their pain, I don’t want to go through the same trauma.

So here’s how last week’s conversation went with the kind and friendly receptionist who informed me that I had about $2,000 worth of work to do in my mouth. This is all pre-my crappy dental insurance:

Me: So, how much is a root canal?
Receptionist: About $800.

I stop to consider how much carpeting my future husband and I could buy for the upstairs. How $800 would go toward lessening my credit card debt (that’s one of my Visa cards right there, folks).

Me: How much is it to just yank it out?
Receptionist: (Gives me a mildly appraising look. She’s probably wondering “Is this girl serious? Has she given this much thought? Is she that cheap?”) That would be about $200 pre-insurance coverage.
I smile. I think we both know what option I’m really considering.

Let’s fast forward another week and two silver amalgam fillings later on two of my top teeth (where my lovely dentist found another cavity lurking). My company is providing better dental insurance. With this in mind, they might cover more of my root canal. But I ask about the possibility of just yanking the affected tooth.

Me: It’s in the back of my mouth where no one but you or me will notice that it’s missing.
Dentist: But you might end up losing your top tooth as well because after some amount of time, having the bottom one missing will affect the corresponding top tooth.

I do some quick mental math and figure that two teeth extractions is only $400 to my $800 root canal. That’s 50% off in retail lingo – still a reasonable consideration in my mind.

Me: I’ll give it some thought.

And I’m still thinking. I asked my mom what she thought while I was on vacation and she opened her mouth to reveal that she doesn’t have a whole heck of a lot of her back teeth. She went the pulling route instead of the root canal route.

I asked my Future Husband: “Personally, I’d rather you kept your teeth.”

Argh. Do I go into temporary debt over whatever my insurance doesn’t cover for a darn root canal or do I just get the cursed tooth yanked? I’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime, here’s today’s lesson: Do not put off going to the dentist – they are going to find some nasty surprises if you wait as long as I did.

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3 thoughts on “The Economic Implications of Cavities

  1. Hmm..I never knew that if you lost a tooth, the tooth opposite it would be in danger of decay too. I don’t think it’s in grave danger though….
    Well, if it’s way in back and no one sees it, it might be something to think about. However having a tooth extracted in the back of your mouth is NOT a picnic either.

  2. This is one of the reasons that affordable health insurance for all is needed. Nobody should have to make choices like this because of money issues and this is one that has limited consequences. Hopefully that is something the new president will make a top priority for all.

    It really does pay to take care of your teeth – an extra brushing a day and flossing can mean the difference between a clean check up or another dental bill. I actually take good care of my teeth not for the money I save, but I hate the sound of dentist drills – that thought makes me take extra care of them.

  3. Can you wait to have your root canal until after your wedding? If so, you can get on your FH dental insurance. That coverage plus your current coverage should really help pay for things. Note: If get pregnant, this is the way to go as the heartburn/acid reflux from pregnancy messed up my teeth big time. After child #2, I had 3 cavities and two crowns with only one insurance plan. The out-of-pocket cost was killer. Of course, if you have pain now, I suggest biting the bullet and having it done.

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