This week I went to a new dentist, recommended by my periodontist. The fact that I just referred to “my periodontist” should be your first clue that my relationship with my teeth has been a long, complicated, and expensive one.
You could start calling me Elizabeth, what with all the crowns in my mouth.
Ba da bum.
I’ve also treated myself to numerous root canals, extractions, and probably a place setting’s worth of silver that filled cavities from about age five on, only to later be removed and replaced with white(ish) composite fillings.
Thankfully, this eliminated the blinding metallic glare that flashed from my mouth, particularly when laughing hysterically with friends at a bar.
But whether silver or white, when a tooth becomes more filling than, well, tooth, it’s only a matter of time before a bite of popcorn or apple or (once for me) a soft pumpkin cookie causes the precarious structure to collapse completely. Then, of course, a root canal and crown are called for.
So, last fall one of my molar crowns – no doubt one that had served faithfully for years and years – broke while I was eating something ridiculous like a Ritz cracker. I went to my former dentist, whose children I helped put through college, to assess the damage. After an x-ray and very brief consultation telling me that even the little stub of original tooth holding the crown was gone and I’d need to have the root removed, followed by an implant, I walked out of his office $120 poorer – having made no progress toward fixing the problem.
“My” periodontist does implants, so I called her office to set up my next appointment. More x-rays and probing determined that not only did the stubborn remains of that upper left molar need to be yanked out and replaced, but that the last remaining upper right molar was actually in even worse condition. Surprise!
Thus, began my entry into the elite, costly, and time-sucking world of dental implants.
Now, I ask you, has a dentist ever said to you, oh, your teeth are lousy and you’d be better off with dentures? I’d like to meet that dentist and give him or her a hug, if you have. Everyone I know has been advised by their dentists that having dentures is like stepping into the third ring of hell and should be avoided at any cost (with cost being the operative word).
Oh, you’ll regret it, they say. You’ll hate dentures, they say. There’s no going back and you’ll be miserable, they say. Your pets will run away from home and your friends and family will shun you because of your Polident breath, they say.
Well, I’m here to tell you that the next time my teeth start crumbling, I will be going the denture route and will report back to you here on whether or not my life has been ruined as a result. Corn on the cob be damned, I say.
So, I gulped and signed up to pay about $6,000 to get both teeth pulled and have two implants installed.
Call me Stupid, but it was only after the second appointment that I realized that implants do not include TEETH. No. The implants are steel posts set into the bone in your mouth and it takes as much as a year for the whole thing to safely settle in before you can get crowns.
Wait. Crowns? Don’t those come on the end of the metal post somehow?
Enter dentist #2 (because my old dentist pissed me off charging $120 to say he couldn’t do anything) who will create and attach two new crowns to the posts in January. Mind you, by that time it’s been more than a year since this all started.
To get my teeth cleaned this past Monday, including the hygienist taking pictures of each individual tooth (or so it seemed) with a new teeny weeny camera (no one asked if I wanted this, by the way), and to briefly consult with the dentist cost $180. As I was leaving I was presented with the charge I will pay for two crowns and two visits in January: $4,600 and change.
So, if we do the math, it’s costing me pretty close to $11,000 to replace a couple of teeth. Cha ching, indeed, right?
I shouldn’t complain, I suppose. I have a dear friend who has been putting off dental work because of the expense. She learned that her front teeth are in danger of serious damage if she doesn’t promptly deal with what’s left of her pesky back teeth by purchasing a combination of crowns, implant, bridge, etc. The estimate for her dental extravaganza is $23,000. Ouch.
Are you chewing a big glob of saltwater taffy right now and thinking, wow – why don’t these Bozos have dental insurance?
Well, here’s the deal: none of our procedures would be covered by insurance (verified by our dentists). Why? Well, if you check your own dental insurance, chances are you’ll discover that most policies pay for things like annual check ups and cleanings, but are very, very picky about whether they’ll help out with the really expensive stuff. More often than not, you’d better hope your dental disaster is the result of an accident, rather than just ordinary wear and tear or due to an unfortunate encounter between tooth and gummy bear. And then, if insurance covers 50%, consider yourself lucky. You’re paying the other 50% or so . . . plus whatever you’ve been paying for your insurance over the years.
Which leads me to ask, why is having a relatively full set of reasonable-looking, working teeth (especially as we age) available only to those privileged enough to be able to afford it, or fortunate enough to have been born with strong, healthy teeth? And yes, the sturdiness of our teeth owes more to genetics than dental hygiene – though neglect is not recommended in any case.
I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think many countries with universal health care offer the same coverage for dental work. Can anyone speak to that, since I’m too lazy to Google it at the moment?
I hope a day will come when our wealthy land will offer both. I’d pay higher taxes so I didn’t have to deal with the insurance industry, wouldn’t you? In the meantime, I’m grateful that I can come up with the cash to keep my chompers for a bit longer. And to my younger friends out there?
For all that’s holy, don’t forget to freaking FLOSS!