Bills with teeth

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.

big laugh

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.

Cha ching.money mouth

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?

Nope.

Happy dentistEnter 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!

26 responses to “Bills with teeth

  1. I had two teeth pulled this year. My periodentist told me I’d need implants. The missing teeth were in the back of my mouth and I’m finding I can chew just fine without them. My other teeth are stepping in and doing the job. So, no implants for me. Just another perspective.

  2. Oh, how I feel your pain, but not for 50 years. I’m one of those who inherited the soft tooth gene. At age 19 I broke off a tooth eating a banana….no lie. At that time, implants were not part of the options list. So, at age 20 I was fitted with a set of sparkling dentures. I could open my mouth without the cold air inflicting torturous pain, I could smile, eat apples, corn on the cob and best of all, I could live pain free. Of course, I had to live with the “shame” of having them because obviously I was some sort of low-life if my teeth were that bad.
    My father had all his teeth removed when he entered the army due to the sotfness of the enamel and the army didn’t want to deal with it on a tooth by tooth basis. So here I am, a seventy year old, still living with that “shame”. But, It was a quick. I imagine the procedure now isn’t quite as barbaric for the impressions and extractions, but I haven’t regretted it for even one day. And, maybe I’m kidding myself, but I don’t think very many people know.

    • Sally, I think the stigma attached to having dentures is so misplaced. The assumption often is that dentures are a result of not taking good care of our “real” teeth. It’s my belief – especially for those of us who grew up without the automatic benefit of fluoride in the water, or the barrier dentists could paint onto teeth when my son was young – that genetics trumps dental hygiene every time. I’m a little sorry now that I bowed to convention for so many years and invested so much in keeping these teeth, that now it will kill me to say, forget it. I’m done. Yank those bad boys and let’s be done with it. I should have done that at least fifteen years ago, I think. Thanks for commenting —

  3. I haven’t had a dental implant (yet) but was very miffed when I didn’t get invitations to my dentist’s children’s college grad parties, since I put them through school. I have a potential $10,000 bridge in my future, and of course, not covered by insurance. I’m with you on the idea of dentures. I have brought up the subject with the same response you got. But then again my new dentist (I helped my last one retire young) has two young children.

    • Hahahahahahahahhaha! I wonder if the degree of a dentist’s aversion to dentures is in direct proportion to his/her personal financial burden?! I think part of it is the industry that keeps coming up with shiny new gadgets that all the cool dentists want. Have you had a 360 degree, in-the-round x-ray yet? It’s all the rage. Cha ching.

  4. Twenty years ago, we were all having eye issues. Now it’s teeth. I have a couple crowns, one of which had to be removed and rebuilt with the start of decay under it. I do have insurance, but again only partially covered. Big bucks, plus I have a husband with a mouth full of cash outlay!!!

  5. Janis Ensman Ellam

    G’day Kate, I can relate. Have had tooth trouble ( aches, cracks, extractions)for the past few years. Australia has free dental care for all primary school children- wish it extended to adults. My private insurance pays 1/3 of all dental costs, but it’s still soooo $$$. Good Luck! xx (Thanks for making me laugh about it)!

  6. Again, we are living parallel lives.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  7. I have dentures top and bottom. The top has never been a problem. Sometimes the bottom plate creates a little sore, which is easily dealt with. It really is quite a relief to not have to floss & keep patching them up. Also I have no problem eating corn on the cob.

    • Thanks for commenting and putting to rest the scary dentures stories! Oh, and my two front teeth are crowns. I haven’t bitten into an apple in years and always cut my corn off the cob.

  8. Hey, yet another thing we have in common. I have two implants, a gaping hole where a third should go, and a crumbly tooth getting ready to command a fourth. I finally paid off the first two and can chew my food quite well on one side of my mouth which is why I have not invested in implant #3. It is a racket but I found a guy in Mentor, Dr. Schneider, who can do the extraction and implant at the same appointment (saving money) and then one only need see the dentist for the actual faux tooth. What gets me is they say you have to take as much care of the implants as your regular teeth. Well hell, for $5K, these implants and crowns ought to be designed to last a lifetime, mf-ers. Makes me think they design the implant/crowns to break down so you have to come back again in 20. Argh.

    • Really? If these sons’a bitches don’t outlive me I may go postal! Cindy, I had to have the teeth pulled and bone graft powder stuffed into the holes. Waited for the bone graft to take (months), and then could get the posts. Because of the bone graft situation, I was told I’d have to wait another three months for one crown and six months for the other before they could be safely made and attached. Rather than spend every other month in a dental office, I’m waiting six months to do both. Oh, and the posts need to be uncovered Dec. 6, leaving three weeks for the tissue to heal from that. Oh, oh! And the new dentist didn’t like the look of a couple other teeth, either. Really? WTF?

      • Yes, it can go that way – my first one did. I drove from Madtown to that medical building at Brainard and I-271 at least 6 times. Most of the time she was behind in her appts and I would wait 45 minutes to get in. One time I was there for 3 hours for a check on the grafting. After that one, I found Dr. Schneider. You do have to have decent bones for the one-time deal. If I decide I need the third one, I will definitely be driving to Mentor to see him. He’s awfully sweet too, younger guy, wears crocks, looks deeply into your eyes when he speaks to you. I say live with what you can. They’re only teeth. Life is too short.

    • I’ll attribute the extra time and money to some bone loss, then. Thanks for sharing your experiences, my friend. Was talking with my mother yesterday and asking myself, after putting so much money and time into the current situation, would it be stupid or gutsy to “pull the plug” if I run into another major issue in the next couple of years? Instead of “if,” it’s probably more accurate to say “when” . . . .

  9. Oh Sis. So sorry you are going through this. Dick and I have both been down this rabbit hole. I could have written your post exactly, down to all the quotes about dentures. Every time I get my teeth cleaned I pray they don’t find some new issue. Misery loves company and in this case you have a lot of it!

    • Thanks, Pen! Ain’t that the truth? I know I’m in good company. It reminds me of learning that you need to replace all the plumbing or electrical in your house. Thousands of dollars later, all that stuff is working – but your house doesn’t look one bit prettier! Still have to do it. Oh, well.

  10. Thanks, Pam. I just keep thinking, damn! I could be spending this money on something FUN like a really great trip!

  11. Kate, I feel your pain. Two weeks from now I am scheduled to have laser gum surgery. I’m not looking forward to spending the 3 large and that is with insurance. I could buy several brand new cadillacs with what I’ve spent over the years on teeth. I agree with you about dentures. This periodontist told me that he has pateints crying in his office and wanting to jump off a bridge when he pulls their teeth for dentures. Oh please! Both of my parents had them from the time they were about 19 years old and never looked back. Maybe we should ditch the dental work for the Cadillac and take a Thelma and Louise road trip.

    • I’m in, Janeen! As long as we don’t do any cliff diving! I’ve had periodontal surgery – twice. My periodontist here told me the job I had in Texas was no good so I had to have it all over again! The good news is that it was about 25 years ago and no further periodontal issues have come up. But the crowns and root canals and yadda yadda yadda – yikes! Yeah. Next stop will be dentures. And no tears! Thanks for reading and commenting, Janeen!

  12. Oh Kate, this is awful. The pain, the expense, the discomfort, the expense, the time, the expense. Hope the result will provide you some relief.

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