Letting things fester: The art of cultivating misery

I wake up at 3 in the morning. The painkillers have worn off prematurely and the searing pain in my jaw is unbearable, but I have to bear it because I seem to have no other choice at this hour. At least I can't think of anything that doesn't involve yanking my own teeth with a pair of pliers.

It's a couple of days after I had a root canal retreat. That's when they reopen a root canal that didn't quite work, drill it, clean it up, and close it again. It was a huge abscess, the doctor said. It was huge but he had cleaned it and I was going to be able to eat normal that day.

Except that now, two nights after my procedure, when I am supposed to be asleep and recovering from the procedure, after two days of increasing pain, I have the feeling of hot lead being poured continuously into my jawbone.

I try to take my mind off my misery, so I get on the computer and end up reading about nerve damage and people who need permanent pain management. This only increases my sense of impending doom. Will that be me? Surely something has gone wrong, and now I will be paralyzed for life.

Things Aren't Always What They Seem

It's the morning after. I am exhausted, but the pain has diminished. I call the dentist's office and I'm told to come in. I show up twenty minutes early.

Testing, testing, biting on a strip, and new x-rays, and more biting and testing.

It's not the root canal tooth that's hurting me. It's the tooth behind it. The second molar on the right side. You may know him as “tooth number 31”. It's a nice huge molar that chews almonds and kale greens for me. Massive. With roots that go yea deep, it's a solid piece of engineering, like it's built for armored combat. Except that now it's having a duel to the death with me, and it wants to win.

The doctor grinds the tooth down a bit so I won't put pressure on it, and tells me I will be relieved soon (and his prediction will come true in a day), but he declares the tooth condemned. It's got a host of problems and it requires an extraction. The reason it hurts so much right now is because the root canal sensitized the nerve; but the reason it hurts at all is because it's in bad shape in the first place.

You'd think I'd be shocked by this revelation, and curse my luck, but I am not surprised in the least. I've seen this coming for a long time. In fact, I've been expecting it for some time now.

This is all my fault, you see. I let this problem fester, and in spite of my outward nonchalance, I'm feeling like a very stupid man right now. And when I finish this tale you will understand why.

The Root Cause
An impacted tooth, but not Nerdo's

Nine years ago, in the good old days of having dental insurance as a graduate instructor, and before choosing the uncertain life of the freelance artist, I was diagnosed with an impacted wisdom tooth. That's when a wisdom tooth grows sideways and eventually hits the molars in front of them like a row of bowling pins.

This scenario was on the horizon, but it was nothing urgent just yet. It had been detected by an x-ray and it was buried deep. I was told I'd need oral surgery, and a possible bone graft, and I should keep it in mind.

But then I left grad school and lost my dental plan and somehow settled into the belief that I could no longer afford dental care. I brushed and flossed and cleaned my tongue religiously, but I just never went back to a dentist. “Some day!” was my motto, “when I have the money.”

But I never had the money because I had other priorities, like spending a ton of money on organic food and going to restaurants and moving to a bigger apartment. And I let a little problem grow and fester while I ignored its existence.

The Return of the Repressed

Three years ago I started getting this annoying pain in my jaw. I was anguished. I chewed on cloves and rubbed my jaw like an ape. I was alarmed. Then one day I touched… something like… bone? Yes, it was bone. I was teething! The sideways wisdom tooth was coming out of the gums!

My wife, who is the saner of us both, was tired of watching me suffer and made arrangements for me to be seen at a low-cost dental clinic. Why didn't I do this before, you ask? Among other things, I hate paperwork. True story. Don't ask…! I might write about it some day.

At the clinic, the dentist looked around, praised my good oral hygiene (hurray for tongue scrapers), then took some x-rays and declared: “you have an impacted tooth, and need oral surgery”. Nothing new. I had seen this coming. It had taken six years to catch up with me, but this was no revelation.

The clinic didn't perform oral surgery, and having no dental insurance I had to pay a private doctor full-price out of my own pocket.

Never Ass-U-Me

What did I do? I assumed it would cost me thousands, I assumed I couldn't pay, and did nothing about it. I can't even remember how I came up with this figure, but I was convinced it would cost me three thousand dollars, which I didn't have at the time. So I made no appointments and I didn't get it checked and I didn't get an actual price quote, but I looked at the web, fantasized about going to Mexico to get it fixed, complained about my luck endlessly, and I didn't do anything in the end. I DID NOTHING. It was analysis paralysis.

In the meantime, as I debated endlessly with myself, the pain went miraculously away. The impacted tooth had finished emerging from the gums, and that earned me a earned a temporary truce. So I let it fester, and as long as it festered quietly, I made a secret pact with myself to forget about it. And I did. I had new crevices to brush and floss, but I avoided thinking about the needed procedure. I forgot for so long that the clinic dropped me for not ever showing up again.

The Reckoning

Last year around November the impacted tooth started hurting bad, and this was no teething pain, this was just the whole structural system crashing into an unholy mess, the roots of the wisdom tooth digging back into my jaw, the crown hitting the root of the adjacent tooth, which it had deformed over the years. It was time for action.

I thought of yanking it off myself, but that can cause facial paralysis, which is no joke. And just leaving it there can cause tumors… tumors! So in desperation I finally went to see the oral surgeon. Nine years after I was first told about it, three years after the dental clinic referred me to an oral surgeon; I finally went to have it examined.

I was ready to sell a kidney only to get it fixed, and I braced myself for the tab. Except that this time, unlike the others, I had been working on my finances. I had moved into a smaller apartment. I had simplified things and cut costs. I had a budget. I had a little savings. (Thanks, GRS!) In spite of the pain, I felt in control of my life. But how much would this really cost me, after all?

The Truth Sometimes Hurts, But it Hurts Less than Fantasy

$585.

That was a $185 exam, and $385 for the extraction, and $15 in three generic prescriptions at Costco. Taxes included. No room for a bone graft.

$585. I have to repeat that number. Because it's not $3,000. Because I needed no dental insurance, and I needed no travel to Mexico. And this is one of the best oral surgeons in my town, so I'm getting a great value.

The nine-year wait had been a massive blunder. This was an embarrassing, humbling epiphany. Nine years ago when it was first detected, even out of my own pocket, I could have afforded it. Or three years ago when it began to hurt again, I could have afforded it. But at the time I had no discipline with money, and I believed the mythology that the cost was beyond my reach, and I was stupid and I let it fester.

Q: How do you destroy a marvelous piece of natural engineering that's built for armored combat? A: You set a stronger piece against its weak flank.” — Field Marshall Nerdo

The Wages of Fear

The wisdom tooth is out now, but it left the tooth in front of it deformed, weakened, and in a precarious top-heavy position, which is why that hurt after a root canal elsewhere.

This poor innocent beaten down tooth, a marvel of natural engineering that looks built for armored combat, has been narrowed at the base to about 65% of its original width. The impacted tooth had been pushing into it for years, and bone is hard but it's also alive, so it reshaped the best it could under the pressure, but it's looking bleak despite its efforts. It also has a tiny crack in it, not sure how deep it runs. The oral surgeon gave it a fifty-fifty chance when he first saw it, and now the endodontist thinks I should have it taken out.

I know whatever happens this tooth won't last me forever, and some day I'll have an implant in its place. Oh, those implants, they are made of titanium, and they aren't cheap. They are great pieces of engineering too. My oral surgeon charges $1700 for them, and then I'll need a crown on top of it, not sure how much yet (but I'll find out next month). And of course I'll have to pay for the extraction.

I could have saved all that damage and money and suffering by treating the wisdom tooth years ago. Now I will lose a tooth, and I'll have to spend money I was afraid I'd have to spend because I was afraid of spending it and I did nothing. Does this make sense?

The Wisdom of the Lost Tooth

Friends: This is a true story. I have made an example of myself in the hope that you don't have to be the next victim of a small problem that was allowed to grow unchecked. You probably didn't need all the gory details to grasp this basic truth, but I hope they add a real dimension to what often seem mere moral platitudes.

So here's the wisdom of my tooth as it applies to other situations: What have you been neglecting, postponing or avoiding that you could begin to address today? Are you letting a problem fester? For me, right now, it's a state tax bill. For you it might be a leaking roof, or a credit card balance, or a smoking habit, or a relationship that needs mending, or a lapsed insurance policy, or something else. Whatever it is, don't assume passively that there's nothing you can do. Get the facts, take some action, get some help, and don't let problems fester, or you may end up losing a lot more than you expected. Trust me, it hurts. A lot. Especially at 3am.

What are you still doing here? Go take care of it right now! And please let us know what steps you're taking, so we can cheer you on.

More about...Health & Fitness, Insurance

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Lance@MoneyLife&More
8 years ago

I probably would have done the same and assumed the same things. Thanks for the heads up and reminding us that we don’t know what we don’t know and that it is at least worth looking into.

Susan
Susan
8 years ago

I LOVED this post! It’s good not just for dental stuff. I’m feeling better about the $900 I just shelled out on car maintenance. My car just turned over 120k and I want to keep it at least 3 more years. Even though I anticipated and saved for the expense, I still didn’t want to spend the money. I had to keep reminding myself what rebuilding an engine and/or a transmission would cost. I also just did a colonscopy that I had been putting off. Two polyps were removed that were not concerous, but could have become cancerous. I have… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

Great post! Frontline just had a really interesting piece on dental care in the US as well. It is a fascinating topic. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/dollars-and-dentists/ I had my impacted wisdom teeth out in grad school, but not under dental insurance, under my regular health insurance. Sometimes wisdom teeth are covered under that. (Of course, they messed up on paying, leading me to be very happy after months of bill resubmitting and phone calls to receive a call from the nice credit agency ladies who got the insurance company to pay the hospital for me.) It’s also interesting how many dental insurances aren’t… Read more »

Mom of five
Mom of five
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

Right – because I had my wisdom teeth removed by an oral surgeon, the (pretty lousy) HMO I had at the time covered the entire thing. If anyone out there needs a wisdom tooth out, it’s definitely worth checking your medical insurance before you assume you can’t afford it.

We currently have dental insurance. It’s not very good as it only covers the most routine work. However, it saves us about $600 per year.

Cybrgeezer
Cybrgeezer
8 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

A couple of years ago, I went to a new (to me) dentist and his office staff told me I had excellent dental coverage under my medical policy.

That said, they also told me nobody has really good dental insurance as all policies have a maximum of $1,000 per year coverage.

I don’t know if that’s true, but checking with friends and relatives who have their dental coverage under medical policies with companies different from the one I had showed me the staff was apparently correct.

Amylein17
Amylein17
8 years ago
Reply to  Cybrgeezer

Not ALL dental policies have $1,000 annual maximums. Most policies that I’ve encountered have either a $1,000, $1,250 or $1,500 annual max. I’ve seen up to $2,000.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
8 years ago
Reply to  Cybrgeezer

My max is $2000 per year, and as a result of not really going to the dentist from undergrad-PhD, I have maxed it out every year since starting my job, though I think this year (finally!) I am down to just cleanings. But easily $7K over the last four years. Yowza.

Though I will say the staff at my dental office were SHOCKED by how good my coverage was.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

In my case the wisdom tooth was not covered by medical (which excludes dental) and it wasn’t covered by the dental clinic either, so this was effectively a gap in coverage!

SB @ One cent at a time
SB @ One cent at a time
8 years ago

El Nerdo, seamless story telling, you can easily become my favorite author here. Saying that, I have been neglecting my teeth for past several years. Wake up call!

Will
Will
8 years ago

This is the best try out post I’ve read in the last few weeks. Great story telling style and it was totally captivating. You could definitely be my favorite author on GRS.

Jean
Jean
8 years ago
Reply to  Will

I’m with Will — this is my favourite try-out essay yet. El Nerdo writes well, with a good sense of humour, intelligence, and lots of personality.

Troy
Troy
8 years ago

+1 on best guest post. Thanks for talking about a personal experience in painfully transparent detail.

getagrip
getagrip
8 years ago

We are letting a $5000 tooth issue for my college child fester (already got the estimates). No pain, just the warnings, and we’re saving for it because my child simply doesn’t have the money. But at least we aren’t having to hit the emergency fund yet, though that could change in a heartbeat.

Also, you have to be careful that you aren’t fooling yourself by thinking you have something covered because you’re planning on doing it and it’s on the “list” of priorities. Too often we neglect the important by letting the less important but apparently urgent override it.

Helen
Helen
8 years ago
Reply to  getagrip

It’s great that you’re saving, but do it now! I had the same sitauation in college, and my parents found the money to take care of the surgery. So glad I did it – saved some serious long term damage…plus I paid them back 50 times over. Hope your kid does the same 🙂

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  getagrip

Hey, this season is the best time to do dental work without the pressures of the semester, even get a little summer work to pay for it. If it has the potential to go badly I’d consider it somewhat of an emergency. Besides, it’s a great time of the year to drink smoothies all day while things heal up.

Best wishes!

Brenton
Brenton
8 years ago
Reply to  getagrip

Why have the eFund if not for this? Use the eFund and then save to repay it… you know, rather than let your child suffer needlessly…

CNM
CNM
8 years ago
Reply to  Brenton

Yeah, I know saving up is a good idea but I probably wouldn’t wait too long. I mean, that’s what El Nerdo did and it became an ordeal. Have you checked into payment plans? Dentists offices generally do that kind of thing, especially with expensive procedures.

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  getagrip

it can be worth it to get a second or third opinion. I have gotten really drastically different opinions on dental stuff from different dentists and if you either haven’t had dental issues or haven’t been with your dentist long it can be really hard to know if you should trust them on what they say is necessary.

Different opinions with my last dental issue ranged from “OMG better do something now and it will be expensive!” to “call us if it starts to hurt, otherwise wait six months and we’ll look again.”

Stacy
Stacy
8 years ago
Reply to  Rosa

This is what happened to me. My wisdom teeth haven’t come in, but are impacted. However, they also haven’t moved in years. When I called around for estimates, they were in the $2-3K range because they required an oral surgeon and anesthesia. One dentist told me, “get them out now” about 4 years ago. Another took x-rays a year or so later and said, “if they don’t hurt, they can wait,” and x-rays them again periodically to make sure they are staying put.

Ugo
Ugo
8 years ago

I loved this post. It was thought provoking for me. Well done, El Nerdo.

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

Great post, and great reminder! I’m a planner, but every once in a while something comes up that, for whatever reason, I can’t bring myself to deal with… and so I postpone and postpone and postpone, until it’s much worse than it needed to be.

bg
bg
8 years ago

You’ve been reading my mind, didn’t you?!?

Just today I made an appointment with a new dentist for next week, because I’ve got enough of ignoring the subject of crown problems which I’ve been sitting on for, uh, years now. And I’m an health-insured German, it’s just that I _hate_ dentists 🙂 But I’ll get over it. I need my teeth! *buckles up*

Thanks for this great entry!

Angie K
Angie K
8 years ago

I really want to print this out and hang it where I can see it. As a reminder to stop doing this exACT same thing to myself (aaalllll the time!)

I have an issue with my teeth….but I have many other issues related to money and appointments etc. that I never get around to because I Ass-U-Me different things for each issue.

The truth hurts, but less than fantasy. <– My new motto to help me along 🙂

Holly
Holly
8 years ago

Excellent post! I love this.

And yes, I too am wondering how long I can put off a minor dental issue.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Holly

Oh, don’t put it off any longer. That way it never becomes a major problem!

Holly
Holly
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I appreciate your concern for my dental well-being. 😀

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Holly

You bet! If I can help you avoid the pain I went through, then the work I put into writing this piece was worth it.

Sharon
Sharon
8 years ago

Excellent article! And it really hit home for me, because I have not one but two impacted wisdom teeth. I had no idea that my other molars could actually become deformed under the pressure–good to know! Even at $585 I don’t have the funds yet, though–I wonder if oral surgeons do payment plans? 🙂

Sheryl
Sheryl
8 years ago
Reply to  Sharon

Some might! I know my brother had to have major, emergency dental work the last summer and the office has been great about payment plans. Ask around and explain the situation. They want the business.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Sharon

Hi Sharon! I called it “deformed” because that’s what it looks like, but the dentists say it’s BONE LOSS. So definitely start saving for it if you can, it’s worth the cost. Protect your second molars and say “no” to future misery! When I talked to the doctor’s office staff and mentioned I’d be paying out of pocket they offered me “care credit” or something like that (basically, a loan from GE), but fortunately I was able to say “no thanks” and draw from my savings. I supposed I could have talked them into some sort of layaway if need… Read more »

Mom
Mom
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Great post, El Nerdo! And yes, forgoing sedation is cheaper and can be done. I remember being six months pregnant when a top molar was dropping down with no bottom to meet it, exposing the root of the tooth and generally making my life miserable. Dental solutions…wait until after pregnancy term and have implants put in for the bottom molars that didn’t exist (never did, don’t have wisdom teeth either), at a cost of several thousand, or $150 to pull them….so they got pulled. Not a pleasant sound, even with headphones and music on, but it got the job done.… Read more »

CR
CR
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I had my wisdom teeth out when I was in high school. I wish I had known that non-sedation with local anesthesia was an option. I know now that I get really emotional with those drugs and although I generally enjoy going to the dentist, I was sobbing through the whole procedure because of the drugs.
Now, getting my husband to the dentist? That is a challenge.

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Care Credit is a high interest credit card, everyone should be wary of it.

They offer a no-interest introductory period but if you don’t have the whole thing paid off in time they charge interest retroactively. Here is the explanation from their about page:

“Interest will be charged to your account from the purchase date if the promotional balance, including optional charges, is not paid in full within 6, 12, 18 or 24 months or if you make a late payment. Minimum monthly payments are required.”

http://www.carecredit.com/howcarecreditworks.html

Sharon
Sharon
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Thanks!!! I’m so glad to hear that it can be done with just local anesthesia. I was afraid the doc might think I was nuts for asking. 🙂

We have a great dental school nearby, but they would expect me to show for multiple preliminary appointments 3+ hours in length, and I have young kids–I’m afraid the child care costs might eat up the savings. I’ll have to do the math and see if it would be worth it.

Laundry Lady
Laundry Lady
8 years ago
Reply to  Sharon

Actually yes, many do offer payment plans. Make it clear that money is an issue and ask how you can work out a payment plan. Sometimes a payment reduction can also be worked out if you can provide proof of financial hardship.

Holly@ClubThrifty
8 years ago

This is a very timely post since I just had $17,000 worth of dental work!!!

Well written story! Thanks, El Nerdo!

Joe @ Retire By 40
Joe @ Retire By 40
8 years ago

You can’t let health issue foster like that. I had the 4 teeth pulled as soon as I found out about it. Yes, I had dental insurance, but it need to be done. Even $3,000 won’t be worth that kind of suffering. It’s good to hear that you got that taken care of. Be mindful about the next health problem.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

That’s right. And although I wrote this from the perspective of a health issue, my hope is that people will look into other areas of their lives for signs of neglect and decay. Just the other day Tim was writing that he hadn’t seen a doctor since he left college, and some time ago another writer here said she was living with a broken shower in her home but putting money towards other things. But we all do things like this, we sweep things under the rug and hope they will go away. So my hope is that this article… Read more »

Kristen
Kristen
8 years ago

I am a long time reader seldom commenter, but I almost stopped reading because the endless hit and miss guest posts are just too much. But this one was great and totally redeemed my faith. Now I need to see what I’ve been avoiding…

debbieln
debbieln
8 years ago

Great post El Nerdo. You have a good writing style that is a pleasure to read. Does my memory serve me correctly, though, in that I remember posts from you on MSN’s now-defunct moneyboards?

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  debbieln

Thanks! That wasn’t me though. Must have been a different Nerdo.

mirror
mirror
8 years ago

I seem to have a different problem with dentists. They all seem to find something that must be fixed right now! Except when I get a second opinion somewhere else, they dont find anything to fix… We moved recently, found a new dentist, and through my husband’s job we apparently have every dentist’s dream dental insurance. I’m beginning to suspect that they want to do lots of *helpful, but unnecessary* procedures just because it’s covered and they can make money. I have mild TMJ that comes and goes. At one point it got pretty bothersome so I was told very… Read more »

Mom
Mom
8 years ago
Reply to  mirror

Definitely shop around. We move around a lot in the military and I am really on my guard because I have had the same thing happen. I grind my teeth at night and one dentist told me I’d need my jaw cracked and a lot of caps, etc., because I was grinding teeth down. I freaked out and did what all girls do at the ripe age of 22….I called my Dad! He got me a referral to a competent dentist who took a look for free (I didn’t have insurance then) and told me I needed a bite guard… Read more »

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
8 years ago
Reply to  Mom

You can just get the cheap athletic mouth guards for grinding. You don’t need the really expensive, custom ones.

Davina
Davina
7 years ago
Reply to  mirror

My dentist told me that many dentists are in or close to bankruptcy because of the recession, perhaps causing some to advise extra work or work that can wait. As I haven’t had dental insurance for the last couple of years, I bought a set of dental tools and clean my own teeth now. I also floss and use a Sonicare electric toothbrush several times a day, so there isn’t much to remove in the first place. You can get Sonicare components on ebay for about $20. I’ve also noticed that dental bleach dissolves every last bit of tartar on… Read more »

Jennifer
Jennifer
8 years ago

I’ve also been procrastinating dental work for years. Have had a bad wisdom tooth rot and chip right out of my mouth. As glad as I am it’s gone, I am left with a festering hole, with what I assume are the rotting roots still inside. Of course I talk about this to no one, and every day is so demanding (babies, self employed, supporting the family while hubby recovers from cancer) that I always put it off. I think I even have dental insurance, not sure! Thank you SO much for sharing. I’m gonna go make the (wake up)… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

Yes please, do it now! And let us know how it goes.

TB at BlueCollarWorkman
TB at BlueCollarWorkman
8 years ago

Couldn’t help but to laugh at this, not because I’m a jerk but because we all do this, don’t we? Put things off because “it’ll be fine” but then… everything goes to hell when we wait! Glad it all worked out man.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

Trust me, I was laughing and laughing when I wrote this!

ChezJulie
ChezJulie
8 years ago

This was by far my favorite of the guest posts. Great storytelling and a message that applies to many things beyond wisdom teeth. Such as putting off saving for retirement because you feel like you don’t have “enough” to put away when starting small is better than doing nothing.

Ashley
Ashley
8 years ago

Great post! I just got my wisdom teeth out last week at age 23. Those prices are comparable to what I saw and then I had dental insurance cover most of it. This article is a great reminder of other things I need to take care of!

Sara
Sara
8 years ago

Great post! I once went without A/C in my vehicle for two summers (in Virginia) because I was afraid the A/C unit would need to be replaced to the tune of $2,000 (fantastical figure–in reality, it would be more like 1K). In the end, a minor repair costing $152 was needed.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Sara

This is hilarious! I mean that in the best possible way. Thumbs up.

Daisy
Daisy
8 years ago

Hear, hear!

I went to the dentist this afternoon and what seemed to be a simple toothache became a major tooth damage which cost me 3x more than the normal pasta filling. 🙁

Ross McCabe III
Ross McCabe III
8 years ago

I agree with the theme of this post.

Fear can cause us to make irrational decisions about how we take care of our body. Often, we dream up a scenario (or potential dollar cost) that is an inflated estimate of the impact.

I appreciate your reflection on why you made these decisions in the past and what you’ve learned.

The post was well written.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago

I love this post! I had all 5 of my wisdom teeth removed when I was 14 so it’s a distant memory for me, but I have other dental work I’ve been putting off for quite some time.

Multiple Sclerosis really takes the front seat in my life and everything else health wise gets put to the side. I know I need to take time out for dental work, well woman checkups, dermatology checkups and work, etc, but I use some of the same reasons you did.

Becky
Becky
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Not relevant to this post, but I wanted to let Carla know I am in the same boat. I also have MS and even if my insurance completely covers some of those extras (dental cleanings, well woman, etc..) I *hate* submitting myself to the mental torture of yet another medical appointment. One way I have found to deal with this is to force myself to schedule the next years (or six month) visit before I leave the office. At the time, it seems so far out that it is not overwhelming. And when it’s time for the scheduled appointment, it… Read more »

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Becky

Hey Becky,

Someone who understands the pain! 😀 I have to remember that our bodies are connected in one way or another so if we let one thing go, its makes everything else worse. I made some appointments over the next few months – it will just feel better to get everything out of the way.

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago

When I was younger I thought my teeth were perfect and dental care could be neglected. Although I brushed, I didnt see a dentist for 9 years, from age 22 to 31. In the 20 years since then: 2 impacted wisdom teeth extracted, under general anesthesia 4 other extractions 3 root canals with crowns Numerous fillings 2 bridges to cover up spaces where adult teeth never came in (the baby teeth lasted over 30 years) 6 implants Gum surgery (twice) Estimated expense since 1990–close to $50,000 Dental insurance–zero I wish I could say “lesson learned,” but I can think of… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Andrew, I don’t know if this helps, and I’d like to write a whole post about it some day, but GTD has been very helpful for me in terms of tracking projects and beating procrastination.

All you need to do is take the next step and the system does all the remembering for you. I value that methodology tremendously.

I hope you get those other things sorted out!

David
David
8 years ago

I’d say expect about another $1500 for the crown (that’s what mine cost) on top of the implant.

Most dental plans max out at $1000-$2000 spending a year, which isn’t enough for an implant + crown, so here’s a tip for those who need one: do it at the end of the year.

The implant takes a few months to heal before they can put the crown on top. This way, the implant gets charged to the first year and the crown gets charged on the second year. It’s the best way to maximize the use of your insurance.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  David

Thanks! I wrote this a few weeks back, so now I know: my new dentist makes crowns for $1000. I live in New Mexico though, where the cost of living is low compared to other states. Come for the enchiladas, stay for the dental work! 😀

Pam
Pam
8 years ago
Reply to  David

My dental insurance wouldn’t cover anything to do with implants so I let my insurance lapse and paid for the whole shot. In Canada you can claim health/dental on your taxes if it exceeds a certain amount. My implant/crown/bone graft was ~6000 all up but I had been saving and had an adequate bridge. It was just reaching the end of its service life so I replaced it. Actually, when I got the bridge at the tender age of 17 they said it would probably last 5 years. 10 if I took care of it and was luckly. At the… Read more »

ChezJulie
ChezJulie
8 years ago

This is my favorite of the guest posts so far. Very good storytelling, and it applies to so much more than teeth! It is better to get whatever information one can and take whatever steps, even small, to address a problem that to let it fester.

Veronica
Veronica
8 years ago

Love your writing style. I guess we aren’t voting yet for our choice of new staff writer, but if we were, I’d vote for you hands down.

cc
cc
8 years ago

my dentist is very mindful of expense and only recommends procedures that seem reasonable, doesn’t do big procedures unless they’re needed (i had a few big cavities right in a row- we filled everything, one was just hurty and needed a root canal after a few weeks, others were fine). he also offers payment plans, and is very attentive concerning insurance schedules and fees and will book your appointments accordingly. my teeth are just awful and require lots of upkeep. i’m not a fan of pain but i’ve been through enough dental visits to know that a little $80 cavity… Read more »

Boss Nurse
Boss Nurse
8 years ago

I had my rear molars removed when I was a kid due to severe overcrowding in my mouth, just prior to 6 years of braces. When I was 16, the impacted wisdom teeth came out. Last year, the rear molar that was left on the right side had to come out. The large filling that was in it failed, the root canal (4 roots) failed, and the idiot endodontist cracked the tooth down to the gum. It was 6 months of pain and misery. I had dental insurance, but all the work reached my cap pretty darn fast. I should… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Boss Nurse

My (new) general dentist who saw me last week (that’s after I wrote this) also concurs the second molar has to go but he says I might not need an implant and could be fine without it.

So it all depends on where things are and what’s the situation. It might be worth getting a second opinion!

Pam
Pam
8 years ago
Reply to  Boss Nurse

With regards to an implant – it depends. Your teeth need somthing to bite against to stay in (at least uppers) – so depending on how your teeth overlap you might not need one at all – or you might end up losing another tooth.

Previously you could get a bridge – two crowns with a false tooth between them – but if right at the back and no tooth behind that isn’t an option.

All you need to know is if you’ll lose the upper/lower that used to bite on the tooth you had pulled.

Kaytee
Kaytee
8 years ago

This post makes me exceptionally happy to not have wisdom teeth. However, a few years ago my husband finally went in for a dental check-up after several years of no appointments. That was a cool $8000+ dollars. However, our dentist worked with us to get the maximum out of our dental work. We were able to space it out over two fiscal years, and I was able to put our share on my flexible spending account. That made it slightly less painful. I don’t recall all the details, but I think there were a few cavities, a bridge or two,… Read more »

Barb
Barb
8 years ago

Great post. I agree that this is one of my favorite guest posters. Hire him!

Kio
Kio
8 years ago

This is such a great post! It is a great reminder that while we all might be in debt demolition mode (or super-savvy saver mode), you can definitely go over board. I guess the saying is “Penny-wise and Pound-foolish.”

It is always important to keep life in perspective and never assume! I have had many moments where I look back and wonder why the heck I just assumed that x wasn’t possible, or cost too much.

Dentist
Dentist
8 years ago

*Clap *Clap *Clap

As a dentist, I will testify situations like this happen daily. Daily, people!

One of the fun things about being a dentist is it gives you unique glimpses into the human condition. Namely – people are irrational.

If something hurts, take care of it.

Paula
Paula
8 years ago

El Nerdo;
What an informative post.
I have never had dental insurance except for a two year period when I was way younger. Yes, dental procedures cost a lot and I have spent $100,000 on my teeth in the past 25 years. Alot of $ but the condition of your teeth is directly related to your general health and we are worth the cost – to be healthy!
Putting off other types of procedures is something I have also done and I regret it.
Just don’t beat yourself too hard.

MelodyO
MelodyO
8 years ago

Great post, El Nerdo! I hope you get the writing position at GRS. :0) And I can very much empathize with what you wrote about. I do the books for our business, and my knowledge of QuickBooks is a little bit shaky when it comes to payables, so I just didn’t enter that part into the computer. Which means I didn’t reconcile QuickBooks to our bank statements. For two freaking years. I just kept putting it off and trying to ignore it while that knot in my stomach got bigger and bigger. Finally we found a bookkeeper who didn’t charge… Read more »

Ely
Ely
8 years ago

I’ve been postponing dental work on my dog. She has a broken tooth that needs to come out and we’ve known for all 3 years she’s been with us. The procedure will cost close to $1000. Thing is, she’s 11 years old. She could be with us another month or another 3 years or more. Our vet told us he had the same circumstance with his dog, so he put it off, and she lived, and he had to get the work done anyway. Now I’m afraid that if we do it now, she’ll die sooner, because of Murphy’s law.… Read more »

Becky
Becky
8 years ago
Reply to  Ely

Just FYI, I had a broken tooth pulled on my cat. He was a stray that I adopted and was probably about 9-11 years old at the time. I would consider pricing a geriatric blood panel before having the tooth pulled if they would need to use anesthesia. I didn’t know to ask for this and it turns out that my cat had weak kidneys and the stress of anesthesia caused his kidneys to fail. The kidneys were on their way to giving out eventually, but I feel like I rushed their eventual demise and may have done more harm… Read more »

Saving in the City
Saving in the City
8 years ago
Reply to  Ely

I had dental work done on my then roughly nine year old dog last year. She came to me three years back with kind of gross teeth; before I even had the chance to consider cleaning, she was diagnosed with epilepsy. I decided it was too risky to put her under for a teeth cleaning. She wouldn’t let me brush her teeth. She didn’t like playing with hard toys. But everything seemed okay, at least from ages 6-8 1/2. Then she started slowing down. She didn’t want to play as much. She was less active. I thought it was just… Read more »

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
8 years ago

A competent vet will recommend the blood panel on older dogs. In fact, mine won’t do any surgery or dental on an older dog without it.

KSR
KSR
8 years ago

WhewwwHooooo! El Nerdo gets the job. Cuz if he doesn’t, the army will revolt. Great post. I was thinking at the beginning–is this a “man” problem in procrastinating medical attention? But, the comments posted here from all the rest answered that pretty quick–nope, everyone does it.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  KSR

Thanks! You know that mention of smoking I put there was for you, yes? I hope that has continued well. Breathe…! 😀

KSR
KSR
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Yes, yes. Twas me. And that was the best and most effective advice that I got. But…damn I miss it! Really, really miss it.

Young'in
Young'in
8 years ago

I don’t normally comment on GRS, but I felt compelled to because this was the first article to really speak to me in a while. I feel that GRS needs an injection of young authors with varied experiences instead of endless posts about how to go about dealing with a parent’s will (consult your attorney, because it’s too complicated to really address here). This is an author who is dealing with a situation millions of us are (lacking dental insurance) and a psychological issue (neglecting dental care due to a mental block of spending the cash – something my boyfriend… Read more »

Audrey
Audrey
8 years ago

I have a few friends in dental school, and I’ve found out that extractions are far cheaper than trying to fix the problem. I hated going to the dentist, and I ended up needing about $6,000 worth of dental work after my mom finally dragged me to the dentist when I was up there for a long weekend. He recommended that I go to the local dental school. I had all the same work done, but it only cost ~$2,500. However, I had to have each problem address over several appointments, all of which were 2-4 hours long. Most of… Read more »

Jody
Jody
8 years ago

J.d. You found a winner! Best try out post yet. Story telling+ financial advice+ a call to action??!! Love it! I would subscribe to an el Nerdo blog!

TW
TW
8 years ago

El Nerdo-
Great article on a very timely (and timeless!) subject. Complements on your writing style, too. You get my vote!

Lisa
Lisa
8 years ago

Great article!

I’m actually pretty decent about getting to the dentist regularly, but this post has inspired me to take the next action step in getting life insurance. I’m pregnant, and I’ve realized that this is really something I need to do. I emailed my insurance provider for a quote ages ago, and the reply has been sitting in my inbox for months. This week on my day off, I’m going to take an hour or two to call and follow up, and check in with 1 or 2 other insurance providers as well.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Lisa

Great!!

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I haven’t been to the dentist in 2 years, and I’m about to lose my health insurance…. I just made an appointment for a cleaning/checkup.

Thanks, Nerdo. This wasn’t my favorite article ever, but so far both of your articles have inspired me to action. Believe me, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Zoinks
Zoinks
8 years ago

Great post! I’ve been putting health related things off too for my own reasons, but I scheduled my appointments before you posted: GP, dermo, gyno, dentist, etc. I’m even set to see a psychologist about some work related anxiety in late August. In typical American fashion, I’m hesitant to schedule appointments because I’m afraid it’s going to cost an arm and a leg, then my husband reminds me that we live in France and that we have excellent supplemental health insurance through his work. Basically he wants to scream at me, “it doesn’t cost you a thing to see the… Read more »

Bethany
Bethany
8 years ago

Fascinating. I wish I could get my husband to visit the dentist, his teeth are terrible and it’s so off putting to see them. He just refuses. I think it hindered his ability to get a job, and it gives people the wrong impression of him when they meet him. I guess it’ll come down to his wallet – what’s cheaper, the dentist or divorce? 🙂

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
8 years ago
Reply to  Bethany

I’ll pretty much guarantee you that his teeth are keeping him from getting a job. Appearances count!

Melanie
Melanie
8 years ago

Entertaining and informative (I’m going to floss after I hit submit). El Nerdo gets my vote!

thethriftyspendthrift
thethriftyspendthrift
8 years ago

I always question whether or not I need my wisdom teeth removed and always question dentists when they automatically recommend it. Both of the ones I have on the bottom are impacted—yet one of them somehow pushed itself upright and the other seems to have given up on pushing forward—I hope. The last dentist I saw said he doesn’t generally recommend everyone get them removed like some dentists do and only to get them out if they are really bothering me. Luckily, I have awesome insurance that covers up to $3,000 per year of work. Given my family history of… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

In my case, the left wisdom tooth is perfectly in place doing what it’s supposed to do–chewing. The one on the right however was eating into the jawbone BEFORE it bothered me, and later began to destroy the second molar… which is coming out tomorrow at the tune of $200-$300 (depending on how complicated things get). I usually say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” (and wisdom teeth are a reservoir of stem cells which could come handy some day) — but if it’s broke and eating your face and could give you tumors… Well…! Your dentist should be… Read more »

jb
jb
8 years ago

best guest post yet! hire them 🙂

Krose
Krose
8 years ago

Very enjoyable article! I recently went to the dentist for the first time in 2 years (same old story-grad student, no dental coverage), and was worried about a weird growth I had noticed on my gum 6-7 months ago. I was VERY relieved to find that a) I had no cavities, and b) that the weird growth is apparently a very normal bone growth called a torus mandibularis. It made me realize that I had a close shave-what if it had been something serious?? Have since resolved to go regularly, insurance or not, and to make sure my teeth are… Read more »

gerald
gerald
8 years ago

I’ve let my teeth fester for a while… years! affected self esteem, relationships, I didn’t smile…then I went to Guatemala and found a dentist, trained in the US, who did one implant and 10 jackets with 4 root canals for 5K, estimates where I live ran about 3 times that. I’m so happy and smiling again!

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