Jewish World Review Sept. 22, 2011 / 23 Elul, 5771
A trip to the dentist cleans out your wallet
By Dan K. Thomasson
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Have you been to the dentist lately for anything more serious than just a cleaning and a checkup? Chances are if you are one of millions of Americans out of work or in low-paying jobs you probably took any major tooth problem to your friendly emergency room. By that time, it most likely is too late to make the next step an easy one.
So why did you wait? Perhaps a better question is why I asked that in the first place knowing the obvious answer.
The ache in your tooth or gums may be nearly as tolerable as the pain caused to your pocket book in remedying it. And most dentists want their money, or at least much of it, upfront.
Don't misunderstand. Dentists are nice people, but the amount they charge in their free- market economy is over the top.
For instance, I normally have a cleaning and examination every six months. For some time, I have declined the X-rays, which can add a hefty charge to the already hefty cost.
Then there is the radiation risk. With X-rays the charge can be $200-$300 for a cleaning and a two minute exam by the dentist. Still, it was a big mistake not to get radiated.
In between visits, I recently experienced some discomfort and made an extra semi-emergency appointment. By the time I got there, things had settled down and after five minutes of examination that included quickly reviewing X-rays taken three years ago, my longtime dentist said since I was no longer in pain, I should make an appointment in a week. His cashier/ receptionist said, "$100 please."
When I went back, he took X-rays and discovered a variety of problems with the most serious, a capped tooth that was going bad.
He quickly sent me to a specialist who seems to do nothing except perform the dreaded root canal.
That was 8 in the morning and by noon, I was back in my primary dentist's office $1,450 lighter.
Then came the next bad news. I needed a new cap. The old one was no longer viable. The charge to recap this far upper molar, was $1,550, "but I'm going to give you a break." That announcement came after I had complained dramatically. He spent the next 30 minutes X-raying and preparing the tooth for the cap that he said he would expedite.
When he escorted me to the money person this time, he told her quietly not to charge me for the prep, just the crown, which I didn't yet have, noting that he had cut the price by $400. "He really gave you a deal," the money changer said, reaching for my credit card. "That will be $1,550, please."
By that time, I had been shuttling between dental chairs for eight hours and it didn't sink in that the preparation for seating the cap was extra. All I wanted to do was shut my mouth ... for once. Shortly after leaving, it occurred to me to protest his claim of generosity. His bill would have been $1,950 apparently. Even without the alleged savings, the charge for the day for fixing one tooth was $3,000.
Jesse James used a gun. The weapon of choice for these guys is a high-speed drill. They turn each hour's worth of work into astronomy where the sky is clearly the limit.
While I had my eyes closed and tried to block out the sound of the drill, I worked in vain to compute the approximate hourly amount earned and how that came out at the end of the year. When I got to the root canal doctor, he had another person he was also tending, so I can tell you he made nearly three grand in less than two hours.
So how anyone on limited income can afford regular dental care is a mystery to me. Most insurance plans strictly cover checkups and cleaning once or twice a year. Beyond that, the premiums rise too high for the average person. Medicare doesn't cover dental care.
They charge so much because they can. There are no pressures to control the costs as there are on doctors. Want a license to print money? Go to dental school.
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