Use chapstick... and other frugal tips from the dentist's office
Yet another reason to always thumb through the Val-Pack coupons: cheap local services. I found an ad for a $39 cleaning, complete with x-rays (!!!). The place was called the Center for Gentle Dentistry, which sounded like exactly what I needed.*
I had been meaning to make an appointment with Tim's dentist for over a year now. There was just always something else going on, and the money was always needed in other places. Not at all responsible, but, if you read the asterisked story at the end of the post, you'll probably understand why.
Now that we had moved, it made sense for me to find a dentist and get into a regular care situation. I knew I at least needed a cleaning, but about a week ago, I noticed a very deep cavity in one of my molars. So I grabbed up the Val-Pak coupon and made an appointment.
They were all very nice, I have to say. But, more importantly, I learned a few things. The dental hygienist checked for oral cancer -- something I had never had done before. She checked my lymph nodes, neck and jaw area. I was supposed to tell her if anything was especially tender. Definitely a good reminder for my own uses. I was also warned to go to a doctor if I ever had a sore or spot in my mouth -- painful or not -- that didn't go away in 2 weeks. I probably would have noticed such things myself, but it was a good reminder nonetheless.
She also asked me if I was using good face and lip protection. It's imperative. She asked if I'd seen those little old ladies with barely-there lips; apparently that's actually the result of sun damage to the skin. More importantly, she said that same sun damage can affect your gums, and therefore teeth, as well. So she advised me to have a good face protector -- but also lip coverage.
Her recommendation? Chapstick. Apparently, they all have at least SPF 15, some have 30. I had already been checking into lip protection with SPF and couldn't find much. Well, other than The Body Shop's $10 a tube stuff. So this Chapstick thing was quite the revelation. Sadly, that one piece of frugal advice would have won me over as a customer. In the end, the care was great, but I do think it's funny how one small suggestion can cement a business relationship.
Later, the office manager also told me to never, ever, ever use a toothbrush with medium to hard bristles. Apparently, they're just terrible on your gums. She declard that the only thing those bristles are good for is cleaning jewelry and silverware. While I don't have a lot of forks to polish, it's always good to remind me there are grades of toothbrushes. I tend to forget such things.
The most important thing I learned yesterday, though, was just why it was such a bad idea to wait to see a dentist until you're in pain. I already knew the physical reason: If you wait until you're in pain, the decay as already reached the nerve.
But there's a financial reason too. It's spelled R-O-O-T C-A-N-A-L. And it will hurt your wallet amost as much as your teeth. If you wait until there's pain, you'll almost definitely need a root canal. That's $1,000. And, I was told, you'll usually need a crown to go over the tooth. That's another $1,000.
Even if you have coverage, you're likely to pay 50% of the cost. So rather than pay a $100 co-pay for a filling, you'd pay $1,000 for a painful root canal and a crown which might, in time, come off and cause more hassle. Once again, the cost of procrastination is steep.
Speaking of, my own procrastination will cost us. I need three fillings. Part of this is my need to floss more, which I'm finding easier these days. (It's strange the small things that seem impossible when the depression is heavy.) But a lot of it was probably lack of proper cleanings. Starting in 2010, I'm going to get a Medicare plan with dental coverage. It will only cover preventative care, but I'm more an "ounce of prevention" kind of gal anyway. At least, normally I am.
So the total of my procrastination (and love of sugary sweets)? Three fillings at $219 each. Ouch. But really what are the other options? Let my teeth get worse? Tim and I are well aware the costs of tooth extraction and dentures.
The office has a 5% senior discount, so I asked if that extended to disability. It didn't generally, but when the office manager found out I was on disability, she gave it to me anyway. It always pays to ask.
With the discount, that puts costs at around $625 before tax. Unless, of course, they'll stack the cash discount (5%) with my disability discount. I doubt it, but it's worthwhile to ask for another $32 off. Otherwise, we'll probably put it on the credit card for miles -- we just found out that we have a wedding to attend in February '10 -- and then just pay it off immediately.
This will hurt our payoff schedule of $1500 a month, but somethings are unavoidable, I'm afraid. And I consider my teeth an investment. Which is to say, my parents sunk a whole lot of money into my teeth, with orodontia from age 8-16. So I better keep the lil suckers in good health, or I could get in mighty big trouble!
*The last time I went to a dentist, it was a low-income dental clinic. Most cities will have at least one. It's common for priority to be given to children. In Seattle, I could really only find one that would take me. It was very different from the kind of dental care I had gotten before.
The hygienist was rather into scare tactics. She told me -- in a tone far beyond scolding -- that if I didn't stop eating sugary snacks all my teeth would fall out. I know this is, on some level, true; I also knew at the time it was hyperbolic. But it got to me.
Maybe I was just extra vulnerable that day. Maybe it was that I was already nervous because it had been so long since I'd gotten my teeth checked. Or maybe it's that supremely powerless position you're in while they're looming over you. Whatever it was, tears leaked out steadily and I was fighting against full-on crying. The woman just looked on dispassionately, as though this was no big deal.