DECEMBER 4, 2008 12:58AM

Happy Holidays, From the Tooth Fairy!

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I went to a Dental One Associates office on the southside of Atlanta today.

And my reason for doing so was unfortunately unrelated to a bi-annual cleaning or any other such frivolity that ensures that the number of dental offices per capita almost always correlates directly with community income per capita--at least in this country.

I endured an hour and a half of the obligatory Al Jarreau music and general discomfort for two reasons:

1. I’m too far away from the Mexican border to get to a reasonably priced dental office—especially given my limited time considerations

2. My lower jaw is throbbing to the point that it feels like it is about to fall off, and at this point, I sort of wish it just would.

I spent hours Monday price-shopping dentists located within a thirty mile radius from where I live. Even though I was 100-percent sure that my should-have-been-extracted-five-years-ago wisdom teeth were the cause of my oral pain, not one dentist's office I talked to would allow me to skip the cleaning/screening and go straight to the surgery consultation/x-rays.

Until today, I had not been a dentist's patient in over two years. I do not have dental insurance or health insurance.  My employer does not offer dental coverage and the individual dental plans I compared all smelled like  scams.  I don’t have health insurance because I cannot qualify for coverage through my (small) employer’s HMO nor can I obtain a private individual plan due to a minor and asymptomatic heart abnormality.

As a Navy vet who recently served in "combat" (we got hazard pay, so to the VA it counts--even though I never left the ship), I do qualify for some VA medical benefits. However, I am not eligible for VA dental coverage. Few veterans are.

I chose Dental One Associates because they offered the best deal. A savings plan that I purchased for $85 cut the price of today’s screening, x-rays and cleaning to just $70 additional dollars.  I also received a script for Amoxicillan.  I was right--the area around my lower right wisdom tooth is badly infected.  Luckily, area grocer Publix fills generic Amoxicillan prescriptions for free (take that Wal-Mart and your $4 drugs!).

Monday I have a consultation with the Dental One oral surgeon that will be followed by wisdom teeth removal some time later next week—at least according to my new dentist.

Even with the 20-percent discount guaranteed by the savings plan, I am expecting to pay about $1200 all told for this little bout with my jaw.  That translates to roughly 5-percent of my pre-tax annual income, or a little more than two months rent.

The surgeon will definitely take out my bottom two WTs, and perhaps the one holdover on the top. 

I had one wisdom tooth removed five years ago when I was living under a completely socialized healthcare system. The top left WT was wrestled from my mouth after it became infected and I sat on a waiting list for over a month.  The U.S. Navy dentist who performed the procedure numbed the infected area with novacaine and then failed to remove the other three problematic molars because of time considerations.  No anesthetics besides novacaine were used during the procedure.

So there you have it, modern American medicine and socialized healthcare: the best of both worlds right here in one mouth!

(Don't worry, I'm still buying gifts for family and friends this Christmas. And truthfully, with the way my mouth feels right now, I am incredibly thankful to have access to a dentist at all; so please don't take this post the wrong way.)

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Dang son. Sorry about your mouth. WTF tho? Everytime, everytime I hear a story from one of my friends or family or OS friends about not having insurance I cringe. I mean it! WTF? What are we doing here that we can't even take care of our vets?
It makes me crazy.
I hope you have a speedy recovery. Thanks for this post.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Gracielou. The healthcare system in this country is broken and in desperate need of a complete overhaul.

According to a NY Times article I read on the subject, Mexican dentists are much more affordable (and easily available and catering to Americans in all border towns) because Mexican law allows for dentists to access drugs and equipment at a fraction of the price that American offices pay. Plus, it is almost impossible to sue for malpractice in Mexico. Medical malpractice insurance makes up a big chunk of the cost we pay out of pocket when we go see a practicing doctor or dentist here in the states.
A little bit of advice for after you get them taken out: When they tell you not to suck on anything, like a straw, they mean it.

I thought it was to keep the holes where the teeth used to be from becoming a horror show. I imagine that must be part of it. But, I sucked on a straw ONCE. I immediately lost my lunch. It's some nerve or something. Trust me on this one.

(thumbified for pain and suffering.)
thanks for the thumb and the tip, Jodi!
I'm so sorry you have to deal with this -- what a horror story. Here's hoping your oral surgeon does a good job and you hardly feel it. I've seen people like that, who were just fine after the surgery and were back to normal in like two days.

Tooth removal with just novacaine... shudder.
Thanks for the kind wishes, Inch.
How did you get out of Annapolis with wisdom teeth? When I was there the ritual removal of all wisdom teeth was a mandatory evolution second class year. The administrative mindset was it would prevent a dental emergency in the future. The policy must have changed.

I'd like to say I feel your pain, but as I was born without wisdom teeth, I don't have a comparable experience. I heard all the jokes about my lack of wisdom (har, har), but I was damn glad to escape the butcher's chair and the week of chipmunk cheeks.

I'm probably doomed to disappointment, but I am hoping there will be health care reform in the near future that will include dental coverage. From what I have read current research ties dental health to overall health. For example, many dental infections can lead to greater issues through out the body.

Take care of yourself.

Just to make sure I could really feel your pain, this morning I got up, made breakfast for our guests, got them heading out the door, and just after they drove off had a last taste of our pelted wheat. A stone we hadn't sifted out broke a crown. Oof!
LT, they were revamping dental services on the yard while I was there. USNA moved the offices to fifth wing basement because the old facilities couldn't handle the load. There were a few classes who had pretty awful access to dental care during the transition.

And Peter, good luck with that crown. I'm sorry to hear about that... and what on earth is "pelted wheat?"
hi edgar,
i do not have insurance. sucks. but i do have dental insurance through a company that many artists and self-employed friends i know have. they told me about it. it is called smilesavers and very cheap. very cheap.

when i signed up is was smilesavers, then named gedental and vision and now is....? not sure, but can find out for you. i still have smilesavers on my card. or try googling smilesavers or gedental and vision and maybe it will direct you. :)

cleanings and xrays free. i have a bridge from a horrible car accident i was in when i was in the 5th grade. anyway, it had to be replaced a few years ago. my bill would have been $4000-5000!!! but smilesavers ins charged $1500.:) thank goodness.

good luck. had my wisdom teeth pulled. the pain is not that bad. they knock you out or shoot you up enough. i just took i think tylenol afterward. but i did get an infection first like you. i got a sore throat from the infection and swollen cheek.

hope the dentist can put you on a payment plan.:)