Monday, January 3, 2011

Dental Dilemma

I have bad teeth. That is a fact. I grew up without fluoride in my drinking water. As much as a few people still consider that additive to be a communist or other nefarious plot, every study I know of points to the addition of fluoride in drinking water as a turning point in tooth decay.

But I wasn't exposed to it until I went off to college. We had good ol' Iowa well water, full of iron, so hard my dad would say you could use it to pound nails.

I also think genetics plays a big part in your tooth status. I met a gal who didn't brush her teeth unless they felt "filmy". She had teeth blindingly white and had never had a cavity. I, who had a mouth full of silver nitrate/mercury fillings, could only seethe with jealousy.

Over the years, dental care has become something of a luxury. I brush in the morning and, sometimes, at night. I floss occasionally, not every day as you're supposed to. But I have a mouth full of crumbling teeth. I am kind of convinced that I'd still have root canals and fillings and crowns even if I brush and flossed religiously. I'm just not blessed with the genetics to have good teeth.

In December, right before Christmas, I had a flare up. The right side of my face became swollen in an area where there is a broken tooth. As I said about my finances, you learn to put up with, tolerate, even embrace doing without. Doing without a visit to the dentist is on that list. Yes, my company has dental insurance, but I can't afford the co-pay and lord knows I can't afford to pay any deductibles on procedures which would be akin to the GDP of a third world nation. I was scared. I have no money for dental care. What do I do?

Back in June, I came down with a sinus infection. A quick trip to the doctor netted me an antibiotic. I'm allergic to Penicillin and it's derivatives so I have to take a designer antibiotic. It tastes terrible, even if I attempt to drop the pill way in the back of my throat and wash it down quickly with juice. So, I got better and didn't take the rest of the pills. I grabbed them for the toothache.

Well, the toothache migrated to my right ear. I had all the classic signs of an ear infection. I had 5 days left of the antibiotic which I took religiously. The ache, the swelling and the pain disappeared. But the problem facing me has not.

My friend, Jessie, did some research into low or no cost dental care. I called the places she found. All are income based and I make too much money. Never mind that I have little actual cash at the end of a pay period, my gross salary and the fact that I own my house, own my car and have a full-time job, disqualify me from low or no-cost dental care.

Next step was to look into the University of Illinois Chicago Circle Campus dental school. They have a 2 year waiting list. If I could be seen now, I have to be able to come when my student needs me. I have to be able to devote 4 hours at that time because his or her work has to be supervised. While I don't pay for man hours, I have to pay for supplies. First of all, I can't be that flexible with dental work. We are very busy at the office right now and I can't give someone 4 hours of my time during the day. Secondly, the cost, while much cheaper, is still not affordable. I have to pay for the materials needed up-front. The dental school is not in my insurance coverage so there is no paying the co-pay and having them pay something else.

And, let's face it. Dental insurance, unlike health insurance, doesn't pay much to begin with. Dentists can rightly argue that unless your mouth is healthy, the rest of you cannot be whole, all they want to. Insurance won't pay for all the crowns, fillings, cleanings, extractions and whatever you might need.

I emailed the American Dental Association and asked if there was a list of dentists who might be willing to take on a patient who would "pay as you go". We do a procedure. I pay that off. We do another. I pay that off. At least I would be slowly working toward something. The email came back today. No, they don't maintain a list and don't know of any organization that does.

Jessie suggested just cold calling. I can't do that. It's not in my nature. I would call someone who was recommended but I can't just start at the top of the dentists in my area and call them. I would rather walk the wrong way during the Indy 500 than do that.

I wonder how many other people feel like I do. I would drive into Chicago to see a dentist willing to let me pay things off before we do something else. I just need a reference.

I will adapt and move on. I hope nothing goes wrong and I need emergency care. I do what I can and I have to be okay with that. It is what it is.

Beverage:  water


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