Saturday, August 19, 2006

How Sharper Than A Serpent’s Tooth Is A Sleazy Dentist

I’m no dentist, but I’m canny enough to make certain basic dental self-diagnoses, like this one: I’ve got a wisdom tooth growing in. Actually, no — I’ve got a wisdom tooth growing out, at a weird angle, and by two days ago the damn thing had come out enough to start abrading the inside my cheek. It got me to thinking how very lucky I am to live in the modern era. For a medieval woman, my tooth would guarantee a future filled with vast amounts of excruciating mouth-related pain. But I live in 21st-century America, with dental insurance and a big savings account, so a mere tooth problem shouldn’t cause me too much grief, I thought.

Now, I work Sundays and have Fridays off, so I figured I’d arrange for a tooth-pulling next Friday and then have Saturday to recuperate. Yesterday I grabbed my insurance card and a printout of local dentists who are accepting both new patients and my insurance provider, and called the first dentist on the list. And got a recording thanking me for calling and reminding me that the office is closed Fridays in the summer.

So was the next dentist on the list. And the next one. In fact, in my entire area there’s only one place that was open and answering its phones on Friday, a local dental group whose members included nearly half of all local dentists on my insurance company’s “accepted” list.

“Hello,” I said in my Friendly Phone Voice when the receptionist answered the phone. “I need to have some dental work done, and I understand you’re accepting new patients?”

“If you have insurance, yes,” the receptionist said in a snippy voice. This annoyed me — even without insurance, I could afford to pay for a tooth extraction and related procedures if I had to. Yet they wouldn’t let me in without coverage? Bastards. But I need this tooth gone.

I assure her I’m covered by X insurance company and say I need my too — “You have to put yourself on their roster first,” the receptionist interrupted.


“Put yourself on the roster.” And she hung up.

I call the insurance company and learn I needn't worry about the roster with my plan. Call the dental group back, and this time I’m told I need the X-rays from my last dental visit, and was it a panoramic X-ray? Because panoramic X-rays may not be covered by insurance if I already had one.

“I have no idea,” I said.

“I can’t make an appointment until we see the X-rays,” the receptionist (a different one) said, and hung up.

By now I’ve already decided I want nothing to do with these people but realized it would be useful to have the X-rays from my last dental visit (in an office 50 miles away, which is why I’m searching for somewhere closer). I called my former dentist and asked to have the X-rays sent to me, and asked if they were panoramic X-rays.

My question surprised the receptionist, who said they didn’t even have a panoramic X-ray machine there. I get the impression that it’s a pretty expensive process, too.

And something occurred to me about this dental group, talking about how I’d need this very expensive panoramic X-ray and I’d damn sure better have insurance if I want to go there . . . . I never even got the chance to tell them my name or my problem.

If the government hadn't outlawed all the strong painkillers, I'd just go medieval on my tooth and find some muscular blacksmith to yank that sucker right out.


Anonymous A Moose said...

You'll probably need an oral surgeon if it's that bad. You're probably wasting your time with a dentist. On the bright side, since they're MD's, they tend to have a more professional approach than what you've described, since they deal with medical instead of dental insurance.

Just make sure you drink water after..I had two pulled at once, one on each side (put myself out, figured get them both done at once), and I was swearing my tongue was going to swell up and choke me to death. Had a friend call in and ask what was up, they told me to drink a lot to help the stuff clear out of the system. Seemed to work, but was a dose of fear but not much pain.

7:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just so you know... I had all four wisdom teeth taken out under local anesthesia. You do not have to be sedated. It wasn't particularly entertaining, but it didn't really hurt, and I had none of the terrible vomiting and wooziness I usually get after I'm knocked out. I drove myself home and was fine; didn't even have to use the strong painkiller prescription.

8:46 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Moose, I had one wisdom tooth pulled out last year, but that one was completely grown in (and several years old, in fact) by the time they pulled it. No problem--local anesthetic and I didn't even have any swelling.

But this tooth hasn't even finished growing in. So yeah, I probably will need an oral surgeon. Do you think that would be a local or a full knock-out, to extract a wisdom tooth still mostly buried in the gum?

I still have to have a regular dental appointment to get new X-rays taken, though. Unfortunately, you can't just schedule an appointment to have a tooth yanked out.

9:54 PM  
Anonymous thoreau said...

I had a bad experience with a sleazy dental group that wouldn't treat me unless I agreed to an elective procedure. That was a few months after a diagnosis from an incompetent dentist who couldn't quite decide which tooth needed the root canal. (I took his indecision as proof that I would need an experienced specialist.)

If you continue to run into nightmares with sleazy dentists on your insurance, it might be worth your while to try one who doesn't take insurance, and just pay out of savings. My anecdotal experience is that those guys are more reputable.

6:54 AM  
Anonymous Warren said...

A local will take care of the pain in the office. Last time I had a couple wisdom teeth extracted, I was fully conscious. No problem in the chair as he crushed them and yanked out the pieces. I went through the bullshit with the X-rays too. My dentist sent them to the surgeon, but he claimed not to have received them ("No problem, we'll just take another set right here. That will be $350 please") .

Once I got home however it was another story. I doubled up on the Vicodin and still couldn't get to sleep for over 36 hours. But that's not the worst of it. Make sure you've got some antibiotics on hand before you go under the kni... err pliers. I left my surgeon's office with a script for the narcotics, but not antibiotics. Sure enough I got infected (undoubtedly by that stupid teabag the pamphlet he gave me recommended). Like you I had them yanked on a Fri. and expected to return to work on Mon. The infection doubled my recovery time and I didn't get in to work till Tuesday (and didn't actually get any work done till Wednesday). The only small satisfaction I got was in having the jerk called off the golf course Sunday to phone in the script I asked for on Friday.

6:55 AM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

No problem--local anesthetic and I didn't even have any swelling.

I had two pulled the same, no prob. The half grown in ones, especially crooked, are worse.

I went for knockout, I'm about as relaxed in a dentist chair as a 4x4 which has been fire hardened. Was a lot easier as they had to do some serious prying and stuff.

6:56 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

When my boss comes in this afternoon I'm going to tell him that I'll be needing some sick days, though I don't yet know when they will be. I am not happy about this, though, since our office is understaffed as it is.

However, I think I may be able to get an actual news story out of this. Consider the Catch-22: if you don't have insurance you can't get needed dental surgery (even if you have enough money to pay for it). Yet if you need surgery, you can't buy insurance! Think what would happen if you call an insurance company and said "Hi, I need some oral surgery, so I'd like to buy a policy so you can pay for it."

They say 1 in 4 Americans has no health insurance. I'll bet the number is even higher for Americans with no dental insurance, though I cannot verify that right now since it's the weekend. So how many people in my position would be utterly screwed, if they had money in the bank but no insurance policy?

Or maybe the pain is just making me snippy. It's worse this morning than it was last night. Dammit, I have no IDEA how much more of a run-around I'll get before I can get this damn thing yanked.

You know those people who say suffering builds character? That's bullshit.

7:46 AM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

You have to get far from the city to get decent service.

I switched dentists when mine left for the West Coast, and the first I called wouldn't
see me without a dental hygiene interview first. Dentists want to be your friend,
or something. I said thanks I'll try somebody else.

My current dentist has no staff, answers his own phone, takes insurance but understands
cash, and doesn't hassle you about your bad dental habits.

Long ago, I had 3 wisdom teeth out (4th still there) under sodium pentathol or something, and
had no ill effects whatsoever. I went right back to work and went flying the next
day. No pills, no nothing. My then-dentist (another loner, starts work at 5am) hassled me
for not taking it easy so it could heal up fast.

The 4th WT, if it ever causes problems, I'm told will be a bitch to get out, so I'm
hoping I get hit by a truck or something before it does. Not every part wears out
before you die.

Medical insurance is a scam. The idea is to take a cut of a huge cash flow, and the
effect is that of a louse, the guy who steals your $500 stereo and sells it for $10.

No doctor can stay in business charging more than people are willing to pay.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Jadagul said...

I actually got my wisdom teeth out two weeks ago. Five of them. (No, I don't know why I have five, either). Two of them were coming out crooked, two perfectly straight, and the fifth was just sitting up there doing nothing. I walked in, he knocked me out, and I woke up an hour later five teeth short. I didn't even need the painkillers, just used a cold compress and advil.

On the other hand, I recovered at home so my mother could do the filling-antibiotics-prescriptions and keeping-compresses-cold part, so it might have been a bit easier for me. Still, wasn't nearly as bad as I'd been led to believe.

1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Imagine what it would be like if we had a single-payer system. Your tooth would be pulled in just a couple of years. Of course if you are well-connected politically, you could get faster service.

2:56 PM  
Anonymous Ayn_Randian said...

Just don't smoke when you get it done, you'll ruin the holes and they have to like, get opened back up or something.

9:21 AM  
Anonymous Stevo Darkly said...

Here's hoping you can get this taken care of soon with a minimum of further hassle.

9:38 PM  

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