Dental care has been a major interest of Kelley's since he's had numerous dental procedures going back to 1996.
Is dental insurance worth buying—or a scam?
My grandfather was mostly toothless by the time he was 50. That’s the way it was in the early decades of the 1900s. Back then, at least for people in the lower or middle class, to be old was to be without teeth. As for me, I’m determined to avoid my grandpa’s fate, so I’m doing what I can to repair my bad teeth. Since 1996 I’ve spent more than $44,000 on my pearly whites—and they still aren’t perfect. Alas, they probably never will be! This article contains the best advice I can give a person regarding the care and repair of those troublesome, pointy white things in one’s mouth.
Practice Daily Dental Care
Using a high quality, soft toothbrush and the best toothpaste, brush you teeth at least twice a day, but definitely before you go to bed, so the food particles won’t sit in your mouth all night and wreak havoc; or brush after every meal if you possibly can. (Some people actually do this!) When you brush, use an easy circular motion; otherwise, you may damage your teeth and/or your gums.
Also floss every day if you can; if not, at least once every other day. And once or twice a week, rub some Glyoxide (expensive) or hydrogen peroxide (cheap) on your gums to keep them clean, firm and hopefully pink. Another thing to do is avoid taking drugs— legal or otherwise—that dry-out your mouth, because saliva helps flush food particles from the mouth, and the enzymes in it help prevent tooth decay.
Avoid Eating Processed Sugar
The ancient Chinese believed that tooth decay (aka dental caries) was caused by excessive sexual intercourse. (The Chinese would think so, wouldn’t they?) While the Classic Greeks believed it was an imbalance of “humors,” or bodily fluids that caused it. Interestingly, this belief led to people being medically “bled” to reduce the humors. Believe it or not, bleeding was practiced all the way into the twentieth century.
Anyhow, increased consumption of processed sugar in the seventeenth century, particularly in European countries such as England, caused an exponential increase in tooth decay. And we’ve been gobbling the stuff ever since—the consequences be damned! In particular, avoid sugary gum, hard candy and soda pop. If you must have something sweet to eat or drink, make sure it contains a sugar substitute.
Get Regular Checkups
You should get a checkup once every six months or at least once a year, because whatever plaque you missed while brushing and flossing can be chipped or scraped away by the dentist or dental hygienist. It’s also a good idea to have somebody else give your teeth a good visual examination. And, from time to time, your dentist will want you to have X-rays taken of various sections of your teeth. These are a good idea too, but as far as I’m concerned, you’ll probably be able to “feel” whatever problems you have without getting X-rays, as long as you stay in touch with your mouth. So, if you want to save a little money, refuse to get X-rays.
Take Care of Problems Sooner Rather than Later
If you have a sudden change in the way your teeth feel, that is, if your teeth presently show an unusual sensitivity to hot or cold, or if you have discomfort or pain while chewing, get to the dentist as soon as possible. What starts out as a cavity can become a diseased root in the tooth, after which you would need to get a root canal, which is expensive. But if the tooth has so much decay that even a root canal cannot be performed, an extraction will be needed, after which you’ll need a bridge or an implant to fill the hole in your mouth. Bridges and implants can be very expensive!
Cavities and Fillings
In the old days, many people thought cavities were caused by tooth worms. Well, there will never be any worms in your teeth, but there could be plaque around them. Undigested food, particularly starch and sugar, mixes with saliva, creating an acidic substance known as plaque. Plaque causes tooth decay. So, if you develop a cavity, get it drilled out ASAP and then filled with a composite, a tooth-colored plastic resin.
Gold fillings are also available but much more expensive. I prefer composite because after the filling is done, the tooth looks perfectly natural, though, keep in mind, each type of filling can eventually crack and have to be replaced; and every time a filling is replaced, some of the tooth is drilled away in the process, degrading your teeth. Some dentists use laser drills, which could provide more precision and therefore may cause little if any tooth degradation, potentially saving people lots of money.
In the Middle Ages, toothaches were treated with substances such as arsenic, laxatives, raven’s dung or mercury, or the patient was bled, sometimes with leeches. Be happy those days are gone for good! Anyway, when you get a toothache, get to a dentist ASAP. In the meantime, you can treat the pain, which can be acute, with acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin or, if you can get a prescription, Vicodin or something even stronger. The problem with Vicodin is that it causes drowsiness, so you shouldn’t pop some of it and then drive to the dentist. Also keep in mind that once you get a toothache, you’ll probably eventually require a root canal on this tooth.
By the way, sometimes I have a problem with “transient tooth pain,” an odd sensation that goes intermittently from tooth to tooth. It isn’t nearly as intense as a toothache but it’s there nonetheless. If you have this pain, identify it ASAP, so you won’t be running to the dentist every time you experience it.
When tooth decay becomes really advanced, necrosis of the pulp (root or nerve) of the tooth may occur. Antibiotics can slow the infection in the root but not eliminate it. Once the root is damaged, you’ll have to get a root canal because no procedure or medicine can reverse the necrosis. In this procedure, the dentist cleans out the root of the tooth, fills the canal with cement and then seals the tooth. If you’re lucky, the tooth may last a lifetime; if not, the tooth could become infected and need more work performed by an endodontist—a dentist who specializes in performing root canals—or it will have to be extracted.
Above all, you need to get the root canal as soon as the dentist tells you to get it! After being told that I would need my very first root canal back in 1996, I took a prescription of antibiotics and I waited two years before I finally got a root canal on the tooth. Unfortunately, four years after getting this root canal and having a crown placed upon it, what was left of the tooth—and the crown—had to be removed from my mouth; then I had to get a bridge to cover the hole where my tooth had been. Dental bridges are expensive and almost never covered by insurance!
At one point in recent times, the gum line started receding around two of my lower right front teeth, called bicuspids. What alerted me was that these teeth had become sensitive to cold. I had what’s called gingivitis, which is caused by the bacterial action of plaque that can build up around teeth. I alerted the dentist and he filled in this “recession zone” with composite filling, saving my teeth from decay, root canals or extractions. When gum disease gets really bad it’s called periodontitis, which can attack the tissues and bone around teeth. To prevent gum disease, get your teeth cleaned at least once a year, because only the dentist can remove the plaque around your teeth.
Since I didn’t get my teeth cleaned on a regular basis during the so-called Great Recession, I had to get my teeth scaled, a deep cleaning procedure that can cost around a thousand dollars. Periodontal scaling is supposed to clean away plague and calculus that build up under the gum line and thereby prevent the onset of gum disease—gingivitis or periodontitis—both of which can lead to continual pain and/or tooth loss. Please keep in mind that if you don’t get this procedure when you need it, plaque and calculus can get so deep beneath your gums that dental surgery will be required to remove it!
Rumbling Wisdom Teeth or Molars
You have to wonder why nature or God made wisdom teeth because they’re totally useless. Many people have them removed at a young age, which is the smartest thing to do, because more often than not, when they come in, they may push other teeth out of the way. I’ve had only one of my four wisdom teeth removed. This one was located in the lower left side of my mouth and hadn’t erupted completely through the gum. Since I needed a bridge placed in front of this wisdom tooth, the wisdom tooth had to be extracted so it wouldn’t start pushing on the teeth in the bridge.
But I still have three horizontally impacted wisdom teeth, which can't be seen, except on X-rays. From time to time, they can “rumble” as it is called, affecting the nerves of molars in the area, and then I think I may need a dreaded root canal. So, if you still have some wisdom teeth and if any of your molars start to hurt, go to the dentist and get an X-ray. (Your sinuses can also affect your wisdom teeth or molars, making them ache.) Recently I had trouble with a rumbling wisdom tooth, and I waxed rapturously when the doc told me I didn’t need a root canal!
If you find yourself suffering from what you think are rumbling wisdom teeth, take something for the pain and wait a day or two until the ache subsides.
Of course, you could get your impacted wisdom teeth extracted at any age, but some dentists advise against this when you’re well into adulthood, since having them excavated from the soft tissue behind your teeth could sever nerve endings, causing numbness in your jaw!
What to Do about a Discolored Tooth
I recently discovered that I have a molar (upper left, second from the back) that has a small, reddish discoloration on the face of the tooth. Keep in mind, for this tooth, #14 actually, the dentist drilled out the amalgam filing and replaced it with a composite one back in 2016. In the present day, my new dentist looked at the discolored tooth and did an X-ray, and then declared that the tooth was mostly hollow inside; that there’s no decay in it; and that the root of the tooth is not abscessed—it’s dead!
This was both good news and bad, since the root of the tooth is beyond help, doing a root canal wouldn’t be a good option, because if the tooth is hollow, it could collapse at some point. Nevertheless, eventually this tooth will have to be extracted. Then I’ll have to fill the resultant hole with a bridge or an implant, both expensive procedures. But at least I can continue to use the tooth for eating until it cracks open and cannot be used for chewing food any longer. However, if this tooth becomes loose, I'll have to get it extracted ASAP!
So if you have one of these discolored teeth go see a dentist soon rather than later and see if the discoloration can be drilled out, or if a root canal or extraction is needed.
If you needed braces when you were young, or not so young, you could have problems with your teeth not being aligned properly, a condition known as malocclusion or “bad bite.” This means when you bite down on food or whatever, your teeth don’t meet evenly and efficiently, causing slippage, which can cause your teeth to grind or slip across each other. This condition can damage teeth, crowns, filings or gums.
Unfortunately, I have this problem, mainly on the right side of my mouth, where it sometimes causes non-localized pain in the upper or lower jaw—and even into the eye socket. Luckily, this condition tends to last only hours but can be rather painful unless you pop pain pills, preferably acetaminophen. Alas, there’s no quick, inexpensive fix for malocclusion. To fix this condition permanently, you may need to get braces and/or have jaw surgery.
If you can’t afford braces or jaw surgery and the occlusion on one side of your mouth is worse than the other (like mine), try chewing your food only on your good side for days or weeks, after which your malocclusion may improve somewhat. Or you could visit your dentist and see if he or she can improve matters by shaving down one or more of your teeth or crowns, thereby giving your teeth more clearance as you bite into or chew your food.
Is It Gum Disease or Do I Need a Root Canal?
Gum disease is another problem that can make you think you need a root canal on an aching tooth. Since gum disease attacks the gums, which can become swollen, reddish and sensitive to touch, a tooth in the area may be adversely affected. Essentially, the tooth loses some of its support. Use a finger to probe around the swollen gums. If the pain is not very intense and doesn’t linger, it probably is gum disease. At this point rejoice, because you don’t need a root canal! However, you better treat the gum disease sooner rather than later or you could end up losing a tooth. If you want a definite diagnosis, you could always see the dentist, but emergency visits can be costly.
Porcelain and Gold Crowns
Once you have a tooth that’s so damaged it needs additional support (your dentist will advise you when this happens), you’ll need to get a crown. Crowns are made of gold alloy or porcelain. Gold crowns are more durable but the sight of them is quite obvious in one’s oral cavity. Gold crowns are also more susceptible to hot or cold. Porcelain crowns, however, can look perfectly natural and have virtually no sensitivity.
Crowns cost from $700 to $1,500 a pop. An article on WebMD says that crowns last from five to 15 years, but I have one (my first) that lasted over 30 years. However, the tooth underneath has recently needed a root canal, my fourth. The necrotic root abscessed badly—in just two days! It took three months and four prescriptions of Amoxicillin to dry up the abscess, saving the tooth. Nevertheless, once you get a tooth crowned, you can’t forget about it, because decay or necrosis can still get at the tooth underneath.
The aforementioned 30-year-old crown was replaced in 2016, and because the procedure needed a little extra support work, the new crown cost about $2,000.
When a tooth is beyond help, you’ll need an extraction. Some dentists don’t do extractions, so you may have to visit a dental surgeon. For anesthesia, you can get Novocain or receive a sedative intravenously. (When I got two teeth pulled, including a wisdom tooth, I got numbed with Novocain and didn’t feel a thing.) However, once the tooth is extracted, you’ll have a hole in your mouth to deal with. Missing teeth can cause the remaining ones to move around, creating gaps and possible collisions. How do you fill this cavern? Please keep reading.
To fill a hole left by an extraction, you can have a bridge put in. There are many different kinds of bridges. The most common one is a traditional bridge—which I have—and comprises three teeth in a row. The two outside, or abutment teeth, are used as anchors for the bridge, while a false tooth, or pontic, covers the hole where the tooth was extracted. Bridges cost between $3,000 and $5,000. Please be aware that you probably shouldn’t use teeth that have had root canals as abutment teeth, because if one of these root canals fails, you may have to replace the entire bridge!
When bridges can’t be used, you’ll need artificial implants. Fortunately, I’ve had no experience with implants, but I know they are very expensive—$2,500 to $5,000 per tooth. Back in the 1970s, I had a friend whose mouth was filled with small teeth prone to decay. He replaced those teeth with implants, costing him approximately $10,000. These days those same implants would cost eight to ten times as much, or more! Unless you’re rich or at least upper middle class, pray that you never need any of those damn things.
ClearChoice is making bold statements in their advertisements regarding dental implants. As far as I can tell, ClearChoice says they can do a mouthful of implants in just one day. This claim is almost certainly a load of BS. In fact, you should never have a tooth extracted and replaced with an implant in the same day! The resultant hole in the gum and bone will need months to heal. Also, ClearChoice states these implants will cost from $500 to $2,000 per tooth. Yes, this cost is relatively cheap. So, if you can afford this cost, maybe getting their implants is a reasonable option. But keep in mind that many people who have had implants complain how much trouble they are! At any rate, before you act, peruse the internet for testimonials.
While checking the internet for reviews regarding ClearChoice dental implants at the end of 2016, I noticed that everyone is paying at least $1,000 per tooth for ClearChoice implants, and considerably more if you need extractions, cleaning, gum work or bone grafts. Of course, some people can’t get implants because their bones are not strong enough to receive the implants, which must be screwed into the bone. At any rate, you could spend $30,000 to $60,000 if you need all of your teeth replaced. There are houses that sell for that much!
If you’re one of those people who clench, grind or gnash your teeth, then you should use a night guard while sleeping. This thing form-fits to your upper teeth and helps prevent the chipping of teeth. I’ve used one for over 10 years now, and it isn’t much of a bother. How much does one cost? My dentist charged me almost $500 in 2006. Here’s a tip. Don’t buy one from a dentist. You can purchase one on the internet for $15 to $25 or, better yet, go to a department store and buy a sports mouthpiece for —a dollar or two. Wow, did I get ripped off! I should have sued my dentist for taking advantage of my ignorance and stupidity!
How to Save Money on Dental Work
I can’t provide much advice about getting cheap or free dental care. You could purchase a dental discount plan, sometimes only $10 to $20 per month, with which you have to use “their” dentists and they charge you less for certain procedures. If their dentists are competent, you could save hundreds of dollars; otherwise, you could end up spending even more money in the long run.
Also keep in mind that some dentists charge as much as 30 to 40 per cent less for fillings, root canals and crowns. So, if you’re living on a fixed income, you may want to find a dentist who charges less for these procedures. Moreover, if you live in California, you may want to get your dental work in Oregon or some other state, where prices could be at least somewhat cheaper.
Then there’s the option of getting your dental work done in Mexico or other foreign countries. But I do not recommend this option, unless you live right across the river from Mexico and could therefore save money on travel expenses, etc.
Cost of Dental Insurance
Other than discount dental plans, there’s regular dental plans, such as Delta Dental, perhaps the most used dental plan in the US. They’ll charge you a premium of $64.92 per month ($779 per year), which will pay for two cleanings per year and some X-rays, with an 80 per cent discount on fillings and 50 per cent discount on root canals and crowns. But Delta will not pay for bridges or implants; in fact, few if any dental plans will pay for those relatively expensive procedures. And the maximum yearly payout is only $1,500. So you’ll be paying more than one dollar to save two dollars.
Keep in mind that 30 to 40 years ago, the maximum payout for most dental plans was $1,500 per year. In the present day, you’d think they’d pay more! My advice is that if your employer will pay for your dental insurance premium, take this benefit; but if you’re an individual, you may opt for keeping that $779 per year and pay for your dental work out of pocket. For individual coverage, dental insurance may be little more than a scam!
If you have a mouthful of bad teeth, you may want to have all of them pulled, at least then you’ll no longer have trouble with them! Then you can get a set of dentures. Since I have no experience with dentures, I cannot give you any advice about them. Sorry! Of course, if you can afford it, you can get all of your teeth replaced with implants. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?! Whatever you do, I’ll be pulling for you!
Please leave a comment.
Here are some links to more of my articles about dentistry
- Can Grapefruit Seed Extract Cure Toothaches?
This article discusses the pros and cons of taking grapefruit seed extract instead of commercially produced antibiotics, particularly as it relates to the treatment of toothaches.
- What Can the Poor Do about Dental Care?
This article lists the limited options poor people have when in need of dental care. Most help comes from the government, via Denti-Cal or Obamacare; otherwise, there's charity, and that's it.
- The Painful History of Dentistry
This article summarizes the history of dentistry since ancient times, though emphasizing dental care since the advent of anesthesia in the middle 1800s.
- Should I Get My Dental Work in Mexico?
This article discusses the pros and cons of Americans getting dental work in Mexico. It includes testimonials of people who saved thousands of dollars by having major dental work done in Mexico rather than the U.S.
© 2008 Kelley Marks
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on July 11, 2018:
Thanks for the comment, mtkomori. My parents didn't spend much time telling me how to care for my teeth, either. So I started getting cavities when I was still in elementary school - that's why I've spent many thousands of dollars for dental restoration; in fact, I just spent $1,500 for a new crown. Later!...
Takako Komori from Yokohama, Japan on July 11, 2018:
Your hubs on dental issues are very informative and engaging!
Yes, strong teeth can be hereditary, but if the parents don`t bother to care for their children`s teeth, then they can end up with cavities and other dental problems.
When I was less than a year old, my parents hardly bothered to brush my teeth for me (and my siblings as well) so by the time I was about a year old, I already had cavities! I don`t know why my mother never bothered to brush my teeth for me. Also, people did not visit the dentist for regular check ups, they only went to the dentist if they had a toothache. Sounds very silly, but this is how it was 40 years ago. The reason why I have so many crowns is because my parents never bothered to brush my teeth when I was a kid. Ofcourse I brushed my teeth on my own when I was old enough but my parents never did the "final check up" to see if I had done it. Filling cavities are very painful, since dentists often do not use anesthesia here. I didn`t want my kids to go through the same horrible experience of filling their cavities so my husband and I brushed their teeth (well, they first brush their teeth on their own, and one of us does the "finishing up") and one time, I discovered an early stage of caivity in my daughter`s tooth! So really, it`s the parents` responsibility to protect their children`s teeth. If they don`t, their kids can end up with a life time of dental problems.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on August 23, 2017:
Hey, Barbara Williams, you should check out my story, "What Can the Poor Do about Dental Care?" It will give you the best advice I can offer. Good luck!...
Barbara Williams on August 22, 2017:
I need to find a dentist in Illinois right now we have no dentist that will do any work free for senior right now I having a problem eating there is no teeth so if you know one that could help would you please let me know thank you Barbara Williams I have no insurance