Will they just rip my teeth out or am I just being paranoid?
January 12, 2009 10:22 PM   Subscribe

I have a toothache. I haven't seen a dentist in a long time. I am uninsured and I don't have too much money. Should I go see a sliding-scale dental clinic or just take the financial hit with a private dentist?

I have a slight toothache (it was worse a few days ago but not as bad now) and I want to see a dentist to take care of it. The problem is that I'm an Americorps Vista, which means I'm poor and I don't have dental insurance.

I know that I can go to a clinic with sliding-scale fees or go to a university's dentistry program (in my case, it would be the University of Washington) for cheaper service. However, I've heard some horror stories about clinics and how they generally pull a tooth out instead of repairing it, due to cost. As for the University, I worry that since they aren't open on weekends or nights, it'll conflict with work, which would be a problem.

So my question is, should I just deal with the high cost of a private dentist (I have some money saved up and I suppose I could deal with a payment plan) or are my fears of clinics unfounded?

To clarify my dental history, I have not been to a dentist in about 10(!!!) years. Last time I went, I was still in junior high and they took care of a bunch of cavities and I got a root canal. Currently, it's my bottom back tooth that hurts, and I am missing caps from my previously fixed teeth. I know, I know, I'm a complete dental mess.
posted by carpyful to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No doctor/dentist will perform any procedure on you without your consent. Go to the low-cost dentist and see what they recommend. If they suggest pulling a tooth, you may then want to consider getting a second opinion from another (possibly private) dentist. But it's not as though you'll get into the chair at the lower-cost dentist and be forced to have teeth pulled if you don't want to. Use the cheaper option, get a good cleaning and a checkup, find out what they advise, and then make a decision about whether to continue treatment there or seek a second opinion.
posted by decathecting at 10:47 PM on January 12, 2009

Best answer: Call the 45th Street Clinic in Wallingford tomorrow. They can tell you whether they'll be able to see you, or they can give you a list of sliding scale dental clinics in the area. They were my primary dentist when I was in Seattle and I liked them a lot. If you need to go to a dentist, you may need to go during work time but that should be okay and I think is even acceptable under your Vista cotract [I was in Vista in Seattle]. The UW is also a highly regarded dental clinic and they're more likely to do the work that you need, rather than just pull a tooth. Don't worry about what you have or haven't had done, just get yourself in there and present your situation [don't have a lot of cahs, need to get this taken care of, what do they recommend]. They've seen worse than you. Good for you for taking care of your teeth.
posted by jessamyn at 10:51 PM on January 12, 2009

Don't go broke on it, just get your teeth taken care of.

But that said, in my 20s I went to a cheap dentist and all of his fillings had to be replaced a few years later when they disintigrated. Plus he left amalgam tattoos on my gums. So be careful. Some dentists truly suck. Don't go to one of those.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:23 PM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Call your local dental school and see if they have a dental clinic. These are often inexpensive and good, but the tradeoff is that you've got a (supervised) student working on you.

Whatever you do, though, get your toothache looked at promptly, and then start getting regular checkups, so you can head off stuff like this before it gets expensive (crown, root canal).
posted by zippy at 12:00 AM on January 13, 2009

Best answer: Call UW School of Dentistry Patient Care -- Patient Admission Phone: (206) 616-6996
posted by Carol Anne at 5:38 AM on January 13, 2009

I recently learned informed that poor gum health is related to an increase in the risk of getting diabetes and heart disease.

I know you're on a limited budget, but perhaps ask your mom and/or dad for a loan, if possible. Having your gums and teeth healthy (hopefully the infection hasn't spread) is extremely important to your overall health and will help reduce the cost of treatment you'll have to deal with later on.
posted by anniecat at 5:41 AM on January 13, 2009

Some private dentists are pretty friendly if you have no insurance, you might want to call around for rates. I had a cavity once and was shocked to find the total for the filling including cleaning and X-rays was well under $100 (and this is in NYC).

That said of course no one is going to do any major dental work without consulting you about it first, so no need to worry about pulled teeth until you know what's wrong with you.
posted by shownomercy at 7:33 AM on January 13, 2009

No guarantees, obviously, but I recently had a similar situation (minor toothache in the back, after a long dental care hiatus), and it turned out to be a gum problem. Some poking and prodding, a thorough cleaning, and a new daily flossing regimen has cured my pain.

Anyway, I really felt better after I went! There are lots of people out there worrying about their teeth, and putting off their dentist visits.

As far as finances, definitely be up front with the dentist about your cost concerns, and find out what it will cost in advance. They may be able to cut you a discount, especially if you can pay cash. Their standard rates will also be more expensive than the rates they charge insurers, but many dentists will drop to those rates if asked.

Good luck!
posted by allen8219 at 8:19 AM on January 13, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the good responses!

I spent the morning calling all the clinics around here. Unsurprisingly, they're all booked or not taking new patients. I'm going to attempt to get a walk-in appointment at the Central Area Dental Clinic.

Oh and Jessamyn, I found out that the 45th Street Clinic doesn't do adult dental care anymore. If you ever happen to be answering another Seattle-based dental clinic question, Central Area and Georgetown clinics (which are also in the Neighborcare Health network) both do adult dental care :)

Thanks again!
posted by carpyful at 11:21 PM on January 13, 2009

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