Dental Care for the Broke
January 10, 2011 10:14 AM   Subscribe

Wisdom teeth extraction. No insurance. Halp! My boyfriend is in a lot of pain and needs surgery asap. However, consultation and procedural costs comes to about $900 (only 2 teeth). He's broke and already drowning in student and medical debt. We've thought of a few options but they're not panning out.

1) Volunteer for medical research. This seemed like the best plan. Not only are your teeth extracted for free, you could possibly get paid too. Unfortunately, the teeth that needs to be out right now are impacted. The only company he could get ahold of said they can't accept him. I'm guessing it's because the procedure would cost more. We're getting automated answers from other companies. I'll try to go to their offices and speak to someone in person after work today.

2) Mexico? From a previous wisdom teeth askme and hearsay, medical care in Mexico is dirt cheap. We're in Austin, Texas. How legit and feasible would it be to drive over the border for surgery? Would they be willing to do this on a weekend? Neither of us have even been to Mexico. Do we need passports? Cash?

3) Health care card. He obtained a card with a $1000 line of credit this morning. Unless we can find an alternative, he'll go in for a consult tomorrow and surgery either this week or next. The card will allow him to pay off the cost gradually but it's still $900.

Additionally, any suggestions for dealing with the pain are welcome. I can't imagine the agony he's in now. He had some Vicodin but they wear off after a couple of hours.
posted by vilandra to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Call a dental school

Here's one in San Antonio
posted by bitdamaged at 10:17 AM on January 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

I can't speak to the Mexico idea, but option number 3 sounds ideal and I hope he has the surgery ASAP. $900 is a fairly average price in my experience, and anything that will be much cheaper will take a lot longer. If you go the medical research route, you do it on their timetable, not yours, and he needs those out right away.
posted by hermitosis at 10:20 AM on January 10, 2011

seconding a dental school. supervised students, often sliding scale rates. know a bunch of folks who did that in san francisco.
posted by anya32 at 10:22 AM on January 10, 2011

Dental school or even an academic hospital may be able to work out something far less than an oral surgeon.
posted by maxg94 at 10:23 AM on January 10, 2011

Don't know how it is there, but here dental schools tend to have fairly long waiting lists. Definitely call, but don't be afraid to go ahead and use the credit.
posted by hermitosis at 10:27 AM on January 10, 2011

Dental school will be your cheapest option. I had mine out at one in Boston, this was about $100/tooth plus around $200 if you wanted sedation, as opposed to local anesthesia. The difficulty with this, is they may not be able to see your boyfriend right away. I had to schedule mine like a month in advance, even though I had already been in the dental school's system prior with x-rays, fillings, cleaning, etc.

Call your local dental school, or and all other dental schools you're willing to drive to. They may be able to take him in right away if it's an emergency. But do ask about regular vs. emergency extraction offers.

How severe is the pain? Is it sensitive, a bit of a dull ache, or OMFG NO SLEEP IN 3 DAYS pain. If it's the latter, nothing over the counter will help him. Nothing. Trust me. And it is the worst kind of pain imaginable. The other ones can be managed with otc painkillers, anbesol, and so forth.
posted by raztaj at 10:28 AM on January 10, 2011

that's a good point, hermitosis.

what i know from sf is that the waitlist was long for regular cleanings, fillings, etc. but for more serious procedures, like wisdom extraction, schools were willing to prioritize patients. not only because of the severity of the situation, but also because of the "novelty" of the procedure and the school's desire to teach students how to perform it. (no minimizing of your boyfriend's pain - i know it).

an important note is that because it is a teaching sitatution, some procedures take much longer than at a "regular" dentist's office.

hope he gets some relief soon!
posted by anya32 at 10:32 AM on January 10, 2011

I haven't used Mexican dentists myself, but lots of my friends have, and they've been happy with the results. I could recommend some places they use in Juarez, but that's too far to be reasonable for you. Maybe someone in Cuidad Acuna?

A little googling brought up this, this, and this specific office, which was recommended several places. It's not hard to find border dentists who are fluent in English and will tell you prices up front.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:39 AM on January 10, 2011

I am going the dental school route. The dental school near me has a clinic where I went in and a student took a look at my impacted wisdom teeth. They gave me a prescription for an antibiotic to bring the swollen gums down and that has gotten rid of a lot of the pain. Maybe that would help your boyfriend as well. Like hermitosis said, there is a wait list and my teeth won't be extracted for 3 months.
posted by rancidchickn at 10:43 AM on January 10, 2011

Oh, about your other questions: You will need a passport to re-enter the U.S. Acquiring that will slow things down. A little cash is handy, but the dentists will take your credit cards, as will any stores and restaurants, etc.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:44 AM on January 10, 2011

Best answer: San Antonio resident here: Definitely go to the Dental School here. I would actually call and explain the problem first, rather than filling out the "become a patient" form online (due to the long waiting list). They have an emergency clinic and if you come in person there are times where you can get seen at the predoctoral clinic instead (students' patients don't show). But if you talk to them they're pretty good about making quick arrangements for those in pain.

Main Line: 210-567-3217
posted by Shirley88 at 10:47 AM on January 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

As to the dental-school possibility: I used the dental school when I broke a molar and needed an emergency root canal. Most dental schools will treat horrible dental pain as an emergency situation -- call around and ask about their emergency policies. I can't find any dental schools in Austin, but the University of Texas system has a dental school in San Antonio and another one in Houston; additionally, Baylor College of Medicine in Dallas has a dental school. A lot of dental schools can also help work with you to set up a payment plan, if necessary.
posted by kataclysm at 10:52 AM on January 10, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all for your quick responses! I didn't know you could do this at a dental school. He has called the UT dental school in San Antonio. They will see him tomorrow and schedule a surgery for Friday. I'm also glad to hear they will prescribe antibiotics for the swelling/pain. This is no dull ache. It keeps him up at night.

$800 for all 4. He'll never have to deal with this again. Yay.
posted by vilandra at 11:07 AM on January 10, 2011 [11 favorites]

If he has an infection (sounds like it) the antibiotics will help with the pain. They should be able to prescribe for him, over the phone, something to get him through til his appointment. Don't be shy about calling back about that. Ibuprofen will help. Take the amount the dental school recommends and don't take it on an empty stomach or with alcohol because that can easily destroy your liver in one shot.
posted by cda at 1:20 PM on January 10, 2011

Just as a backup, here's the UT dental school in Houston. They say most dental emergencies only cost $60. It's a long shot, but you can call to see if they can see him tomorrow for a lower price.
posted by abirae at 1:54 PM on January 10, 2011

Yay! Glad you found a workable solution :)
posted by kataclysm at 2:46 PM on January 10, 2011

For future reference, I was in the same situation - it was going to cost me $2,000 for my wisdom teeth to be pulled, 2 were impacted. They had me apply to my state for "emergency medical care for the indigent." Even though I wasn't exactly indigent (just a student living with my parents but kicked off their insurance), it worked.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:42 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

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