My poor tooth.
September 14, 2011 10:38 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the second week of a three month road trip in Wyoming with an infected tooth. I'm on a shoe string budget and I can't afford the extraction. What can I do?

I do have pretty alright insurance through work, but even after insurance the extraction would be way too expensive for me (a little over $300 - ugh). I can probably afford some prescriptions but I'm pretty far out of my plan's network (Massachusetts). I'll be back to work and earning income in December, but that's a ways off and I'm afraid this is going to get way worse.

I've got swollen lymph nodes (but no swollen anything else), a recurring headache that may or may not be related, and some mild pain in the tooth.

I was intending to have this taken care of before I left but the dentist I was seeing was incompetent to the point of being negligent and only made matters worse. Waaay worse.

As I said, I'm in Wyoming now, I'll be passing through Idaho, Montana, and Washington state before finally ending up in Vancouver, BC. I've tried investigating low cost dental treatment options in those areas but so far I've had no luck.

After reading about that guy who died from an infected tooth, I'm pretty paranoid that this is going to kill me so any advice would be very much appreciated. Thanks!
posted by chichimimizu to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You don't say where in Wyoming you are, but here's a list of free or low-cost dental clinics in Wyoming. You can try calling them, explaining the situation, and seeing if there's anyone around who will give you the help you need.
posted by KathrynT at 10:44 AM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Go to the dentist. Someone in Wyoming or someone at home, but take care of it as soon as you possibly can. Explain your financial issues to the dental staff; you should be able to be put on a payment plan or something.

In the meantime, go to an urgent care center and see if they can give you an antibiotic.
posted by phunniemee at 10:44 AM on September 14, 2011

Since it sounds like you've got swollen lymph nodes, what's your emergency room coverage? Would an ER visit which could involve extracting the tooth by a dentist on call plus possible IV antibiotics be covered more fully than your $300 dental extraction? At least an ER might let you put off payment and they will see you and treat you right away regardless of income or ability to pay.

I had an infected tooth go to infection in lymph nodes to infection in lungs, which eventually involved IV antibiotics and I could have died, so seriously, you need that tooth out plus probably a lot of antibiotics. You may have to cut your trip short because you need the money for dental care, but that's a lot better than cutting your trip short because you died.
posted by juniperesque at 10:47 AM on September 14, 2011

Cutting the trip short unfortunately isn't really an option as I'm effectively homeless until December (when I'm heading back to MA). It's complicated.
posted by chichimimizu at 10:50 AM on September 14, 2011

Can you clarify where in Wyoming you are? I'm assuming from your itinerary that you're in the northern part, but knowing more precisely where you're located would be helpful for giving you more specific suggestions.

If you're particularly far north, you might want to go on to Billings, which also has a few free dental clinics.
posted by scody at 10:53 AM on September 14, 2011

Go to a dental school where students are trained. They can treat you for very little money. I went there in NYC and actually were always very satisfied with the treatment.

(The only thing that I found strange in the US is the focus on "silver" fillings. In Europe they have a bad reputation due to the mercury content. Ceramic inlays or Gold is supposed the best you can get in Europe).
posted by yoyo_nyc at 11:30 AM on September 14, 2011

check you memail
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:31 AM on September 14, 2011

posted by OHenryPacey at 11:31 AM on September 14, 2011

Yes, it really can kill you. But chances are, you might not need an extraction. Sometimes just injections of antibiotics can fix an infection. If you are at the point where your lymph nodes are swollen, though, things can progress fast, so deal with it now. As others have suggested, free clinics or dental schools can help you here.
posted by lollusc at 11:44 AM on September 14, 2011

Go to a dental school where students are trained.

There aren't any dental schools in Wyoming, Montana, or Idaho, as far as I can tell; the closest one on the OP's itinerary is at the University of Washington. (There are dental hygiene schools in WY/MT/ID, but that's obviously a different thing.)

So either the OP needs to push through to Seattle (which, depending on where he is in Wyoming, is approx. 1000 miles) or find a free or low-cost clinic locally ("locally" being a relative term in that part of the country, where the states are vast and the population densities are low).
posted by scody at 12:03 PM on September 14, 2011

I live in Billings, Montana, and this clinic in scody's link is a good bet. Call them NOW to schedule, though, because they stay very busy. You can always cancel if you get something sooner.

A coworker of mine used them for most of her dental care for years. I have never been there, but have heard good things. It's worth a try!
posted by The Deej at 12:08 PM on September 14, 2011

The location of your insurance network doesn't matter as much for prescriptions as it does for doctors. Your coverage should work at most pharmacies. If there's a nationwide chain pharmacy where you end up, you might try that one first.
posted by expialidocious at 12:09 PM on September 14, 2011

Meanwhile, until you can get to one of the dental clinics mentioned above, try taking a lot of vitamin C. Start with 1,000 mg, and if it doesn't give you intestinal distress double that. I did this once when I was on a remote island with an abscessed tooth. I think I took 4000 mg a day for three days, the infection went away. Vitamin C is relatively inexpensive, buy it in most any drugstore or supermarket.
posted by mareli at 12:46 PM on September 14, 2011

Seriously, get your butt/face to a dentist, clinic, urgent care, hospital whatever. Infections in your blood stream are no joke.

Call your family or friends and borrow the $300 if you have to. Get a cash advance on a credit card. It may seem like a lot now - but it will seem a pittance if you find yourself laid up in a hospital bed with an IV in your arm.
posted by gnutron at 1:57 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

People drop dead from infected teeth. I had an extraction done at a partially public clinic, I made enough over their limit to pay what they considered full price, it was $150 dollars. You apparently have internet access, so find a clinic around and go get that sucker pulled.

Their appointments were pretty booked, but if you were in pain they let you sit there till it could be pulled.
posted by stormygrey at 2:51 PM on September 14, 2011

You need to address this. This is a serious health issue. A 24 year-old Cincinnati man recently died because of a toothache, because he too couldn't afford to see a dentist. The infection spread to his brain (which is inconveniently located quite near the teeth).

If your only choice is to have it extracted for $300 at the dentist you've contacted, then you need to do that. Explain your situation and ask them if they can set up a payment plan. They may have a sliding scale, or be willing to cut you a deal.

Alternatively, if you can get to one of the low-cost clinics that KathrynT linked, then you need to do this.

I know it's massively inconvenient, given your situation. But this falls into the same category as broken bones and big wounds that need stitching.
posted by ErikaB at 3:18 PM on September 14, 2011

Many grocery store or pharmacy chains (Giant, Stop & Shop, Wegmans, Schnucks, Publix, etc) give out 14 days of free antibiotics these days. If you can get to urgent care, or even call your old dentist or doctor and explain the situation so they can call in a prescription for you, chances are you would not have to pay for common antibiotics if you can find a participating chain near you. That might help in the short term while you are figuring out how to get it extracted.
posted by madscientist01 at 3:22 PM on September 14, 2011

Find a dentist who takes carecredit. You can apply online and get a dental referral. You can pay the 300.00 off over six months with no interest. Go to I use it for my copays and vet bills.
posted by cairnoflore at 3:56 PM on September 14, 2011

There is a free dental clinic in Boise, Idaho Boise Dental, 2301 N. 36th St., phone 208-336-8801, or you could try calling the Basic Dental Care Office in Meridian, a bedroom community just outside of Boise at 208-888-3384. What every you do, get this taken care of, please.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:50 PM on September 14, 2011

As many are saying - yes indeed, it really can kill you. Just figure out what your life is worth, and compare it with the cost of treatment . . .
posted by nickji at 1:32 AM on September 15, 2011

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