How much more do lasers in your mouth cost? Would you get lasered again?
June 18, 2013 4:50 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone gotten lasered in the mouth to fill a cavity (e.g., waterlase)? Roughly how much did it cost you? Relative to the drill and metal method? Would you opt for lasers in your mouth again?

Thanks to a decade and a half of avoid the dentist (but brushing twice a day and flossing/mouthwashing once a day), I think I now have a cavity. A tiny, pinhead-sized, fraction of a millimeter deep smooth surface cavity that I believe is now maybe 2-3 weeks old. The past fifteen years of avoiding the dentist are due to embarrassingly debilitating anxiety over medical procedures. Thanks to the tubes, I gather I can get lasered in the mouth for a filling as opposed to the (more barbaric and crude) drilling procedure. I have Cigna dental insurance and their website says that an amalgam filling would run about $300 in my zip code (metro NYC; more specifically Long Island just outside of Queens) of which I would be responsible for about $100. Their website makes no mention about lasers. Has anyone gotten lasered in the mouth? Roughly how much did it cost you? Relative to the drill and metal method? Would you opt for lasers in your mouth again?

(And I guess if anyone can recommend a good dentist in the Nassau County area, that would be nifty too. Otherwise I'll just find the nearest dentist with a laser to get this taken care of ASAP before something stupid happens, like my tooth hurting or some weird bacteria thing that I read can kill (!) me.)

(Also, try not to judge me. Thanks.)
posted by Brian Puccio to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My dentist has done amalgam/laser fillings for years now; they've replaced metal fillings in his practice. Never got charged more for it.
posted by xingcat at 5:30 PM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're that anxious about it why not seek out one if the sedation dentistry providers?
posted by phearlez at 6:24 PM on June 18, 2013

My dentist doesn't use a laser, but for small cavities he has a device that basically sandblasts them instead of drilling. I haven't had to face the drill for years despite having had several fillings. The sandblasting is painless and doesn't require Novocain. So, my point is there are other options you could investigate.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 7:53 PM on June 18, 2013

Amalgam is metal. Resin composite fillings are the ones that match your tooth color more closely.

As for pricing dental work, no reputable dentist will do this without an x ray of the tooth in question and a physical in person exam of your mouth. It is entirely possible to have tooth decay that is not visible to the naked eye. Once a cavity is visible to the naked eye, the area underneath what you can see might be quite large. Because you state you have not been to see a dentist for so long, the doctor will likely request that you have a full series of radiographs done, of all your teeth. For your safety, I suggest it before you get a professional cleaning. It helps the hygienist know what is going on under the gums, where they cannot see. You don't want them scraping blind.

See a dentist. If you don't feel the price is fair/don't trust the dentist for some reason, get a copy of your radiographs and take them to another dentist.

I am not a dentist, I will never be a dentist. I did manage dental offices in a former life.
posted by bilabial at 7:54 PM on June 18, 2013

I've never had lasers, but my dentist uses what is basically a mini-sandblaster for fillings. It doesn't have that godawful whhhrrrrzzzzzz of a drill and it doesn't hurt. It does make your mouth gritty. It doesn't cost me more than a "regular" filing would--I don't think how the tooth is prepped for the filler affects the price as much as which filler (composite/white or amalgam/silver) you choose.

So, there are more options than just the lasers. Modern dentistry seems to be all about making the patient feel less freaked out. I have an old school dentist, but he's up on all the latest stuff. He's also pretty quick with the nitrous, if someone is afraid. I think if you called around and were honest about your fears you would quickly find a practice that could work with you to make it bearable.
posted by looli at 7:55 PM on June 18, 2013

You usually can't *see* cavities... if you can see it and/or it hurts, please go to a dentist sooner (as you mention).

I have had lots of cavities (crappy teeth - I have the same dental hygiene routine you do!); traditional drilling, paying about $200-$300 per for white ceramic fillings (in Australia). Getting a cavity filled isn't comfortable, but with a good dentist it also isn't painful. I have an excellent dentist, and have had any number of 100% pain free fillings. I recently moved and got a new dentist and learned some new tricks: 1) chapstick is your best friend... seriously, the most 'painful' part was my already chapped lips drying out while I sat around with my mouth open in an air-conditioned room and 2) bring something to listen to and earbuds --- if I can't hear the drill, it's doesn't bother me - so so much of it is psychosomatic!

Also, know that most dentists won't really let you just book an appointment for a filling. You'll need to book an appointment to get your teeth cleaned and x-rayed, and they'll assess what needs done, and know how much time to allot for the work you need done (filling-wise). This is good: it allows you to have a first, easy, 'dental experience' AND it allows you to 'interview' your dentist. After my move, the first dentist I went to for a teeth cleaning I decided I didn't like at all - I didn't think she was very good and I just didn't like her. I waited a few months and got my teeth cleaned somewhere else - he was great AND I liked him, and I let him do my (multiple) fillings - which yes, were pain-free. Cavities are holes in the enamel. There are no nerve endings there, so in theory, it should be pain free even without anaestetic. Go for the anaestetic though. ;)

Think also about what the dentist can do to make you feel better: a good dentist will happily accomodate a nervous patient. Talk to you? Not talk to you? Explain what they're going to do in great detail, show you the equipment, show you pictures afterwards? Or will that make it worse? Laughing gas (yes, you can ask for this!)? Etc. I also look for a dentist with 'light hands' - I hate it when they subconsiously lean on my face, pinch my lip between their hand and my teeth, etc. A massage therapist is aware of where their hands/fingers are at all times - and so should a dentist be!

Interviewing dentists is just like doctors or therapists or anything else. DO NOT hesitate to decide that this one's not for you and leave... you will be much better off in the long run with a dentist you like and trust and receiving the dental care you need than dreading going to someone mean/incompetent/whatever.

You can do it!
posted by jrobin276 at 7:57 PM on June 18, 2013

I just wanted to pipe up to say i have had several fillings and none of them have ever cost over $200 (except root canals). This is ESPECIALLY true for metal fillings. Usually they cost $150 or less, and my insurance requires a 20% copay so that would be about $40. I live in the metro dc area btw.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 8:05 PM on June 18, 2013

Charges for dental services are by procedure and more specifically, by the number of surfaces involved, not by the method of removing the decay, so laser or drill, the cost should be the same.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:38 PM on June 18, 2013

My dentist recently put in 5 composite fillings - one new one, and 4 replacements for metal fillings from childhood that were decaying.

After insurance, my cost was roughly $75 per tooth. My dentist also timed it so that I could have it done in the start of the new year, when my FSA reset itself and I could better plan for the cost.

I have CIGNA, and this was in WA State.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:01 PM on June 18, 2013

Fantastic, it looks like the laser method isn't a horribly expensive, exotic thing.

I completely expect to get a cleaning, x-rays to check for any more damage, the flouride treatment, etc. (all of which is completely covered, so I'm not worried about that, besides, I like the feel of a clean mouth).

Thank you all for your feedback.
posted by Brian Puccio at 4:39 AM on June 19, 2013

Note from the past to future Googlers!!

Waterlase was painless and I was done in 10 minutes. Mild discomfort during the procedure. FWIW, he used the thing on me at the 4 watt setting. PM me if you're on Long Island and want the dude's name.
posted by Brian Puccio at 8:39 AM on July 27, 2013

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