Wisdom teeth coming out. Can I save money by getting dental insurance?
April 11, 2006 10:35 PM   Subscribe

So I need my wisdom teeth out, asap, and I've been quoted $1500. Can I save money by getting dental insurance?

By ASAP, I mean that my appointment with this surgeon I've been referred to is in 2 weeks (he's all booked up), and I can try and call every day for a cancellation, and that I can't wait much longer than 2 weeks.

Followup question, when is it worth getting dental insurance?

Followup #2: I'm not getting mauled by this dentist, am I? $300 for nitrous, $300/tooth?
posted by sdis to Health & Fitness (26 answers total)
Most health insurance has a waiver for "pre-existing conditions" precisely to prevent people like you from doing what you're trying to do.

Insurance companies are not in the business of giving money away, or of paying out more than they take in.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:40 PM on April 11, 2006

Uh, $1500 is a pretty good deal. I'll be paying over $1000 WITH dental insurance (which incidentally is about $500/year, but includes cleaning appointments).
posted by spiderskull at 10:51 PM on April 11, 2006

You're probably not in a great position to negotiate or haggle, given that you're showing a high degree of anxiousness just by waiting for an appointment by standby.

But in some young and uninsured periods of my life (that I'm now certain at least half of everybody goes through), I learned that professionals of several stripes, including doctors and dentists, can sometimes be influenced by explaining that you don't have insurance and offering cash. They often have to write off amounts fees insurance won't cover. Ask if they'd accept a lower amount in cash. Or make an offer if you're feeling aggresive. If that doesn't work, work out a payment plan.

$1500 does seem pricey, though. Everyone I know fairly well who's done it has had it done cheaper, but that was outside of metro areas. I don't know where you live and I suspect that can make a difference (it seems to me professionals often charge more in metro areas because expenses are greater).
posted by namespan at 10:51 PM on April 11, 2006

Response by poster: (Los Angeles area)
posted by sdis at 10:55 PM on April 11, 2006

Listen to namespan. Many doctors and dentists already have an established discount for cash payers, so it's really not a big deal to ask. You'd be foolish not to.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 12:00 AM on April 12, 2006

Good grief. I'm in Australia and I joined a private health fund about a year ago knowing that I'd want to get these suckers out. (There's a waiting period for pre-existing conditions, but no complete waiver.) I had them done early this year. (Two in January, the other two in February.) I had them done in the chair and it cost me about AUD $50 a tooth. No nitrous though; it's apparently not common in Oz. I had massive amounts of numbing stuff injected though, and the procedure was a lot less unpleasant than I expected. Even if I'd opted to do them under a general, it was still going to be less than a grand (in Aussie dollars). So yeah, to me USD $1500 sounds like a complete ripoff. Are you in such pain from them now that you can't join a health fund and wait til you're eligible? (If that even works; I'm not sure.)
posted by web-goddess at 12:15 AM on April 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

For the US it doesn't sound like a ripoff at all, with my experiences of the US health system ($2000 ambulance rides, $80 bandages, etc). You're lucky if it can be done at the dentist. My girlfriend had to have a general anaesthetic at the hospital.

Here in the UK it's common to wait months for dentist appointments, so if you can get it done in 2 weeks for $1500, that's one hell of a weight off of your mind pretty quickly.
posted by wackybrit at 12:27 AM on April 12, 2006

Look around on AskMe for the posts about negotiating health care prices.
posted by radioamy at 12:39 AM on April 12, 2006

I have heard that by flying to Mexico and using a dentist there, one may save a lot of money (even factoring in the planefare etc), but haven't done so myself (although I'd like to hear from anyone who's done this or similar).
posted by jtron at 1:29 AM on April 12, 2006

Better go to Mexico or Canada and by the way stay there forever, better for your health
posted by zouhair at 3:18 AM on April 12, 2006

Have you looked at dental schools in your area? Here in New York, NYU Dental School accepts a lot of cases at a very reduced rate (provided you're willing to let a student work on you, under very close supervision), and for some complex procedures will even pay you to let them perform the surgery. Sounds sketchy, I know, but it's really a top-notch program, and the students are being graded constantly, so they're really busting their asses to do a good job. A very good friend got her wisdom teeth out for free several years ago, with nothing but compliments for the young surgeon.
posted by saladin at 4:54 AM on April 12, 2006

jtron, not Mexico, but my husband got some dental work done that was supposed to cost $750 in the US for about $20 in Egypt. If it weren't so risky to fly pregnant, I would go there to give birth in a couple of months. Prenatal care + delivery come to about $400 all together.
posted by leapingsheep at 5:13 AM on April 12, 2006

Wow, I paid $1,500 for for just two (but I was 23 and they were in there pretty good, what with grown up bone not being so spongy anymore) at the best surgeon in town, and that was with my "in the industry, we refer you a lot of extractions, dude, see what you can do for another office's manager" discount a year ago. Also, I puked on the surgeon when I came too, then I had a "near syncopal incident" when they finally let me stand up. (I told them I had no business eating NOTHING for as long as they instructed me to, but I followed their directions.

So, uh, you're getting a deal, in my opinion.
posted by bilabial at 5:30 AM on April 12, 2006

That's not too bad a deal. I'll be paying around that same amount for a new bridge in a few weeks.

Do you have regular health insurance? You may want to check to see if they will cover your wisdom teeth. If they are impacted and causing you some pain, they may be covered by your health insurance.

When I got my wisdom teeth out 10 years ago, three of them were impacted pretty bad and hurt like hell, but the last one wasn't. My health insurance paid for the 3 impacted ones, and my fourth wasn't covered. Check your health insurance, that may help.
posted by punkrockrat at 5:34 AM on April 12, 2006

In CT, getting my four extracted was around $1600. With insurance, I paid $600, since our dental plan only covers 65% of major restorative work.

Given that, it's hard to compare wisdom tooth prices. An easy extraction is, well, easy. Yank it and be done. A hard one is a lot of work that involves doing things to your tooth that you and I don't want to think about. They don't charge the same for both.
posted by smackfu at 6:25 AM on April 12, 2006

Do you have Pharmaco/PPDi studies in your area?
They will pay you about $300 to take out your wisdom teeth in a study on pain medication. Even if you get the placebo they will still give you something for pain.

I have had two friends get their wisdom teeth out this way. It is less convenient than going to your normal dentist, but it also $1800 dollars cheaper than what you have been quoted.
posted by zonkout at 6:43 AM on April 12, 2006

You said they're charging you $300 for the nitrous. Any chance that local anaesthesia might be a little cheaper? I had all four of mine taken out in a single sitting with novocaine, and it was fine.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:53 AM on April 12, 2006

Ouch. In Indianapolis, I had all 4 wisdom teeth removed and it would have cost me under $800 if I didn't have insurance (Insurance paid 80%, leaving me about $200). That was for a nitrous starter followed by IV general anesthetic... and this wasn't some fly by night doctor, either. I was expecting to max out my $2k/yr limit and then some. I was pleasantly surprised.
posted by jeversol at 7:10 AM on April 12, 2006

I've gotten a deal from the dentist because I didn't have insurance. I think they feel differently about billing a faceless insurance company vs billing a struggling individual.
posted by knave at 7:13 AM on April 12, 2006

It's nice that some of you had easy extractions under just novocaine, but that's not helpful. As smackfu notes, there's a big difference between a simple extraction of a tooth that happens to be a wisdom tooth, and the extraction of an impacted, sideways wisdom tooth that they're going to have to dig around in the jawbone to get out.

In those cases, sedation or unconsciousness is to be desired. I was knocked out for mine. Not under general like for major surgery, just unconscious from a cocktail of IV depressants. An added bonus of this, I'm told, is that the oral surgeon can be more effective if they don't have to worry about how you're reacting to what they're doing.

Presumably sdis has been xrayed and knows what his or her situation is.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:34 AM on April 12, 2006

I spent about $1500 and only had 3 out, with no nitrous. So it doesn't sound like a bad deal to me.
posted by adamrice at 7:43 AM on April 12, 2006

If they numb you correctly, you shouldn't need nitrous oxide. I had one wisdom tooth removed in September, and the nitrous oxide made me panicky (due to issues with anaesthesia during childbirth, but that's a whole 'nother story). So I told them I didn't want it. For the tooth and the xrays, it was $250 (in Illinois). The tooth was not impacted.
posted by cass at 8:52 AM on April 12, 2006

If they numb you correctly, you shouldn't need nitrous oxide.

When it is an extraction of a tooth that happens to be a wisdom tooth, maybe. Cutting open your gums, digging around in your jaw, breaking the tooth into at least two pieces to get it out, maybe having to extract a piece of jaw to get them out... that's a different story.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:42 AM on April 12, 2006

Dude, that's a smokin' deal. I paid just over $1,000 and that was *AFTER* MetLife paid their share. I thought that everything was going to be covered, but boy was I wrong.

So, $1500 isn't bad at all. And you'll feel better in a week or so. I had all 4 taken out at once and should have had it done years before. The headaches & stuff allllll went away...
posted by drstein at 1:31 PM on April 12, 2006

Okay: it is important that you understand the difference between a dental plan and dental insurance.

Dental insurance is much like health insurance, but where you make a co-payment, and the insurance pays the rest. All dental insurance of which I"m aware that is not employer-offered requires that "pre-existing conditions" are included, or that expensive services can only be done after a long (6 - 12 month) waiting period has elapsed.

Dental plans, on the other hand, are just networks of dentists that have agreed to perform their services at a prenegotiated rate--one that is generally much better than you would be able to negotiate on your own (because dental plans can potentially bring hundreds of patients to a dentist's doorstep, they have more leverage than your wallet or my wallet alone can hope to muster).

In general, dental plans are something like $100 a year, and offer you a choice of dozens of dentists in your area (if you are in a city). The rates become effective only one or two days after you pay, and they could potentially save you quite a bit. Here's one for the L.A. area -- this is not an endorsement, but just an example. DentalPlans.com offers many.

This may be just the ticket for you. The plan I linked to offers "single tooth removal - Surgical Extraction" for $50. Wisdom teeth may be more complicated, and more expensive, but it is worth checking out.
posted by curtm at 1:38 PM on April 12, 2006

In all honesty, dental insurace is great for a family w/ lots of dependents and rotten teeth...meaning every time you go to the dentist you need a crown/filling...some in our profession will actually sell you a crown BECAUSE you have insurance and they know they can PROVE it w/ an xray...

HOWEVER, I DON'T recommend it for singles...IF you've never had fillings and/or RARELY get cavities...buck up...pay the 1500, which is a great deal in any state...and get the wizzies out now...it'll probably save you root canals in the end (the 3rd's have a tendancy to eat away at the one's in front of them) and crowns...when you look at your premium you pay overtime vs what check ups cost and the occasional root canal and crown, you'll save w/ no insurance...oh, and buy a sonicare...the best dental insurance ever...that's my Rx...
posted by lsusd2003 at 5:43 PM on April 12, 2006

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