Cheaper root canal?
February 20, 2008 11:41 AM   Subscribe

Root Canals for cheaper? I have to get two root canals asap. I live in New York, and have a dental plan that saves a lot, but they are still a whopping 1300 each with the crown. I have heard that people travel to Texas, Mexico, etc. to get them done. Is this cheaper? Safe? Any suggestions for how to afford this? Would a better insurance plan like Blue Cross Blue Shield etc be better for covering these? Thank you so much!!!
posted by tessalations999 to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Would you consider NYU's College of Dentistry? You have to pay up front first though, then file the claim.
posted by spec80 at 11:46 AM on February 20, 2008

There are lots of reasons why you might need a root canal ASAP, but understand that if you have an abscess lurking in your jaw then air travel will be extremely painful. Root canals are something that you want to have done right the first time- if you have a good endodontist, I'd suggest working out a payment plan that you can afford over time instead of hunting for bargain dental work. $1,300 is a lot of money but sounds pretty reasonable for a root canal in New York.
posted by ambrosia at 12:04 PM on February 20, 2008

Point of reference: i had one recently in NC through a crown (i.e. I had the crown already and the root went all klabooey) and it cost me $900. My insurance didn't cover it at all because I'd not been on the plan long enough.
posted by Stewriffic at 12:22 PM on February 20, 2008

Here is a NYTimes article on the subject, from the last week or so. It gives a few names of companies that specialize in being the middle-man on dental vacations. I'm sure that I have read other articles on medical tourism, in the Times or other places, in the last couple of months but I can't remember where I saw them.

I've had plenty of medical and dental work done in other countries (I have never traveled for that purpose; I've just already been there when I've needed the work) and as a general rule of thumb have been happier with the care I've received than I have with the same work in the US. A lot of that, I think, is that in the US I tend to get pretty middle-of-the-road medical care -- competent, but nothing special. Paying with hard currency overseas can get you super-fancy, top of the line medical care, far better than the average person receives in the US. I'm sure that there are plenty of unscrupulous operators out there, fleecing medical tourists and providing substandard care, but as a general rule I would not at all be concerned about the level of care you would receive at a good private medical clinic in Mexico or elsewhere.

If the border towns scare you, why not look at places like Chapala and San Miguel de Allende, places in the center of Mexico with huge expatriate populations, good medical facilities nearby, and doctors/dentists/nurses who are used to foreign patients?
posted by Forktine at 1:08 PM on February 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

To answer your question about insurance policies, most have a yearly cap (no pun intended) for dental work (this is separate from cleanings) that's fairly low and is usually around the cost of one root canal/crown. Beyond that, you're responsible, unfortunately. My dentist (who I used to work for) is north of Boston and charges $840 (maybe a little more now) for a crown and root canal. If it's worth it to you to travel to save the money, I'd be happy to give you his info.
posted by FlyByDay at 1:20 PM on February 20, 2008

not to derail, but I've found that the price increases dramatically if you have insurance. I.E. The dentist will charge the maximum in order to eek the most from the insurance company. Based on the notion that it is still costing the patient less than it would otherwise. You could test the waters by calling a couple of dental offices and claiming you have no insurance but need the work, and compare prices.
posted by Gungho at 1:21 PM on February 20, 2008

Maybe if they're out of network. In network dentists have a contractually agreed amount with the insurance company. Exactly like health insurance.
posted by IronLizard at 2:43 PM on February 20, 2008

Whoa. Are you me? I just went through this exact same thing last month. I also live in NYC and needed (and am getting) two root canals ASAP. Unfortunately, I'm completely uninsured so I had to do a good deal of shopping around.

I second heading to the NYU School of Dentistry. They won't tell you this outright, but the same procedure - root, post, and crown - will cost you around $900 per tooth. They make it super easy to set up a payment plan, as well. (You have to pay $140 before that, though, for two examinations and a cleaning.)

All the dental work is done by third and fourth year students who are supervised by professors/dentists/endodontists and they're keen to avoid screwing your mouth up, considering that each patient is a test. I've always felt comfortable being worked on by them. There's a downside in that the procedures take up a lot of time: each appointment is two hours, maybe more if you double-book it (which, for the root canals, is advisable). However, the same process for someone uninsured like me would take just as much time and cost three times as much.

Full disclosure, my last appointment there was the most painful experience of my life. It was also my first root canal ever and the anesthetic was, for some reason, not working on me. I'm thinking that experience was singular and painfully unique, but I'm mentioning it because it is nonetheless a possibility.

On the other hand, you could just as easily get a couple free fillings (and get paid!) because some students need you for an exam. So I've also had the BEST dental experience of my life there.

$1300 isn't too much for a private practice, and most of them will set up a payment plan, so you might want to just go ahead with a dentist you already feel comfortable with. NYU is a legit option, though.

P.S. - Avoid the VitalDent chain like the plague.
posted by greenland at 3:06 PM on February 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Slate also has an article on going to Mexico here
posted by ijoyner at 6:18 AM on February 21, 2008

Thirding going to a dental school. I had two root canals a few years ago and had them done at Tufts Dental here in Boston - the student I had was phenomenal, and I felt very comfortable and trusted her. Now I'm going back there (to a different student - they have a high turnover rate due to graduation) for the crowns. It's still painfully expensive, but the charge is about 40% less than any regular dentist would be. The trade off is time spent - since they get every step checked by a supervisor, it is a drain on your schedule. Worth it, though, I feel. I was really nervous before going ("a student!? drilling into my jaw?!?!"), but it was a great experience. Since then, every dentist who has seen an x-ray of those teeth has ooh-ed and aah-ed on the beauty of the work.

heh. Dentists.
posted by AthenaPolias at 6:38 AM on February 21, 2008

I used to manage dental offices. I am not and never will be a dentist.

With that in mind, infection makes the anesthetic less effective. The bigger the infection, the more pain. Delaying your root canal gives the infection time to spread from the canal into the root of the tooth. You do not want this.

No reputable dentist will give anyone a price over the phone if the doctor has not looked into your mouth and at your radiographs (xrays).
posted by bilabial at 8:46 AM on February 21, 2008

I've talked to a couple of people who've had dental work done in small towns in Mexico and they say it was cheaper and less painful afterward than work done in the US. I think you have to be able to use local references---ask people who live there---for accurate info, but if you're up for a vacation and want to get some work done, too I know there's at least one really good dentist in San Blas (Nayarit state), Mexico.
posted by hulahulagirl at 1:03 PM on February 21, 2008

I live in Seattle, and traveled to have work done at my sister's dentist in New Braunfels, TX. I'm saving about a hundred dollars a filling, and the dentist is all sorts of ass-kicking, and infinitely more trustworthy than the (recommended) dentist in Seattle. I doubt I would have had the guts to do this if my sister, her husband, and her three kids hadn't been having work done here for years, with stellar results.

The x-rays of my mouth taken in Seattle were so awful that they had to be retaken here--and yet the dentist here didn't recommend any more work than they had in Seattle. I'm saving way more than the cost of my ticket. Plus, I get to visit my sister!
posted by tejolote at 6:15 AM on February 22, 2008

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