As I explained in “How to avoid takeout,” the Maryland dental bridge I’ve had for 31 years needs replacing due to a cavity underneath it. The first stage — cutting apart the bridge, fixing the cavity and crowning the tooth — would cost approximately $1,222.
Today I had the first part done and the appointment revealed both very good and very bad news. Typical.
The good news: My initial impression, as it were, was that crowns weren’t covered by my mediocre insurance. Last night I read my policy and learned that an in-network discount exists but that Alaska is a state in which providers aren’t required to offer it.
Mint Dental offered it anyway. That plus the 5 percent discount for paying for cash brought today’s cost down to $846 and change. Huzzah!
The bad news was probably there all along, subliminally speaking: If I can’t afford two implants then I need to get a partial denture.
Replacing what’s been lost
Due to a long period with no dental care two molars are missing from my lower left jaw. Without implants or a partial to make up for the now-vanished bridge my upper molars will start erupting downward in search of their “partners,” according to the dentist.
In addition, chewing mostly on the other side of the mouth would place undue stress on those teeth. It’s clear that I need to replace the left-hand chompers.
However, it isn’t as simple as just financing the implants: Because those molars have been gone for more than 30 years the bone has eroded significantly. That means it must be built up surgically.
The graft probably wouldn’t come from me. “You can use pig bone,” the dentist explained.
Gee, can I? Thanks!
Major expense, major discomfort, the chance of infection and a pork-and-porcelain combo. Eeesh.
An embarrassing mouth
Here’s the real issue, though: the very idea of a denture. Dentures are a bad punch line. Dentures are what I’ve fought to avoid after years of little to no care.
And, yeah: Dentures are for old people. Specifically, for old people who didn’t do right by their own teeth.
My dad used to chant a jokey refrain: “Her eyes were like pools. (Cesspools!) Her cheeks were like petals. (Bicycle pedals!) Her teeth were like stars. (They came out every night!)” That made us laugh when we were young, but the idea of taking my teeth out…brrrrrr.
My grandmother sometimes thrust her upper denture out to startle us kids. That made us laugh, too. It also frightened me to think of having to take your teeth out and put them in a glass every night.
What also frightened me was how odd it looked when Mom-Mom or any of my other dentured relatives weren’t wearing their teeth. Their faces looked caved-in and gaunt.
Apparently those fears stuck with me, because I thought about them off and on all day.
Attitude (reluctantly) adjusted
Now I’m thinking along different lines:
- That I’m being silly. Something must be done. I can’t put this off or wish it away. The dentist said that a partial will work just fine if I can’t afford the implants.
- That I’m letting anxiety run amok. Yes, the partial will be expensive but I have money in my emergency fund to cover it. Do I want to take that money out? Of course not. But that’s why it’s there: to take care of unforeseen issues.
- That I’m actually lucky. Rather than have my teeth continue to go wonky I can get this fixed. Besides, it’s just a partial plate.
Compare my situation to my son-in-law’s. An inherited calcium deficiency plus extreme over-prescription of corticosteroids during his childhood meant that Tim’s teeth were crumbling when he met my daughter. He’s had full dentures for several years and they’re saving up to pay for implants before the bone in his jaws erodes any further.
Naturally I don’t like the idea of taking out a partial every day, or paying another $2,200 or so for the second crown and the partial. Already at work on ways I can shave money here and there from my current budget to make the cost less disruptive to my EF. (First up: Since my friend and I take turns buying lunch out each week, I’ll sign up for more restaurant reviews and get paid to treat her to meals.)
But the fact is that I’m twice blessed: I have access to good care and I don’t have to go into debt to receive it. Attitude adjusted. Now all I have to do is remember to be thankful once some of my teeth are like stars.