How Much Should the Dentist Cost?

A few hours before my dentist appointment yesterday, the office left me a voicemail warning me that the insurance I used last time I visited (err, 18 months ago) was no longer active. Of course I knew this, and was somewhat devastated by the reminder, but I also appreciated them calling to let me know. Did I call them back to ask how much the cleaning would cost without insurance? No, because I did not want to hear it.

I love the dentist I go to, if only because it is a short walk from my house and they have little flatscreen TVs with Netflix on them and the people who work there are really nice and the dental hygienist complains to me about her life and I like it. Basically, I like it because it’s fancy and because I’ve been there before so when I walk in I don’t have the ‘where do I go / what do I do’ panic.

When I showed up the woman at the front desk did not shame me for not having dental insurance, contrary to my subconscious fears, but did tell me I needed to pay her $200. “Right now?” I said. She said yes. I think paying before you go in is bullshit, but I still handed her my credit card. Sadly I was afraid it was going to cost way more than $200 — New York, Netflix, etc. — so I was a little relieved. Then she tried to sell me on a deal their office has where you pay $350/year for two cleanings and “discounts” on any necessary procedures. Ha! I told her that I might be moving soon so I didn’t want to risk it, and by “moving soon” I meant, there is no way I am going to get my teeth cleaned TWICE A YEAR without insurance.

When I came in my dental hygienist was like, “So it’s been awhile. What is up with that? Don’t you have insurance?” I told her I left my job and didn’t have insurance, which she accepted. Then she looked in my mouth and was like, “You still have your wisdom teeth. You never went to the oral surgeon?” At that point I was like, “NOPE!” and felt no guilt whatsoever. No, I did not go to the oral surgeon and pay thousands of dollars to get teeth that are not bothering me at all extracted from my head. Deal with it.

She then proceeded to scrape my teeth for a very long time and I had tears running down my face and was thinking how getting a chunk of my arm cut out because of a precancerous mole was definitely preferable to this because at least there was anesthesia. And she’s like, “You have GOT to start flossing. I mean, I’m just going to assume you don’t floss.” I’m lying there on my back with my mouth open, and paying $200 for the privilege, and suddenly feel the urge to defend myself.

“I…floss! Sometimes. Not every day.” She asked me if I remembered how she taught me to floss. Yes I do but it is horrible and I don’t want to floss like that! “Yep! Under the gumline.”

Then I left and told the lady at the front desk I didn’t need to make another appointment because I am probably moving away any day now so yeah, wouldn’t wanna risk it.

On the walk home I was thinking about $200, and if that experience was worth it. On one hand, NO. On the other hand, what should it cost? I pay $80 for a haircut if you include tip, and this involved scraping plaque off of my teeth, and suctioning spit and blood out of my mouth, and like, getting sprayed in the eyes with whatever they use to do the polishing part (the worst). I don’t think I would perform that service on someone for less than $200, so I accept it.

Also for some reason I keep trying to sell this place on my friends and loved ones, even though they make me cry and shame me for my dental practices and I don’t even use the Netflix thing and they give me the hard sell on Invisalign™ every single time. Maybe I have dental Stockholm syndrome. Or maybe the fact that $200 for a teeth cleaning seems okay is a sign I have been in New York too long. Or that because medical billing is so arbitrary and unlinked to actual value that we have no idea how much it should cost.

Just last week I called about a medical bill that my pre-ACA calamity insurance didn’t cover and was like, “$1,780 for out-of-pocket, really?” She offered to put me on a payment plan. I raised my voice a little bit, said, “Really?!” a few more times and then she told me she would talk to someone and call me back. An hour later I answer my phone and she goes, “Okay, we can take it down to $780.” I gave her my credit card.

Photo: tuppus