Toothy Issues

Once, long ago, I was afraid to smile with my mouth open.

Every single picture of me was either a closed mouthed smirk, or I was laughing with my hand in front of my mouth. Why? Because I hated my teeth. You see, I had fangs.

No, really. I had fangs:

This is one of the few pictures in existence that documents the fact that these wild canines were ever roaming high above the rest of my upper arch. Much like I avoided having full body shots taken when I was heavier, I never let anyone get a picture of my horrible chompers.

Well, until I got braces. Then, all I did for 2.5 years is take pictures of my teeth.

No, really. I took a lot of pictures:

I took a lot more than that. I have a picture of my top and bottom arches, the left and right sides of my teeth, my bite and a smile from every single orthodontic appointment I had between getting braced in March 2005 and debanded in July of 2007. I even had an ortho-blog. It’s still up, though the pictures aren’t linked up anymore.

So you would think that since I spent over $2,000 out of my own pocket (I was 23 and graduated college right after getting banded, so I was booted off of my father’s dental plan) trying to make my teeth somewhat presentable, I would have kept up with my dental maintenance.

You would be wrong.

Thing is, as I mentioned above, I don’t have dental insurance. My job has health benefits, but no dental or vision. This means that all of my dental visits since 2005 have been out-of-pocket and I haven’t gone to the optometrist in nearly 6 years. Right after I got my braces off in 2007, I knew I needed to get my teeth cleaned and have some work done. I went back to my old dentist and paid the hefty cleaning and exam bill, but then it turned out that after 2.5 years in braces, I had tons of cavities…and my wisdom teeth needed to come out immediately. I tried to figure out how to finance getting the work done there, but it was impossible. They recommended I head to one of the dental schools that are here in the city.

So in fall of 2007, I became a patient at a dental school. There are good parts and bad parts when it comes to being a patient at a dental school. The students at my school are all really nice…I’ve never met even one that is unkind or condescending. The work is really good and their technology and equipment is up to date and completely top notch. The cost of the procedures are typically 40%-60% cheaper than an outside dentist. All sounding good right?

Then there is the wait. All appointments are 4 hours long. Yes, you read that correctly. They don’t always last the full amount of time, but you have to block out that much because they can. You see, after every single thing they do in you mouth, the student has to go and get a faculty member to check the step. It takes a long time. A really, really long time. Bring a book.

The other part of going to the dental school that is annoying is the bureaucratic hoops that you have to jump through to get anything done.

I spent today jumping through those hoops, and it really irritated me.

You see, in 2007/2008 I had several cavities filled and a couple of cleanings/check-ups. I had done absolutely everything except have my four wisdom teeth removed. All four are impacted and I was told that although they didn’t hurt, they were in a really bad position and that eventually, they would push down on my back molars and I could wind up losing those teeth as well. I had the referral to oral surgery all set up. I just needed to call and set the date.

Then I chickened out.

I was scared.

I still am, actually.

But I can no longer use that as a valid excuse, as for the last 3 months, I have been in serious pain. It isn’t constant, but for about 3 days a week, my teeth ache, sometimes to the point of me actually wanting to take some Advil…which usually doesn’t even kill the pain. Since it has been a couple of years since I’ve been seen at the school, I no longer had a student to contact, so a month or so ago, I tried calling the school. I kept getting voice mail and then no one would return my calls. Then today, while I was asleep, they called! I found the voice mail when I woke up and I leaped up out of bed and called back.

I got voice mail.

This time, however, within 30 minutes, someone actually called me back. They told me that I should come in for an emergency drop-in appt. It could be done any day, M-F, at either 8:30am or 1:30pm. I waffled for about 20 minutes about when I would go, finally deciding to just put on my sweats right away and head over there for the 1:30pm session.

I was seen by a student, evaluated, had a panoramic x-ray, paid $80 (for the screening and x-ray) and made an appointment to finally have these wisdom teeth yanked out of my skull. I was feeling pretty darned accomplished and I was about to head home. Then I stopped myself and decided that I would first see if I could get a payment plan set up for the extractions. You see, this is going to cost about $1,400, even at the dental school. While I could totally put it on a credit card, I’d prefer to pay it out slowly, interest free.

After waiting and filling out forms and nearly gnawing my arm off from hunger (I had been at the office for over 4 hours and hadn’t eaten in over 6), I was denied a payment plan option. Why? Not because I am not credit worthy.

I was denied because I have no more work scheduled to be done.

Uhm. What?

Apparently the oral surgery department has a history of people jumping town after their extractions, so unless you have other work to be done at the school (fillings, root canals, etc.), they require full payment. I explained that I am in the process of getting reassigned a student dentist and I probably will be having more work done…it just isn’t scheduled yet. No dice. I told them I would authorize an auto draft for the monthly payments. Nope. The financial aid lady went and begged the office manager on my behalf. No way, Jose.

The lady felt bad for me and told me she would scan all of my credit application materials into my file and that if I am able to get any more work scheduled before March 29th (my surgery date), she will be sure to make up a plan for me so I won’t have to come up with the entire sum. I thanked her and left.

I spent my entire walk home (a little over a mile) fuming. Why does everything in this country have to be so complicated? So many hoops to jump through and so many rules and regulations that make absolutely no sense. Just because I don’t have insurance or money doesn’t mean that I’m dishonest. I have impeccable credit and I always meet my obligations. Although I know this a blanket policy and it isn’t personal in the least, it’s hard not to feel just a little bit judged….and that feeling really isn’t very good.

My hope was to get these extractions, and whatever else is wrong with my teeth taken care of. Then, the plan was to maybe go see the ortho school’s people and see if I can get a new set of retainers. My teeth have shifted, and I’d like to see if I might get them all straightened back out with a removable appliance. Oh well. I guess getting another set of these will have to wait:

Yep, I had a purple kitty retainer at 25 years old…and it was rad.

Irritated with bureaucracy? Vent here!

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6 Responses to Toothy Issues

  1. elaine! says:

    I love your purple kitty retainer!! My retainer is colored to look like a watermelon.

    I really want to go to an orthodontist and get a new retainer, too. I bet I probably could use a couple months of that “invisalign” thing to reorganize my mouth, because I’m almost positive my teeth have shifted since I got my braces off as a teenager. Those metal bits on the retainers are too bendy.

    But that has been pretty much been delayed until I can pay off my credit card… which, unless I get some sneaky ninja freelance jobs, will probably take me a couple of years. 😦

    Also, it’s retarded that they wouldn’t even run a credit history to approve you for a payment plan. Blanket policies are dumb.

    OH, and lastly, getting your wisdom teeth out isn’t horrible… but it really helps if someone can not only drive you home, but hang out and babysit you for 6-12 hours to make sure you’re getting enough liquids and stuff while you’re all hyped up on pain meds.

    • girlinchucks says:

      It’s not that the actual having them yanked thing freaks me out….it’s the IV-sedation part that freaks me out.

      I will have someone taking me….and it’s the policy of the school that the person remain during the entire appointment and if you show up without a person, they won’t even perform the extractions. I don’t know if my friend will be able to stay with me at all after the procedure, but he’ll make sure I get home all right.

      My teeth have gone crooked….I was hoping that using essix retainers (clear plastic ones…kind of look like invisalign), they might be able to shift them back into position. I’m not willing to do braces again, but I certainly don’t want them to get any worse.

      • elaine! says:

        I HATE needles and had never had a procedure that needed anything heavier than local anesthetic. And the only thing about it that was freaky was how disorienting it felt when it was over — you don’t feel like any time has passed, so if nobody is in the room, you’re kinda like “WTF?” Except you can’t really say “WTF?,” it comes out more like “Uaa whaa fuuuu?” because you’re still all groggy and stuff.

        Those essix retainers look like a great idea. The metal parts of my retainer dig into my gums in the back, now… I would love to switch to something like that.

        Though I’d miss my cool watermelon pattern. 🙂

        • girlinchucks says:

          Yeah…just scared of that a little bit. Plus one of my teeth is really close to the nerve bed…scary!

          I’m not saying I’d completely want to give up my purple kitty retainer (or whatever other awesome design I’d choose now), but maybe just while the are getting everything back to order.

          I like mah purple retainers…even if they don’t fit anymore!

  2. Oh maaaan. I hate dental work, I cannot imagine having to get it done by students. Our system really blows.

    My husband doesn’t have dental coverage either and has the worst history with cavities. He just went in for 8 minutes (a tooth chipped) and said it ended up at like $17 a minute. Oy.

    I had my wisdom teeth done when I was 12. My mom didn’t take me to an oral surgery center either, so my regular dentist did it without putting me under. They did it in two sessions (top then bottom) and had to bust them up and pull them out piece by piece while I was only mildly loopy on some drugs. Oy.

    • girlinchucks says:

      I hate dental work too….my teeth suck. Always cavity laced and expensive. 😦

      At least with the extractions, the work will be done by residents with a faculty advisor. It’s the only good part of IV sedation….lower tiered students aren’t allowed to do the procedures.

      I had my second bicuspids removed for braces 6 years ago. My top teeth were double rooted. I had it done with 7 shots of novocaine and I was still squirming and practically crying. They shattered the tooth and had to dig out the roots. 2 teeth took nearly 2 hours!

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