My former employers never had that ridiculous philosophy, but to my amazement, the medical world still views care of teeth as something separate and apart from real medicine and thus it’s now up to me to pay for whatever happens to my teeth.
This bizarre separation has gone on for years, maybe even centuries. Dentistry and medicine have long been considered as fundamentally different practices. Actually, dentistry was once a sideline of barbering and hairdressing. Sharp instruments are needed for all three. Up to the early 1800s, barbers would trim mustaches and then pull out a painful tooth, if needed. The barbers also did bloodletting, which was why they had striped red-and-white poles at their door fronts. Leeches did bloodsucking too, but let’s not go there today.
Another explanation came from Burton Edelstein, a professor of dental medicine and health policy at Columbia University. “[Dentistry was not regarded as sophisticated [as medicine … there are states that will not even provide relief of pain or treatment of active infection just because it’s between the nose and the chin.”
I’m writing about this because last week my dentist discovered I had a cracked tooth as a result of a fall and my tooth, she said, needed big time work. After some inevitable x-rays, she sent me to an oral surgeon.
After an exam, the dental surgeon looked at me and said, “Unfortunately you had a good fall,” and took out a pencil to sketch my problem. The whole procedure to get the tooth out, put something into my upper jaw to support an implant, do something else and then finally put the tooth in would take seven months, five of which I will walk around with a missing tooth. And the cost? A whopping $6,000 (“or so”).
Now compared to many other illnesses people have, this is nothing. My concern today, however, is about the lack of good dental coverage.
I called up AARP for supplementary dental coverage. On two plans, which cover some of the procedures I will go through, I must join and then wait 12 months to have any new claim covered. Plan A costs $48.87 a month (or about $588/year); Plan B costs $72.10/month ($864/year). I can get an HMO plan for $28.84/month, but that won’t cover anything I need for the cracked tooth. But here’s the big catch – total amount covered in A is $1,000 max, after a $100 deductible; in B the cap is $1,500 after a $50 deductible. So if I pay out $864 + $50 + two of next year’s $72/month payments, or a grand sum of $1,068 for the $1,500 coverage, I will probably “save” through insurance only about $400 – and then still have $4,500 left to pay.
Wow! That’s dental “insurance” today! Send in the barber!