Thursday, August 22, 2013

My root canal: a public service announcement

This post is about the financial crisis that ensued after my root canal. This post contains a lot of words. If you don't want to read them all, skip to the bottom and read the last few lines. 

I complained to my dentist of some sensitivity in one of my upper molars, so he referred me to an endodontist. It was determined that I had a cracked tooth and needed a root canal treatment to remove the nerve and stop the pain and sensitivity. I scheduled the appointment.

At this point I must add that I have pretty good dental insurance and a flexible spending account. I was not concerned about the cost of the procedure. I asked the endodontist what was involved in the root canal treatment and he described it as a really involved drilling and filling. I looked at a diagram on the wall. I looked the procedure up online and got what I thought was a pretty good understanding of the procedure. So at this point I was sure that after the appointment I was leaving the office with a reconstructed tooth.
Oh, how wrong I was.

The endodontist spent about two hours grinding an filing the inner surfaces of my tooth and then he packed it with something and put a temporary filling in place. The endodontist said that he would have my chart and some x ray slides mailed over to my dentist. The endodontist was then going to leave and be on a plane to Costa Rica by noon. My bill was half of the $650 dollar procedure. I left with a hollow tooth and an appointment with my dentist to finish the procedure a few days later. I was not expecting to leave the endodontist office with an unfinished procedure. I figured that the follow up treatment would be a large filling and the cost would be whatever was the cost of a really big filling. 

An office person from my dentist office called about two hours later and told me that my dentist wanted to do a core reconstruction and install posts for the low low price of $1520. I promptly told the young lady that there was no way that I could pay that. My insurance was maxed out after the morning root canal and my flexible spending account was nearly wiped out. My wife began to worry and became upset about how we were going to pay for my tooth. This was a completely unexpected and significant expense. The office representative offered that only half would be required on the day of service. I still said that there was no way that I could pay even half of that amount. I asked what the cost of extraction would be and she told me that service was $320 and that the entire amount would be due at the time of service. I told her that I would have to cancel the appointment and wait until I could pay for extraction or find a dentist that could fill the tooth without all of the reconstructive stuff. My wife and I were still quite rattled at the unexpectedly high cost to complete the treatment of my tooth and I was worried about what was to become of it if it was not pulled or completed. Later in the day I got another call from my dentist office asking if I could come in at 4 pm so my dentist could see if reconstruction was really needed, free of charge. I agreed. It was then that it dawned on me that there was no way that my dentist had received any information from the endodontist by the time of the first phone call. My dentist just started with the most expensive treatment, just to see if I would bite (pun intended). 

I went in for the evaluation and I explained that I could cover about $200 dollars on a flexible spending account. My dentist determined that he could fill and smooth the tooth and reconstruction wasn't needed (during this insurance year, anyway). I dropped $210 between the FSA and out of pocket and my tooth was filled and fixed by 4:30 on the same day that I had the root canal. I thought it was interesting that the treatment options seemed to be a little more reasonable after I started asking about having the thing pulled. 

So, the moral of the story is: Ask about your treatment options. Ask about the fine details of any procedure that will be performed. Know what you are going to have to pay before you make the appointment. You can avoid a self created financial and dental health crisis if you are properly informed.

I hope this helps.

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