A Brief Oral History

by Rachel on August 2, 2011

This morning, I went back to the dentist. This would be my third dentist this year.

I hadn’t had my teeth cleaned in far too long because I didn’t have dental insurance and thought that cleanings cost like $200. (Wrong.) But last fall, when I saw a Groupon for X-rays and a cleaning for $69, I jumped on it. The dentist’s office was in a really nice part of Houston and the office (and staff!) was so nice. They had flat screen TVs above each chair and just an overall modern and expensive feel.

The dentist found two cavities, which didn’t surprise me, as I’d been having some pain. But they told me it would be $180 to fill each one. When I mentioned that to my mom, she said that was ridiculous, that fillings are not that expensive. I figured I was just paying a premium for the flat screens, so I didn’t go back.

My cavities didn’t go away (because cavities don’t) and I was eventually due for a cleaning, so I started hunting for a new dentist. Right around this time, I started getting a ton of flyers in the mail from dentists in my area, obviously because the internet is creepy and knows what I’m searching for (why else would EVERY SINGLE website show me ads for Blue Nile?!) but in this case, the info helped. I called an office that had a deal on cleanings and asked how much they charged for fillings. They “couldn’t tell me over the phone” but because a cleaning was only $81, I booked it anyway.

This was also a very nice office with flat screens and a bunch of other modern shizz, and this was the dentist that told me I needed $1300 worth of dental work for my seven cavities. I wasn’t sure how I had gotten five new cavities…I mean, I floss, for God’s sake. What more do these people want from me?

I told my mom about this, and — since she’s had a lot of dental work done — she finally figured out the problem: all these dentists wanted to put in white fillings. That is why they were so expensive. And the seven cavities? Well, most of those were likely just replacing silver fillings with white. That might be a good idea and all, but it’s not a necessity, especially not at that price.

After I figured out that the white fillings were the problem, I called a few more dentists to see if they’d do silver fillings. You would have thought I was calling and asking if they still used slaves, the way they responded to this. Apparently, my mouth was going white whether I liked it or not.

So I started hunting for some kind of dental insurance. Eventually, I hit upon Humana One Dental. Through this plan, which had a $35 enrollment fee and costs $15 per month, I could get major discounts — like free cleanings and $45 fillings. Um, SOLD.

I signed up and had to wait a month to use the plan, so I called in advance to be sure I could get an appointment as soon as August hit. Today I went in for my appointment. There were no flat screens, but the office was clean and the staff was nice. The dentist diagnosed me with four cavities (we compromise!) and said he could fill them all today. I opted to only have two filled, as $200 on dental work wasn’t in my budget, and so he filled the ones on the left side because those are the ones that are really bothering me. I’m going back in two weeks to have the other ones filled.

And despite the fact that paying $100 for a shot, a headache and the sound of a drill going into your face isn’t my idea of money well spent, he totally softened the blow when he said I had really, really white teeth. Oh, and it’s good to know that I’m not one piece of candy away from a broken tooth.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cheryl August 2, 2011 at 3:34 pm

I worked in dental offices as front desk/insurance specialist for over 10 years, so I feel your pain! Just so you know though, that first quote for two fillings wasn’t out of line at all. Every tooth has 4 surfaces. If you needed a filling on 2-3 of them than that’s more expensive that a small, 1 surface filling. Also, a dentist can’t tell you over the phone how much they charge for fillings. They need to actually see your tooth and what exactly is the extent of the cavity. No GOOD dentist will quote over the phone for something variable like that.

You are correct in that you don’t need to replace silver with white. However, for a new cavity, white IS better than silver. I know many modern dentists who won’t even use silver anymore….hence the reactions you were getting! :)

Don’t necessarily assume that because an office is modern than you’re paying a premium for
technology. That’s not always the case. Unfortunately, dental work IS expensive. Believe me, I wish it were more affordable for people without insurance.


2 Rachel August 2, 2011 at 3:37 pm

No, $180 didn’t seem out of line, it just seemed steep because my mom was used to the cost of silver fillings. In terms of the cost over the phone, I just wanted a ballpark. She wouldn’t even give me a “starting at…” price — and that seems like a fair question!

In any case, I’m glad that the Humana plan worked out! Thanks for sharing your insider insight!


3 [SMASH] at Sweat. Style. Swoon. August 2, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Happy to hear you found a dentist/dental plan that works for you!


4 Carrie August 2, 2011 at 4:23 pm

I went to my mom’s dentist (she has insurance, I do not) and got one tooth filled for $155. Foolishly, I thought that getting 4 more filled would be 4 times the cost, but when my next bill came in my mom said it was so expensive she didn’t even want to tell me how much (I’m going to guess it was somewhere in the ballpark of your $1300 quote. I still don’t actually know the number!) Looks like I’ll be repaying my parents in installments for that bill, and looking into Humana for the future. Ah, life without proper insurance…


5 Rachel August 2, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Oh man, I’m glad you finally got it taken care of at least! And I’m glad you reminded me…my fiance has been putting off getting some dental work done (he’s probably going to need a root canal) because he’s a total wimp about that stuff (and he had the excuse that he was waiting to get a job with better insurance), but his new job + insurance started this week so I’m TOTALLY okay to start bugging the hell out of him about making an appointment. He’d rather wait until the pain comes back, but I know that will probably be on a Friday night when his Doc is unavailable until Monday, and he’ll be miserable and ruin a weekend. Thanks, Rach!


6 Rachel's Mom August 3, 2011 at 12:43 am

If he doesn’t go, it’ll happen on a holiday weekend…like Labor Day or Thanksgiving, when the dentist will be gone for four days, not just two! I suffered with two abcessed teeth over Thanksgiving weekend. The pain started Thanksgiving night. I was in so much pain I wanted to throw myself in front of a bus. I thought I would overdose on Tylenol and Advil before Tuesday came!


7 Rachel August 3, 2011 at 7:54 am

I’m sending this to him. haha!


8 Mary @ stylefyles August 2, 2011 at 4:40 pm

Why do all the essential health checkups suck? And why are they all so expensive? How come life is so hard? Why am I asking so many questions? Glad to hear you found a better deal than $1,300. Good luck with the rest of your dental work!


9 Rachel August 2, 2011 at 7:17 pm

I’m in the same boat and I’m definitely going to look into the dental insurance you mentioned. I’ve actually always liked going to the dentist. I know I’m weird, but I just love how clean my teeth feel afterward and I honestly find that most dental work is just uncomfortable, not painful. Once I went off dental insurance, I found a good one-time deal as you did. The second time I just went back to my childhood dentist. He’s a bit more expensive, but I thought he was worth it since I really like and trust him. Of course, I got a cavity for the first time in almost a decade and still haven’t filled it yet (it’s only been nine months…) because the cost is too steep. I never even considered silver fillings though. I’ve always had white fillings and honestly thought silver wasn’t even used anymore!


10 Eunice August 2, 2011 at 7:54 pm

My teeth love getting cavities so I’ve visited quite a few dentists in my day. Right now I have half a mouth full of white fillings. I couldn’t afford to get the other half done yet. Thanks for linking to the Humana plan. I’m going to check it out!


11 Holly August 2, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Thank you so much Rachel! I totally just signed up for that dental insurance and when it starts, I am a little afraid of how many cavities they’ll find. But I am excited about finally getting a cleaning!


12 Summer August 3, 2011 at 3:09 pm

I went a long time without getting a check-up/x-rays because we didn’t have dental insurance. When I finally got those long-overdue x-rays after several years without, I thought I’d have a fit when they told me I had NINE cavities. My dentist gave me the good news, though, that they only had to fill six. How nice. A friend asked me if I brushed my teeth with butterscotch…I told him no but that I floss with licorice :) Glad you found a dentist willing to fill your holes so cheaply!


13 Mrs Sensible August 3, 2011 at 4:40 pm

You can still get the silver fillings, and they are actually a very good thing to get! Dentist that only do white fillings just want to rip you off. The reason is simple. White fillings doesn’t last long at all, and when they fail you need to get a new one. Each time they fail, you have to drill more tooth away, and in the end you need a root canal and a crown. The white fillings are one of the most important reasons that crowns are becoming more and more frequent.

Just find a dentist that does silver fillings, then you save money, and keep your teeth healthy longer. Also there will be less drilling at the dentist…


14 Rachel August 3, 2011 at 4:43 pm

I just can’t find a dentist that will do them!


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