Monday, January 21, 2008

The tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth.

Recently I was having dinner at a local restaurant and bite into something hard that really shouldn’t have been there. My jaw felt sore but after a day or two it seemed fine. A few days later the pain really started. I called around the local dentists and found only one that would fit me in. He quoted a price of $160 for the appointment. With no other option I took it.

The dentist himself rarely appeared during the entire appointment. An assistant took an x-ray of my top left molars. The dentist put in a brief appearance to look at the tooth and the x-ray and tell me it was fractured. He then wanted to send me to a specialist for a root canal and then to come back to him for a crown. I have no idea what the cost would be since I didn’t have the cost of the specialist or the root canal. But just the first dentist alone, with the first visit, wanted $1,300+. Add in the root canal and this first useless visit and the cost most likely would have exceeded $2,000.

As for the severe pain the dentist suggested I buy some over the counter pain killer -- the very kind of pain killer that was already failing miserably. To be fair, I don’t blame the dentist for his refusal to prescribe a pain killer. The drug cops, in order to expand their field of operations, have been harassing doctors who dare to try to alleviate patient pain. The government wants you to suffer in order to protect you from yourself.

But what really pissed me off was that by the next day it was quite clear that they had diagnosed the wrong tooth. Originally I told them it was my left side but that it sometimes felt as if it was the top and sometimes the bottom. I couldn’t tell because the entire jaw was throbbing. But as it got worse it was more clearly the bottom jaw. Yet the tooth they diagnosed was on the top.

A conversation with someone reminded me that Tijuana is filled with dentists so I flew down that Sunday night to make an appointment on Monday morning. The dentist there fit me in his schedule a couple of hours after the call. He checked the teeth and said it looked like there was a small fracture in a lower molar. Then came my first surprise. To x-ray the tooth he used a small plastic device, which acts as the film, that was attached to his laptop. After the x-ray is taken the image appears instantly on the laptop. My U.S. dentist wasn’t this advanced.

From the x-ray it appeared that a root canal would be needed. My last experience with a root canal was very unpleasant -- lots of pain that the dentist kept telling me couldn’t be happening but was. The dentist assured me that it would be different. I went ahead with some reluctance.

The pain killer was injected and he waited and waited. He kept asking about how numb my lips were feeling. And when I told him they were numb to the center of my lip it was time to start. I can honestly say that there wasn’t any pain during the entire process. He did the root canal and packed the tooth scheduling me for a crown on Friday.

During this first session he spent over two hours working on my tooth. He was the only one who did the work. He didn’t bring in a second-stringer. There was no pain whatsoever. He warned me the jaw would be in pain when the shot wore off. It did. And when it got bad I called him and he suggested a pain killer which I can purchase over the counter -- you can’t get in the U.S.

I went back a few days later to have the crown fitted and then again the next day to have it attached. Only on the third visit did another dentist handle it because my original dentist had no appointments. This dentist constantly kept fitting the crown and filing away at it to make sure there was perfect fit. And then as a bonus I decided to have my teeth cleaned as well. That cost $30 extra.

There was nothing second rate about the care I received. I got prompt care directly from the dentist. It was accurate, pain-free and effective and it cost a fraction of what I was paying at home. Even with my flight the total cost was about half what I would have paid at home. So even the cost were relatively pain free. The most painful part of the experience was dealing with the travel Nazis at the airport and waiting in line with thousands of people trying to get permission to re-enter my own country on my way back to the airport.

Of course you can seek treatment in the United States if you wish. Or you can take a medical vacation in Mexico. What you’d save, depending on what needs to be done, can pay for the trip and still put extra money in your pocket. Of course, if you have third party payment for your care you may not worry about the costs -- and that’s one of the reasons that medical care in the U.S. is so expensive.