at least some expenses you can plan for

January 16th, 2008

At Least Some Expenses You Can Plan For

Last Thursday I went to the dentist, and I got the news I knew I would, but with more finality than I expected.

I have to have my wisdom teeth out.

My mouth is… not small, and my wisdom teeth were never impacted and fit in there just fine. So I hadn’t had them out as a teenager like many people do. My last dentist had made noises about me getting them out because one of them wasn’t quite fully erupted, but he didn’t explain more than that. (I’ve since decided, after starting with our new dentist, that the last dentist wasn’t the best of dentists). We just got dental insurance in August 2007, so now we go to a different dentist and this was my first appointment with him. They did a lot more things than the last dentist did, including measuring my gums compared to my teeth, and determined that my gums are slightly receding – which could be a problem but might not turn out to be, so that’s a wait and see thing as I go to this dentist regularly and he sees if they continue to recede or if they’re just like that normally. But around my wisdom teeth, especially the not quite fully erupted one, my gums are receding a lot, and if left unchecked, I’ll not only lose my wisdom teeth but the molars next to them too.

Well of course, I don’t want that to happen. So out come the wisdom teeth.

The bad news is – my dental insurance doesn’t cover oral surgery. They claim my medical insurance should cover it. Well, my medical insurance has an exception in their policy for oral surgery such as wisdom teeth removal. They don’t cover it. The dentist says they’ll submit the charges to both and see what happens but honestly, I am not holding my breath. Our health insurance is generally good but they are very picky about things and my dental insurance is pretty useless for more than cleanings and x-rays. So I am about 98% sure I will be paying out of pocket for this procedure.

$382 per tooth. Plus $50 for the medicine to make me not feel it.

So… I have a $1600 expense looming. I can’t do it right now but I also can’t wait too long. The dentist would prefer I have them out in February but I am going to wait until September. Our Flexible Spending Account for medical expenses, for some reason, runs August 1st – July 31st instead of Jan 1st – Dec 31st like most peoples. We also have a fairly low cap we can put it in each year ($750) which I also don’t understand, but oh well. The company my spouse works for was talking about raising that limit for next year so we are going to look into that, but if they don’t, this is my plan to get the teeth out without going into further debt:

  • Use all of the money in the FSA for 2008-2009 for the procedure. That should leave about $900 left for us to pay out of pocket. We did this for hospital expenses for both my pregnancies so we know we are okay without the FSA to dip into all year.
  • Save $2000 in our emergency fund between now and September instead of $1000 so I can use the difference to pay for the procedure.

No, this is not an “emergency” because I know about it, the saving it in the emergency fund is just a convenience feature so I don’t have to set up a new account to save for the dentist. I intend to start saving $150/month towards this in March, which means I would save $1050 by September when I have the procedure. Maybe my spouse’s FSA will go up in August and we’ll be able to use more of that towards it and less out of savings. That’d be great news.

I’m thankful I can at least plan for this. I got the news about the teeth in the midst of the car repair drama and I needed to just let it sit in my head and process for a while before I could formulate a plan. Sometimes too many things hit at once. But now, I have a plan.

Bye bye wisdom teeth. Well, 9 months from now, and without further added to our debt total if all goes according to plan. :) My spouse has his 6 month checkup tomorrow… hopefully no more bad news.  (Update:  not only does he get to keep his wisdom teeth, he didn’t have so much as a cavity.  ;) )

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25 Responses to “At Least Some Expenses You Can Plan For”

  1. I had to have my wisdom teeth out about 6 months ago and thank goodness my dental insurance covered all but $50. I think the total charges were about $1500.

  2. I had my wisdom teeth removed in November. 2 of 4 were impacted, overall not a bad surgery. When I had my tonsils removed during the summer it was a lot worse

  3. It’s good you’ve got time to plan for it. That sucks, though. When you get them out, don’t suck on teabags. That’s just a bad idea…made me so sick. Ugh.

  4. My Dad was upset that my Mom insisted they pay to remove mine. I was in high school and scared to death of the procedure so I whined about it.

    Fast forward 4 years and I find out my husband still has his. His parents insurance would have covered the procedure and his Uncle who is the dentist would have done it at a discount but they didn’t want to fork out the funds.

    My husband went to Mexico and had 2 of them removed for $10 a tooth – way scary.

    He got back to the states and we shelled out $1000 for the other two to be removed.

    Especially if I have the insurance coverage, I am not sending my kids out into the world with that huge expense to deal with it. My in-laws would have had to fork out $200.

    Best of luck getting them removed. And in the scheme of things, to me it wasn’t that bad, and I’m a chicken.

  5. Just a thought….

    Do you maybe want to get a second opinion on this? If a doctor recommended elective surgery somewhere else on my body for something that wasn’t really bothering me at the moment, I’m pretty sure I’d get a second opinion before going ahead. Should be the same with dentists.

    Who’s going to do the surgery? Can you shop around to a couple of oral surgeons and compare prices?

    Good luck!

  6. @Kathryn – I saw the xray pictures of my gums. If I with my naked eye can tell the gums around my wisdom teeth are noticably receding, well… honestly it freaked me out. Heh.

    The dentist does the surgery because they aren’t impacted so its not complicated. I am planning on calling a few other dentists but what he told me is in line with what I’ve heard from friends it being.

  7. @ Mrs Micah- sucking on tea-bags does sound awful!
    I had mine out about 5 years ago, while I was still in the UK, so thankfully the NHS paid for it. I had them out 2 at a time though with about 2 months in-between, and was told that they prefer to do it that way in case they damage any nerves in the removal, maybe you could spread the pain (not that bad- honest) and the cost that way?

  8. Ohhhhhh… you are braver than I! The thought of having teeth pulled freaks me out. I’ve had two close friends who had to have all their teeth removed (replaced with dentures) and my husband recently had to have two wisdom teeth removed. His were impacted and would get infected every couple of years so he finally decided to get them out. Two tips: 1) If the teeth are hurting when it’s time to have them pulled, be sure to let your doctor know as he will want to rule out (and clear up) infection before extracting. 2) If you have the flu, cancel your appointment! LOL! My hubby had both situations going on but decided to get it over with and ended up being sicker than a dog and had to take an entire week off work (this is a guy who is NEVER sick). He had no idea it could cause such a problem. Now he’s having second thoughts about having the other two on the other side pulled(also impacted). Good luck and I’m glad you can plan ahead!

  9. I don’t know if your insurance plan supports it, but if you can establish an HSA (Health Savings Account), this would be covered by it and you would get a tax break. I wrote about HSAs recently (http://smarteasymoney.blogspot.com/2008/01/special-for-self-employed-hsas-seps-and.html) as part of a “special for the self-employed” — though I’ve since learned that some companies offer HSAs through their health plans, too. It’s definitely worth looking into, and the money doesn’t “expire” like it does with other flex-spending accounts.

    Good luck! I had my wisdoms out several years ago, and luckily my dental insurance paid for 80% of it at the time. I’d just check with your dentist to make sure that waiting 8 months is ok. I’m pretty fanatical about taking care of my teeth regularly, because once something starts, it’s usually not possible to reverse it.

  10. Tell the dentist that you will pay cash when you have the surgery and perhaps he can give you a discount? Or negotiate a payment plan if you need to do it sooner? I hope you aren’t paying more than a few bucks per person per month for your dental plan.

    I had mine taken out last year by a in-network dentist under my dental plan, but the follow on claim issue was a big mess. The oral surgeon’s office kept telling me I owed them $ and threatened me to pay them or they’ll turn my account to collections. It was a nightmare! It turned out they owe me money and not until a few weeks ago I got my money back (after 20+ calls and 2 letters threatening them to watch out for lawsuits). If you are sure your insurance won’t pay, maybe don’t even bother.

  11. Could you do 2 of the teeth now and use your FSA money for this year and then do the other 2 in September and use next years FSA money? This way you could get the tax break on all 4 of them and not have to worry about taking from the (planned) emergency fund?

  12. Your price for the surgery actually is pretty fair–the only way to get it cheaper might be to get it done at a dental school nearby–they are usually cheaper than a regular dentist–doesn’t mean you’ll be operated on by a student. Me and my sis went for estimates and in both cases, the professor (a real dentist/oral surgeon) would be performing the surgery but several students would be observing. I doubt you would be quoted more than a 1000 for the surgery including followup visits–maybe even cheaper. Almost all dental schools have discounted prices for a wide range of dental services.

    Either way, prepare for some down time after the surgery. It’s horrible.

  13. Marie’s husband went to Mexico and had his wisdom teeth removed for $10 each???? That’s whacked! Your husband is one brave dude!

  14. My 19 year old had all 4 wisdom teeth removed 1 1/2 years ago. None had erupted. Her insurance would only pay if a local anesthetic was used…she wanted to be out totally, so I paid the price…about $1,000. The oral surgeon was excellent, however, recovery kind of painful. Her mouth was the kind that swelled a great deal. We wrapped frozen peas around her face with a scarf for 2 days! Also, painkiller meds.

    Be sure to have frozen peas on hand and a scarf!

  15. A good dentist is worth all the money in the world. I had a great one, and then we moved. I went to one that turned out to be a quack, and let me tell you, that was awful! We’ve moved back to the same town as the great dentist, and when my wife and I were looking at dental insurance, we specifically looked at which plan covered the great dentist. If they hadn’t been in either plan available, I would have gone w/out and paid for dentist out of pocket. After having such an awful experience, it would be worth it to me.

  16. Thanks for all the comments!

    My parents never brought me to the dentist growing up. Whole. Other. Story. ;) So my first visit to a dentist was when I was 22 and in grad school. Upon looking back now, that dentist pretty much stunk, but, I didn’t know any better. I had no idea what dentists should be or shouldn’t be doing. I have two fillings from that dentist and they still both bother me to this day. Current dentist says “he’s seen worse” fillings. lol. I may in the future have them taken out and redone.

    Anyway.

    This dentist seems a lot better to me. Still not sure about judging dentists, but he seems a lot more knowledgeable and explains everything a whole lot better.

    I take my kids to the dentist btw. Well, my son. My daughter’s still a little young and only has 4 teeth. They will grow up with a dentist. ;)

    Oh and our dental insurance is pretty lousy but it does cover xrays and cleanings and I knew with 2 sets of panoramics this year (me and spouse both haven’t had them in 5 years) we’d be better off with the insurance. we pay in about $500/year and we can spend about $1000 a year. Already we’ve combined (with son too) spent ~$600 of that (the insurance has paid out $600) and we still have another set of cleanings in 6 months and I have a filling they cover 50% of, so, this year it was worth it. Have to re-evaluate for next year though.

  17. I also had 2 of my wisdom teeth extracted at a dental school at a time when I had no dental and very little medical insurance coverage, and paid very little out-0f -pocket for it (this was in the late 80′s, so I don’t remember the exact $$). Again, I second the recommendation of splitting the dental work between two sessions and over two fiscal year’s worth of FSA eligibility.

  18. I had all 4 of my wisdom teeth out last year. Impacted. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be, but it was no walk in the park either. Fortunately, our dental insurance at the time covered almost all of it.

  19. Thanks! You reminded me that I really need to stop putting off getting my crowns replaced – before they turn into much more expensive and painful root canals! And now’s a good time, since our FSA runs Jan-Dec.

    I’m sorry your wisdom teeth have to come out, but I’m glad you have a practical plan to pay for it!

  20. I hear you! I had mine taken out last year too and my insurance paid for $1500 of it, but that was the total for the year I was allowed to spend; 2 months later I needed an emergency root canal because I had a absess tooth; ugh, my insurance tap was all dry, so that all came out of pocket.

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