When I was a kid, I had three cavities total. My brother had 12? 13? I don't know - a lot! But while my mother probably fretted over the oral hygiene habits of her children, she didn't fret about breaking the bank to fund our dental care.
When my twin boys and I stepped into our pediatric dentist's office a few years back, it was love at first sight. The office was bright, beautiful and inviting. The office staff was warm and friendly. The wooden toys were clean (unlike the plastic toys at our pediatrician's office - yuck!). Cartoons played on a flat screen TV and a sparkling clean train table entertained young patients in the waiting room. A subtle aquatic theme decorated the office, the work of an interior designer. The pediatric dentist was engaging and good with the kids.
Once in the dental chairs, the dental hygienist slipped oversized plush animals under my boys' legs for comfort. Over their eyes, she slipped silly eye glasses, for safety. Into their hands, she placed balloons. My boys agonized over the choice of bubblegum versus strawberry flavored toothpaste but then quickly shifted their attention to the overhead televisions embedded in the ceiling. Decorative ceiling panels of blue skies and trees offered respite from the real grey skies outside. In the end, my kids left with stickers, toothpaste & toothbrushes (the usual) as well as their choice of better-than-usual toys from the toy bin. It was like a toned down Disneyland! It was like an oral hygiene spa for kids!
When I brought my 5-year-old boys in for their semi-annual checkup this year, I was surprised that the dentist had discovered FIVE cavities in one of my sons and ONE cavity in the other son. And I'm not the mom who doles out the sugary sweets and sends my kids to bed without brushing teeth, either. Oh, the irony! As my boys tinkered with the train table in the waiting room, I went over the proposed treatment plan with the front desk person.
The proposed insurance costs for son #1 with five cavities? $1,048.40.
The proposed insurance costs for son #2 with one cavity? $412.80.
Usually, when I see these costs at the pediatrician, I don't worry too much because I know that our medical insurance will pay for the bulk of the costs.
This time, however, I was worried.
I could find no pediatric dentists in our area of Silicon Valley who contract with our dental insurer, MetLife. While MetLife would still pay for 80% of costs, we still had a very big deductible to first pay. What I learned is that I am very jealous of those who have Delta Dental insurance. Most pediatric doctors, including our own, only contract with Delta Dental, not MetLife.
Seeking to cut down our expenses, I asked about the necessity of laughing gas or Nitrous Oxide. Not all dentists use it on children. Our pediatric dentist insisted we use it (to relax my boys) and when I called around to other pediatric dentists, they told us the same. There was one pediatric dentist who told us he doesn't use nitrous oxide, but neither did he have televisions embedded in the ceiling or cool toys. Family dentists said they don't use it on children, but that if a child were uncooperative, they'd just refer out to a pediatric dentist anyhow.
Our dentist also uses resin fillings as opposed to amalgam. It's more sturdy, but also more expensive.
So I was stuck. Pediatric dental care is expensive! From the TVs to the laughing gas to the interior design of the office, the whole feel-good experience came at a cost.
Fortunately, my pediatric dentist worked with me to cut down a few of the charges. He gave me a few courtesy discounts and in the end, after our deductible and post-insurance payments had been made, we paid him $508.20.
I'm grateful for the discounts and the fact we do have insurance, but it was still a very pricey payment. Basically, I paid for my boys' dental care out of money I had set aside for summer camp. Goodbye, Camp Galilleo, hello backyard!
I kind of wish I hadn't exposed my boys to the funland that is their pediatric dental office. A friend sends her children to her family dentist. It's a smaller, older office with an old style TV but because the office is small, the dentist was able to spend time with her children, showing them all his instruments and such. Her kids don't know that TVs can be flush with ceilings or that dental chairs feel more comfy with a plush animal beneath your legs. Our pediatric dentist is constantly moving kids along, from chair to chair, and from room to room. The timing is well orchestrated, there never seems to be an empty seat. He would never have time to show my kids all of his dental instruments.
I set expectations too high and now there's no going back.
At our last dentist appointment, my boys got hold of two prizes to take home. But instead of shouting, "Only one!", I just smiled and let them take two.