General Question

eferrara's avatar

I can't afford a root canal, what do I do?

Asked by eferrara (142 points ) September 11th, 2013

At my last dental appointment (before my insurance ran out), the dentist discovered some weird abnormality that he’s never seen before… pretty much my nerve has grown up into my crown and the tooth is all diseased and the nerve is exposed. He drilled into it, it started bleeding too much so he put a temporary filling in and said I’ll need a root canal. I cannot afford a root canal, they priced it out as over $1000 as it is very complicated. Now I am in a lot of pain. Is it dangerous to leave it like this?

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27 Answers

Pachy's avatar

For heaven’s sake, yes it’s dangerous to leave it. If you don’t trust your dentist, get a second opinion. If you do, work out a payment schedule with him and get the work done.

picante's avatar

It sounds like it needs to be addressed! Have you exposed your financial situation to your dentist? He would likely work out a plan for you.

janbb's avatar

Is there a local dental school that might do the work for free?

I also think the dentist would work with you on a payment plan.

eferrara's avatar

He knows my situation and I asked him to just pull the damn thing since it is the back molar. He won’t do it because he thinks it’ll be too complicated and he won’t see me again until I see a specialist, but the specialist is the one who priced it out as over $1000, plus a $200 consultation fee!

picante's avatar

Have you inquired about financial assistance with the specialist’s office?

marinelife's avatar

Yes. Talk to your dentist and make payment arrangements.

janbb's avatar

You could try going to the emergency room of the hospital but I’m not sure what they would do.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Dental school was a good idea. Or call to some dentists to see if they offer a pro bono type day. A group of our local dentists get together and offer free treatments for patients that have no insurance and can’t pay for care.

Pachy's avatar

@eferrara, re-reading my comment, I realize how abrupt and cold it may have sounded. I didn’t mean it to be. I do sympathize with your plight, having just had some expensive dental work done myself without insurance.

Seems to me your best course is to work out a payment plan with the specialist and dentist. It’ll mean scrimping for a while, but your overall health—which can certainly be adversely affected by tooth issues—has to be your number one priority. (I lost an uncle to an infected tooth, so I tend to be pretty careful about dental issues.)

Judi's avatar

In many countries they just pull the tooth. Is it visible?

syz's avatar

Have it pulled.

jca's avatar

Go to a dental clinic and have it pulled out and pay it off. They probably will have sliding scale payments.

trailsillustrated's avatar

< is a dentist. Your options: Extraction. Sorry. And yes, don’t leave it, especially if it is an upper tooth as it is near your sinuses, the infection can travel into the meninges of your brain, bad news. Do it the sooner the better. Good luck to you, let us know. PS Lots of GP dentists will not do complicated extractions and they shouldn’t, so that’s why he wants you to see an oral surgeon. Some cheapo clinics have GP dentists that are very skilled with extractions because that’s all they do, it’s cheap too.

filmfann's avatar

If it is a back molar, get it pulled.

snowberry's avatar

I had a horrible problem with a root canal, and they kept re-drilling the tooth, trying to get it ready for the permanent filling. Two and a half months later I finally had them pull the tooth. Problem solved, which caused a new one, but at least the emergency was past.

The new problem was that I needed to deal with moving teeth, so if you choose to remove the tooth, you’ll have to have a spacer put in, or an implant, or pull the opposing tooth if it’s in the very back.

jca's avatar

All the nightmare stories about root canals that I have heard from friends – multiple visits, awful recovery, pain during the procedure that makes people want to hit the roof – is the reason why I have three dental implants. Fuck that. I pay more for an implant, it’s a more serious procedure, but it’s just like your own tooth and the pain from the procedure (which is surgery) is relatively nil.

RocketGuy's avatar

I would get it done by a qualified Endodontist, then sue your dentist for the cost.

Same thing happened to me. My dentist screwed up, then tried to do a root canal to fix it, but he botched it up. I had a painful summer. I went to the local Dental Board, but they took so long that the statute of limitations kicked in, and I could not sue the dentist.

creative1's avatar

For pain I would take tylenol, sounds funny but it is the only thing that works for me if a tooth bothers me. Now if you can’t afford a root canal from your dentist look into to see if any dental schools are near you and price it there, they are considerably less and they the instructors are with the student the whole procedure. Another suggestion is to have it out and extraction is considerably less and at least you would pay for a root canal and cap.

trailsillustrated's avatar

@RocketGuy it is ok for a gp to open and drain. That is what it sounds like was done from what the OP said.

Quakwatch's avatar

As has already been said, go get it pulled. Tooth abscesses can really evolve into something bad, as noted in this article, and it behooves you to take care of it sooner rather than later. In the meantime, you could ask for an oral antibiotic like clindamycin to control the infection until you get it pulled.
http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science_of_longevity/2013/09/life_saving_inventions_people_and_ideas_cotton_shoes_fluoride_the_clean.html

drhat77's avatar

I don’t know what state you live in. In mine there is a system of charity care for people who cannot afford health care and have no insurance. Talk to a neighborhood hospital or department of health to see how it works in your area. If you fill out the forms and jump through the hoops and qualify, that should help. Some waiting maybe involved though.

snowberry's avatar

Another option is go to a dental school for the root canal. Their prices are cheaper, not sure how much cheaper though.

Katniss's avatar

I agree with what everybody else has said. It needs to be taken care of soon. Not only because its causing you pain, but because absessed teeth can lead to very bad things.
In my area, most dentists will not set up a payment plan. They ask that you apply for a CareCredit card. It’s a credit card that can be used for dental, medical, and veterinary services. The interest rate is through the roof, however.
A dental school would probably be your best bet. Be prepared to get there early as most of them operate on a first come, first serve basis.

jonsblond's avatar

Many people are mentioning dental schools, but I thought dental schools only did the basics like cleaning and fillings. I thought about going to a dental school for a cleaning and I was told to expect the appointment to take at least 3 hours, and that didn’t include the wait time. If they did root canals that would probably take all day! Maybe the schools in different parts of the country are different?

I’d get the tooth pulled. In fact, I’m thinking of doing the same with a molar I have that lost its filling recently. I don’t have dental insurance either.

Katniss's avatar

@jonsblond Good call! I just Googled the U of M dental school. They provide basic services and will do an evaluation of your mouth. If they determine that you need a root canal, etc, they refer you to a dentist.

snowberry's avatar

@jonsblond If the dental schools don’t have to teach the root canal procedure, who does? The endodontist has to learn it somewhere! I’d really like to know.

jca's avatar

I got dental implants at the Columbia Presbyterian Dental School in Manhattan.

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