Tuesday, April 14, 2015

My First Root Canal (and hopefully my last)

          So I had this root canal work done last week which I had been putting off for more than two years. In the meantime my regular dentist has done multiple repairs on the tooth in question due to chipping, cavities, or decay. When I finally got dental insurance again from my job and with better benefits, I finally decided to follow my dentist’s advice and went to the endodontist she referred me to. My last major dental treatment was about 3 years ago when a couple of teeth were extracted and because of my severe anxiety, had to have the surgery done under general anesthesia (Propofol) in the care of a specialist.
          I went for the initial consultation where the dental assistant took some x-rays of the tooth, after which the endodontist came, looked at the x-rays, then pushed a Q-tip sprayed with an icing chemical against the top of the tooth, and asked me if I felt pain. Of course I did. I was sent back to the receptionist who asked me if I wanted the root canal done that same afternoon and they were quite insistent. Having had a couple of fillings already done at my dentist’s clinic earlier, and having had  nothing to eat all day, I declined and made an appointment for the following week. The receptionist checked my insurance and said I would have to pay $550 out of pocket since my dentist had already used a lot of my funds. The receptionist then said, they were giving me a discount and quoted $350, so I jokingly said “lower?”. She said $250 was as low as they can go and to tell my dentist to keep referring patients to them. I asked the endodontist if it was OK for me to take a mild anxiety pill before I came for the procedure the following week and she said it was OK.
          I showed up at the time of my appointment (12:45 p.m.) and waited in the reception area for about 15 minutes before being told that my treatment would be delayed because they were busy. So I went out and took a 20 minute walk. When I returned, they were still busy but the receptionist informed me that since I had more treatments done by my dentist, my co-pay is being increased from the original $250 to $400. Well, what else can I do but offer them my credit card? I was ushered to one of the treatment rooms and waited some more. The endodontist finally came which was already about 3 p.m. by then, asked me if I had lunch, administered numbing gel on the tooth and a few minutes later injected me with a local anesthesia. There was more waiting before the dental assistant came and isolated the tooth and placed a dam in my mouth to keep the saliva from the tooth to be treated. Then she placed a block of something on the opposite jaw to keep my mouth open. It was most uncomfortable and it didn’t help that there was more waiting.
          Apparently the endodontist was shuttling between 2 or 3 patients and when she finally returned to me, the drilling finally started. I had looked up the procedure beforehand on the internet so I sorta knew what to expect. Fortunately, I didn’t feel any pain during the drilling until the endodontist went deeper, but even that was tolerable. She informed me that there was calcification deep in the tooth and that a dissolving agent had to be put in to soften it before she can proceed. So while waiting for the dissolver to do its work and for the endodontist to return from her round robin routine, I had to distract myself to keep from being more anxious. I got out of the chair, looked out the window, took a couple of selfies, and went to use the bathroom, all the while with mouth wide open.

          When the endodontist returned, she drilled deeper until she was all the way to China. Oh, I mean until she estimated she removed all the calcification. Further x-rays were taken to verify if she actually did that. Finally she confirmed that everything seems to have been taken cared of and proceeded to fill the tooth, but she warned me that because she had to drill hard into the calcification, I may be in pain when the anesthesia wore off. I was finally freed from my mouth bondage and released. I was advised to return to my dentist to be measured for a crown. Did I suddenly become royalty?
          I went to my dentist’s office to tell them that my insurance benefits were exhausted and she said I may have to settle with a temporary crown in the meantime until next year. An appointment was set for the following week.
          I didn’t have to take any analgesics that day and the next day when I went to work, however I had to take a naproxen tablet the following day just so I could get some sleep after work.

Another Root Canal Done – On My Credit Card
          The insurance company sent me an email saying an Explanation of Benefits was available at their website. It turns out, my benefits were not exhausted at all but pretty close to it with about $210 left, despite paying my dentist for 3 fillings and for cleaning, and paying the endodontist for the initial consultation at 100% and for the root canal itself at 80% with the remaining 20% out of my own pocket. This amount was $175 and not the $400 that they billed me because they thought my benefits were exhausted.
          Since it was a weekend, the endodontist clinic was closed and the insurance company customer service wasn’t available either. Come Monday morning, I called the insurance company to verify that I actually only owed the endodontist $175 and inquired as to whether the endodontist was allowed to ask me to pay above and beyond the contracted price. The customer service agent excused herself to verify this with somebody and when she returned, she said no. I then called the billing person of the endodontist to explain my situation and to ask for a refund because of the overbilling and because the extra $225 was a big burden for me. She said she couldn’t give it to me at that time but she would check my insurance coverage again and get back to me. In the meantime, I contacted my credit card company via their website and filled out a form and an explanation disputing the extra $225 charge. For now, I would not have to pay that amount until the dispute is settled.
          You know what? I don’t know what was more painful: the root canal pain in the tooth or the overbilling pain in the butt! I hope everything turns out in my favor toothwise and moneywise.


Byron Kennedy said...

""... my co-pay is being increased from the original $250 to $400."" I hate it when dentists (or doctors and health workers in general) do this, it makes me wonder if they are doing it on purpose to squeeze more out of you.

Anyway, thanks for sharing your root canal experience online. Moral of the story: root canals are not fun.

Byron Kennedy @ A+ Family Dentistry

Eunice Greer said...

I understand where you’re coming from. Dental insurance can truly be expensive. This is probably why many are switching to discount dental plans. They may also be supplementing their insurance with discount dental plans as well. I’m glad to be on company dental insurance, though. It really does help in the end. I hope you’ll have better dental experience next time.