A Personal Story: Don’t Bother with the ER – Caitlin, Norwich

Caitlin has had a lot of work done on her teeth since childhood. She goes to the dentist regularly to make sure small problems don’t become larger. She has health insurance through Vermont Medicaid, but it does not cover the dental work she needs done, or the medical attention she needed as the result of an abscess that developed when a root canal failed.

Caitlin explains: “I had been to the dentist for a cleaning/exam (but opted not to pay for the standard bitewing x-rays) less than a month prior. The tooth in question had a root canal done and a crown placed quite a few years prior, and was fine for quite awhile. In June ’10 the root canal ‘failed’ and I ended up with an abscess forming under the crown which caused a lot of pressure on the nerves.”

“I made an appointment with the dentist and was given antibiotics and pain meds. The antibiotics, unlike in the past, didn’t reduce the swelling. The pain increased to where eating was difficult which led to constant nausea since neither antibiotics nor pain meds should be taken on an empty stomach. I made another dentist appointment but opted to go to the ER before that date arrived, as I was woozy from not eating and the pain was limiting my mobility.”

Unfortunately, the emergency room doctors could not help Caitlin: “Don’t bother go to the ER with a ‘dental emergency’. They will not help you… I was charged about $150 to be seen by the doctor and another $150 for application of a topical numbing solution which I should have refused, as of course it did nothing to address the nerves under the tooth, and told to call a dentist.”

“The dentist gave me different antibiotics and told me that they could not operate until the swelling decreased. I don’t remember if I was charged for that appointment. Those antibiotics did eventually work and at another appointment they performed the apicoectomy that got me on the road to recovery. $850 was a bargain, believe me. I had to put that charge on my credit card and left the ER bill unpaid. Amazingly, it took them almost a year to send a letter threatening collection and by that time I was able to pay the bill.”

“I went for a standard cleaning/exam visit (and got x-rays this time) a couple of weeks ago, adding another $182 to my credit card. With my dental history, I can justify that expense, but can’t imagine that most Vermonters have $400/year to spend on wellness visits.”

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