Dental For the Struggling College Student in the United States of America

I have a bone to pick with you, government. Mostly this joke of a health care reform we have going on.

I have been suffering from a bad tooth for a couple of weeks now. When it was really getting bad, I started looking into a dentist.


Hang on – let’s get some background going on here:

The last time I went to the dentist was when I was in high school. I was told I needed my wisdom teeth out and I said no, mostly because they said they wouldn’t put me under to do so, and I really didn’t dig the idea of watching people take part of my face out. Shortly after, I graduated, and as soon as I did so, I moved to the UK. I never went to the dentist there purely because of stereo typing. I know, shameful. However, there you have it. When I returned I had on and off insurance but I think it only covered medical and vision, not dental. Any way, up until March and for a year prior, I had no insurance. Then the Health Care reform kicked in, and I got laid off and thus wasn’t making enough money which qualified me for the free health care option. The next option was to pay $250 a month with a $50 co pay and $1000 deductible, or something stupid like that. Of course, being jobless (about the time this blog came into play) and deciding to go to school – of course I opted for the free one, since the next option wasn’t any option at all.

I didn’t put anything to use until recently, when my tooth started getting bad, as I lead in with. I began searching for a dentist to take care of it, missing school and everything because the pain was so much that I couldn’t sleep without taking a few pain killers – and I do NOT do pain meds, or really any conventional medicine if I can help it.

I went into Bellingham’s two different walk-in, low-income, sliding scale health clinics. One said they were not taking any new patients, but if it was an emergency I could call every morning at 7:30 to see if there was a slot open, though it was about a two week waiting list on average. The other one said that they wouldn’t take me because I a) am not under the age of 20, b) pregnant or c) have children. I began calling around, asking around, trying to find ANYONE that would take my Apple Health insurance. No one. Not one dentist in this county or the next one.

As the days went on, my pain eased up and became more manageable and the hunt for a dentist was less important. I got so that it was only once every couple of days I needed some ibuprofen or Aleve. I decided I would resume my dentist hunt until after the quarter.

Except that last night my tooth cracked and a chunk fell out, and I discovered this morning an exposed nerve as I attempted to chew my breakfast. I resumed my search, ditching out on my classes again – and a one on one tutoring session, which I feel really bad about. A friend sent me a 1800-find-me-a-dentist number, which promised to find one. I told them my sob story, my insurance and everything. The guy was really nice, very sympathetic and patient. I gave him a list of towns between Bellingham (which by the way, is a stone’s throw from the Canadian boarder) to Olympia (2.5-3 hours away) to try. Every town I could list that was big enough to have  a dentist’s office. And no where – not one place would take my insurance. Not in Seattle. Not in Tacoma. Not in Olympia. Not in Kirkland, Renton, Redmond, Bellevue, Burlington, Mount Vernon, Everett – nowhere.

I want to give this a chance to sink in: There is not one place west of the Cascade Mountains between Olympia, Washington and the Canadian border – 150+ miles – is there a dentist office willing and able to take the low-income health insurance.

The problem with the health care reform is that it didn’t reform anything. It just made sure every one was insured – which is great in an emergency – the kind where a tree falls on you or you stick your hand in a toaster and fall in the bath tub. But for general health, for general check ups, for dental of any sort, for any non-life-threatening medical assistance you might need, the government allowed practices to chose whether or not they would accept this insurance, and they all opted not to. Well, there is an amendment to that statement: all the practices that were not sliding scale/walk-in/low-income opted out. Those that were already low-income became flooded and are at capacity and can’t take any more patients.

Does no one see how messed up this is???

The end to my story is that my mother found a place that took same-day dental emergencies in the next county south an a little ways east. I’ve been to the hospital there when my ex ran into something and his eye started bleeding (turned out it was just his eye lid, but all I could see was his hand covering it and blood between his fingers) – and I was very unimpressed – and thus was not thrilled to be going to the same location for dental. However, I got in quickly, and they were lovely lovely people, and they’re willing to take my tooth out and gave me a prescription for pain killers and antibiotics. Of course, I had to pay in cash, which my mom helped me out with (Thank’s Mom!). The pain killers helped immensely and I will be one tooth less come Wednesday – right before Thanksgiving.

Get your wisdom teeth out. Get insured. And if you can, go to Canada, Mexico – really anywhere that’s not the US if you want any chance at affordable healthcare.


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