A Large Bite – HumbleDollar

A Large Bite Richard Quinn  |  Oct 2, 2021, 2:07 am ET

IN DECEMBER 2020, my wife got an infection at the site of an old root canal. The dentist initially thought it could be treated with medication. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, so an extraction and implant were planned. The process took several visits and several bills, with the charges accumulating along the way.

Some of this pain could have been relieved by a modest dental plan that I had from my former employer. That was not to be, as my employer terminated the plan in 2021. What coverage we could then purchase—with money from the company’s health reimbursement arrangement—covers only routine care. I do have a health care spending account through my old employer. But the way it’s structured—which I designed many years ago—requires clairvoyance. You make an annual election for the amount to be available for bills in the following year.

In 2020, I transferred way too little for 2021. When the dentist gave us an estimate, the figure reminded me of buying my first car. When you think about it, just the fact that you need an estimate tells you something. The good news: He gave us a senior discount—without regard to our ability to pay, I might add. Later, after the post was installed, he offered a further discount if we paid cash.

Usually, I like to pay bills with a credit card to earn rewards. In this case, the discount prevailed. The way this procedure works: You go to the dental surgeon to get the post implanted, and then back to your dentist to have the new tooth attached. The tooth part has yet to be accomplished, so we only have one bill to go by.

At this point, however, our cost after discounts is $6,651.67.

The estimate for the remaining work adds another $1,500. Over $8,000 for one tooth.

Two thoughts come to mind. First, admonishing retirees to have an emergency fund is good advice. Second, with all the talk about adding dental coverage to Medicare, will it include dental implants at $8,000? Don’t count on it.

Source: A Large Bite – HumbleDollar


  1. You are retired and you still have access to your former employer’s Health Flexible Spending Account? “… I do have a health care spending account through my old employer. But the way it’s structured—which I designed many years ago—requires clairvoyance. You make an annual election for the amount to be available for bills in the following year. …”

    Medicare and LTC premium, as well as medical, dental, vision, and LTC out of pocket expenses in retirement are why God created Health Savings Accounts.

    I can’t see asking taxpayers to take on the trillions of dollars of burden for dental and vision, especially after Bush II stuck them with tens of trillions of unfunded liability when he added Medicare Part D 18 years ago.


    1. I set up a VEBA account for the company that is mostly employee after-tax contributions plus some annual employer contribution. When we negotiated it the idea was the money would be invested over a career and the money available in retirement. Unfortunately, the company failed to make investments similar to pension plan and instead used a near zero interest money market thereby voiding the purpose of the accounts.


  2. A decade ago I had a formerly crowned molar tooth that was too far gone to save. I told the dentist to just pull it – $60. I still had my wisdom tooth on that side and over the past decade the teeth naturally adjusted and the missing tooth’s space has narrowed. But at no time did I have a problem chewing on that side anything I wanted to eat.


  3. I like using my reward cards too. It is amazing that some business do not mind charging as little as $0.90 and this was before the pandemic. But with small business, I always ask. My pool guy does not offer a discount for not using a credit card but charges a surcharge for using a credit card just like gas stations use to do. When you think about it, a 1.5-3% charge by the credit card companies on a several thousand dollar bill would cut into a small business profits because they can’t cut the best deals with the credit card companies.

    I have thought that I might consider dental implants should I need them but you have confirmed that they are really pricy. I have had root canals and crowns that are 30+ years old. I had to replace one crown for being worn and another one is on the to be replace list.

    Thank you for sharing. I’ll have to consider if the implant is medically necessary or vanity. I would have to live a long time to make that $8k worth it when I had to deal with a half dozen crowns during my life.

    Now, I have no ideal what a partial bridge of dentures cost either. I have had only 3 out 4 wisdom teeth pulled. Pulling teeth is relatively cheap. I don’t see Medicare covering the more expensive dental work either.


  4. ‘Most financial experts recommend 3-months of basic living expenses in an emergency fund, and for most, that will suffice.”

    Where do you keep an emergency fund? I have one month’s expenses in a savings account (FDIC insured, FWIW). Everything else is either in IRAs or taxable mutual funds.

    We recently had an emergency vet bill of $3,000. I put it on the card, then paid it off at next billing cycle. It will take a couple of months to recharge the savings account.


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