Here’s a question you might not have bothered asking: What’s even cheaper than a teeth-cleaning from our third-year dental student at NYU? Apparently, one from a dental hygiene student at New York City College of Technology. That’s where I ended up earlier this month after two and a half dentist-free years had left noticeable evidence of all those cups of coffee and glasses of red wine. It was time for a cleaning and, based on one very sensitive little spot, I feared even more.
Without insurance, any foray into the medical world always puts my thrift-conscious mind on edge. Dentists, I quickly realized after a quick internet search, provide a great way to unload cash. And what at first seems like a fiscal shortcut can sometimes backfire in a big way. Case in point: A coworker recently told me about his past trip to a cheap dentist in Manhattan for a “routine” cavity filling. Well, the dentist ended up damaging my coworker’s gums so badly that they now routinely trap food and give him, you guessed it, more cavities.
With a $60 introductory cleaning and $95 X-rays, the NYU dental school is a perfectly acceptable option for the uninsured. Still, I figured that a school without the NYU name would have to be cheaper. And it was.
The Dental Hygiene Clinic at the New York City College of Technology (300 Jay St., Downtown Brooklyn, 718-260-5074) charges only $10 for a cleaning, and X-rays are an additional $15. I have to admit I was a little suspicious at first of a cleaning that cost the same as my old copay when I had insurance. I figured there had to be at least one catch. And, again, I was right.
So what sort of dental care do you get for a ten spot? First off, one thing should be made clear: This is not a college of dentistry—it’s a college of dental hygiene. You can get an array of services including a cleaning, X-rays, cavity screening and many others, but if you do have a cavity, it won’t be filled here. You’ll be referred to a “community dentist,” where the pricing game will start all over again.
The pros: scheduling and intake
It’s easy to schedule an appointment on fairly short notice, a rarity in the world of discount medical services. When I called in late August, the receptionist was able to offer me a number of different time slots in early September. The speed continued when I arrived. As soon as I finished filling out the precursory medical history form, I was introduced to Ms. Woo, my dental hygienist for the day.
The cons: décor, privacy, finesse and speed of treatment
Ms. Woo led me into a room with many of the same aesthetics as a corporate office: cubicle after identical cubicle, ugly florescent light and enough clocks to ensure that nobody has an excuse for not knowing the time. The main difference, of course, was that there were dentist chairs instead of desks. I could hear every word around me, including the detailed description of the gum surgery in store for the patient to my left.
The real price of the $10 student, however, quickly became apparent as I watched Ms. Woo carefully spread out her tools and slowly go over my medical history form. Really slowly. In fact, I had been there almost an hour before I finally got to recline in the chair. And it was another hour before she started to actually clean my teeth. All she had done at this point was take measurements in my mouth and give a brief tutorial on brushing methods. The cleaning itself was another hour and a half, making the total time of my visit three and half hours. So if you live by the saying “time is money” then this might not be the best deal for you. But if you’re in search for a budget dentist, your time probably isn’t money anyway.
When it comes down to it, Ms. Woo got the job done, and with no (or little) more discomfort than I normally encounter at the dentist. The polishing stage was a bit rocky, but that could have been my fault. It had been two and a half years, remember. In any event, tooth paste flew everywhere, and the goggles I was instructed to wear proved necessary. Thankfully, one of the supervisors walked over a few minutes later and finished up the polishing with an appreciated bit of grace.
In the end… no cavities! In fact, they didn’t even recommend getting an X-ray. So I saved a bundle over NYU, and of course, even more over a private dentist. So, if you don’t mind the lack of privacy, the time commitment or the potential for occasional unnecessary discomfort, NYC College of Technology is a great place to spend next to nothing for a much-needed (if only initial) dental visit.