Surviving a $10 technical-school teeth cleaning

The dental hygienist suits up. Photo by Sara Katz

The hygienist suits up. Photos by Sara Katz.

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.

IMG_9909The 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.

11 Comment

  • I went to NYC College of Technology for a dental cleaning for the first time last year and it was an overall positive experience. I was able to get an appointment the same week I called because it was exam week and there were students who needed patients that week. Fortunately, my plaque-ridden teeth that hadn’t been cleaned in 3 years qualified for one of the slots they had open :) Although the whole visit took about 3 hours (they did warn me about that so I cleared my whole morning for the appointment), it was a pain-free and very thorough exam & cleaning. In fact, I just got a post card from them reminding me that it’s almost time for another check-up and cleaning! The environment is definitely off-putting when you first walk in, but for $10, I feel like I absolutely got my money’s worth and I will continue to go there for cleanings and hopefully I won’t need anything more than that for a while :)

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Cheap dental care, part 2: $10 cleaning at NYC College of Technology | Brokelyn -- Topsy.com

  • Pingback: The Hogs Roar Loudest in Harlem - City Room Blog - NYTimes.com

  • I just got my teeth cleaned here and had a very positive experience.

    It did take several hours but the quality of the actual cleaning was very good and there was less pain because the dental hygiene student took her time and was very skillful, confident, etc. She also explained a lot of things to me about my gums, bone, etc. that no one ever took the time to explain to me before. The supervising professor sat down and checked everything afterwards.

    And yes, you get a toothbrush, a little tube of toothpaste, and a small roll of floss for your $10.

    The privacy wasn’t such an issue for me because of the whir of the equipment.

    My only real complaint: the tools and equipment were clean, certainly the dental hygiene student washed her hands, changed her gloves frequently, covered me with a drape and goggles, etc., but the floor was pretty grungy in the corners and even the base of the chair was grimy. The place could definitely stand a good cleaning. Okay, I admit my dentist’s office could stand a good cleaning as well.

    Overall, definitely worthwhile. The nice young lady who cleaned my teeth was graduating in a few weeks and the odds are the hygienist in your dentist’s office graduated from here anyway, it’s part of CUNY.

  • I’ve had fillings filled, a tooth pulled, and a crown re-attached at the school of dentistry (in Alabama, UAB a very “medical focused” college) and the most I ever paid was $75. I would recommend this practice to just about anyone, but she’s right :: privacy is nonexistent. the supervisors will be supervising, and i actually had a class of students watching my tooth pull….luckily the anesthetic they gave me kinda helped me ignore these people :)

    I LOVE YOUR BLOGS SARA!!!

  • I had a TERRIBLE experience at the NYC College of Technology. I was BUTCHERED. It was as if I were in an old Nine Inch Nails music video. All I wanted was a cleaning. It was fine the first few minutes; the student was nice, hip, and talked on and on about Rubulad as she picked away at my gums. Thing is, much of my gumline is receding so many of my nerve endings are directly exposed. When her picking got to this area, she didn’t seem to notice the recession and just kept scraping, picking, and knifing at the exposed nerves. I jumped and flinched from the pain several times (think ice-on-cavity kind of pain…), but I figured she was just making few mistakes. But it didn’t stop.

    I politely told her I’m having pain; please lay off a bit. She said she had to clean the entire area as her professor was grading her on this – just sit tight – she’ll make it quick. I was more than mildly bleeding at this point. She kept hacking. I pleaded again; I got the same response. After about 15 minutes of extreme pain (and about 40 minutes into the cleaning – only half my teeth had been cleaned), tears began to well up in my eyes and I knew I had to make a scene to stop this. I jumped out of the chair and ran to the restroom saying I was going to get sick from the pain and the blood (not far from the truth!). The sight in the restroom mirror was grotesque; my entire gumline was dark red from exposed roots. I took the back door out of that building and will never see a student for any discount service again.

    I spoke to my former [professional] dentist back home about and he said that a receding gum cleaning costs a lot more than a regular cleaning and, of course, REQUIRES LOCAL ANESTHESIA.

    This little girl went far, far above and beyond. I certainly will never forget her.

    *Shudders.*

  • As the student who graduated from this program I would definitely recommend to go there. I know I will. As far as Katheryn’s negative experience went, all she had to do is say something, because our clinic does provide local anesthesia if being requested by the patient. The cleaning that most dental offices do, can’t be compared with NYCCT students’ provide, because they are being graded on every single step they make and every single spot they miss. Trust me, you won’t get better care in any other place and for that kind of money.
    As far as appointments go, please remember to keep them. Many of you don’t know that students are obligated to have someone in their chair either it will be you or someone else. If you don’t show up, cancel last minute, or come late they will get zero for the day and will have to make it up on their own time(which they don’t have much of) For you it made be just an appointment for dental cleaning, but for them it is their future, so please don’t stand them up like that. Therefore, I am asking you to respect the fact that they are going through serious “boot camp education” in that school. With this being said, if you are sitting in their chair you can be sure that a student who works on you, went through serious training already and they know what they are doing(don’t underestimate their abilities).
    About the building: yes it is very outdated, however the equipment/instruments they use is all brand new (it has to be). Everything that students use is sterile, the school is very very strict about their polices.
    So, be patient, nice to your Dental Hygienist, punctual, understanding and I promise you that you will love it and will be extremely happy with these services. There are so many happy patients who come to the clinic for years!!! You could be one of them

  • I’ve been going here for years, since 2003, and I love them. You do have to set aside 3 or so hours, but they do a good job at cleaning your teeth and you can’t beat the price.

  • Pingback: Free dental xrays tomorrow for guinea pigs | Brokelyn

  • I’ve been there myself. They do a fair job, but whoa the time is long.

  • Interesting article. I was with you till the end when you said, “In the end… no cavities! In fact, they didn’t even recommend getting an X-ray.” How do they know you don’t have cavities if they didn’t take x-rays? Does the hygiene student have x-ray vision? You cannot see most cavities as they start in between your teeth.

    In full disclosure I’m a dentist. I’m also troubled when someone goes 2.5 years without getting x-rays. Maybe you’re lucky and don’t have cavities, but without x-rays there’s no way to know for sure.