Should I go to a dental school to have my teeth fixed?

dental studentsThis is a question I’ve asked myself every Wednesday morning for the last five weeks as I’ve ridden the Q train into Union Square to see a pick-happy third-year dental student at the NYU College of Dentistry. Dental insurance is one luxury I haven’t had in some time, like so many former students, former employees and, well, people these days.

I had just moved back to Brooklyn after a few years in Boston, where I had dutifully forked out $100 or so every few months to minimally maintain my not-so-pearly whites. Now I was back in New York and overdue for a cleaning. I also had a sinking suspicion I might be in for some more. My Boston hygienist said a dental school was a good, cheap and still respectable way to get dental care, and that NYU was the place to go in New York. So there I went.

In terms of treatment, I didn’t know what to expect. I wanted a cleaning, X-rays and an exam to determine if I would need a mouth guard to prevent grinding (a possibility my hygienist alluded to in a previous visit). What I also didn’t know, and what I now so wish I had, was that student dental care would take over my life.

For the aforementioned work (yes, I needed the mouth guard and, it turned out, three fillings as well), I’ve now spent upward of 11 hours at the NYU College of Dentistry over five weeks. And after next week’s final visit, 11 will become 13 (each visit is scheduled for two hours, but that doesn’t count delays, of which there have been a few.) And I’m not including travel time here, which was an hour, door to door. Sure there’s travel time to any dentist, but I was foregoing any local options which would have been, at most, a 15 or 20-minute trip. So counting the extra travel, treatment and waiting, let’s call it 24 hours—one full day of dentistry!

Another big question mark with student dentistry is the quality of the care, and I don’t know how well it can be evaluated until something (a filling) does or doesn’t fall out sometime down the road. But let’s go by my experience in the chair. First off, no dental work is pleasant—that’s a given. But there is a range of skill. A friend once described her dentist as having butterfly hands. By that standard, mine has rhinoceros feet. Case in point: My week-four visit was the day the fillings started. After about 20 minutes or so of painful drilling on a lower molar, my student called over a faculty member to check the progress—to see whether the tooth was ready to be filled. Not quite, so a few more minutes of drilling, then another supervisor came over to check again. This one looked at the tooth, turned to my student, and informed him that he would have received an automatic failure on the drilling section of the dental exam (!)

I’m saving the most important question for last–the cost. The total cost will be around $600, for a complete series of X-rays ($95), cleaning ($60), three cavity fillings ($80, $80, $95) and one mouth guard ($200).

How does that compare to a full-fledged dentist? Well, I’ve now (after the fact) checked out two privately-practicing dentists for some perspective. Neither one could give me exact prices without an exam, but Dr. Flatbush Ave. is an in-home practice on a commercial strip in my neighborhood. He charges $35 for the exam, $75 for a cleaning, $100 for the full-mouth X-ray, $65-$120 for each filling, depending on the type (I would have had two around $65, one around $120) and $250 for the mouth guard. So, about $600-$700 here—pretty comparable to my student care. Dr. Madison Ave. is another story: $50 for the exam, $130 for a cleaning, $200 for X-rays, $175-$250 for each filling and $450 for the mouth guard. All told: around $1,400—more than twice my expense.

So is it worth it? If you have a lot of time to spare for your dental hygiene, you have the pain threshold of a rock and if saving a couple, or a few, hundred dollars counts above all else. Otherwise, go out and find that Dr. Butterfly Hands.

36 Comment

  • Dear Penny,
    You are a glutton! What’s tattoo school like?

  • I went to NYU Dental clinic last year for the series of visits. It is a great deal, but it DID take a lot of time and patience to make multiple appointments, and yes the dental students are still learning how to be gentle. All in all it was a painful experience and to top it off I went to an actual dental office last week for a check up and had many cavities. The dentist said I had these for quite awhile, and that they would have been easier to take care of if they were fixed earlier. Essentially my “student dentist” overlooked these cavities, thus costing me more in the long run.

  • Wow, that’s rough, to have had the cavities missed. I hope I haven’t met the same fate.

  • I can’t disagree more. I went to NYU for a busted toof & they fixed me up right. Yes, it does take a little longer, but the exam was quite comprehensive & everything was double confirmed by fully-grown dentists. It’s gotta be a crapshoot since there are so many baby dentists there, but a lot of people have had great experiences there.

  • I got an oral surgery done at NYU Dental and it saved me, literally, thousands of dollars. Its worth the extra time.

  • Here in LA (I know, not relevant) dueling dental schools at UCLA and USC are excellent. $65 for the exam including x-rays, and I got a crown done for $300–a far cry from the $750 my “family dentist” charges.

    So if you want to have a long vacation and get your teeth done, LA’s the place.

  • I used NYU Dental about 10 years ago to get braces. At the time, it was about a 1/3 of the cost of using a DDS’s service. I highly recommend NYU’s Dental school!

  • I realize NYU offers a necessary service at a good price — I’m sure that in the end of my treatment (soon), everything will be fine. But I did want to present some of the potential downsides of the experience. after all, they’ve been real for me, not potential.

  • you can get a cleaning & xrays for under $200 at a lot of manhattan dentistries… personally i went ahead and signed up for freelancers insurance, then went to a proper, butterfly-handed dentist… and then again, and again, and again. 2 crowns, a root canal, at least 3 cavities and counting, a cleaning, some xrays along the way, and a tooth whitening procedure. not gonna trust a student with all that!
    (much cheaper with insurance, but i had to beg my ‘rents to pay for it anyway)
    if something sounds to good to be true….
    you might find yourself on the other end of a failing dental student!

    • Wow that sounds awesome. If you don’t mind me asking , where did you go and how much did you get charged ? I have about the same procedures that need to be done and I’ve benn dentist shopping and can’t find one I feel safe with .
      I would really appreciate you help! Thank you !

  • there are also numerous nonprofit community health care centers throughout NYC….I’ve been to one in the Bronx(Morris Heights Health Center) and it’s great for general cleaning and fillings….I paid $50 for a full set of xrays, exam, and cleaning…and they charge $25-40 per fillings….all done by licensed dentists…most patients there have Medicaid but they are glad to accept patients without health insurance….the prices are just as much as most people pay for copays and my experience was better than other private practice dentists

  • Please be aware that “amalgam” fillings (aka silver) are made with a lot of mercury and shouldn’t be used by ANYONE. If you have silver fillings, consider having them replaced.

  • i need much work done,i think it will be worth the drive 2 hrs to buffalo dental school,anyony been their?

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  • Why spend so much money for dental work – even at a school – when for less than half, you can get a nice vacation AND full dental work if you have it done in Thailand, Mexico, etc. The costs of airfare and a decent 2-star hotel for a week, plus the cost of your root canal, crowns, braces, whatever are far less. Medical tourism is booming and there are great practitioners overseas. Just do your research first!

  • NO WAY…DONT U DARE ITS A GOOD THING YOU HAVE A PRETTY FACE- THE HAIRCUT YOU CAN MAKE DUE FOR, PEOPLE LOOK AT YOUR EYES WHICH ARE BEAUTIFUL, NOW THINK IF THEY LOOKED DOWN AT A BOTCHED UP SET OF TEETH- oH MY….DONT DO IT

  • I loved your cost comparison. Also, you mention you need to count in the time it takes to get to the school and the delays. There is the third option I found on http://dentalcool.blogspot.com which is a dental plan that you can purchase on an individual basis. Get the price of dental school and the convenience of local licensed dentists.

  • Wait you paid $200 for a mouth gard? I have the same problem, and I get mine online for $30. No more painful jaw!
    http://www.amazon.com/Sleep-Right-Comfort-Dental-Guard/dp/B000MWF3CG/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1259848805&sr=1-2-spell

    Thanks for the NYU dental tips, I have been pondering it, without dental insurance.

  • NYU Dental also has an urgent care center that charges $100 for the visit. I was seen quickly and had a root canal and *temporary* filling and a couple of x-rays of the tooth included in that cost. The student dentist was excellent.

    The only complaint is that it was a little rushed and so I wasn’t really given a lot of information about my options. There will be another appointment for full evaluation and treatment plan and then the follow-up care.

  • DON’T GO. I had a ton of work done there, but if I could go back, I’d go to a real dentist. I had almost 20 VISITS, and it was a nightmare. And it isn’t cheap. Not considering you are a guinea pig for students. I had a lot of problems with pain – giving adequate anesthesia should be the first thing they learn about, right? You’d think! Apparently not. I also thought teachers would be involved every step of the way. They aren’t. Sometimes they only check in once in a session. That is not enough. They certainly don’t do it at every step. If you only need one filling done or something, MAYBE it’s worth it. But if you have a lot of work to be done, trust me – it will be torture. And things will go wrong. Save your money and go to a real dentist. I actually think this school is a bit of a disgrace – charging people who obviously are in dire financial straits so you can practice on them and charging them almost as much as a reasonable dentist outside of Manhattan would charge! It’s outrageous. Do yourself a favor and just find an inexpensive but real dentist elsewhere or set up a payment plan with one. DON’T GO HERE!

    • SAME HERE!! IT’S REALLY A NIGHTMARE!! I’D RATHER DIE IF YOU ASK ME TO VISIT THERE AGAIN!!!!

  • An option: the dental clinic at Lutheran Medical Center, all the way down in Sunset Park near the Army Terminal. Walk-in (no appointment, in pain) is $40. Other services are worked up in a ‘plan’ and it’s cheaper than what you paid at NYU, Jonathan. They also do take medicaid. They offer scheduled appointments which tend to get done very close to schedule, +/- 40 minutes — as well as Saturday hours. Some interns are better than others, but it helps to know the resident (and the dental assistants — they tend to be more long-term!) and give them feedback. Talk through the choices they make with them – be sure to verbally review your own history so they can check your chart carefully, and remember: interns have a yearly schedule July-June. So if you need work, early fall is a great time to schedule it and you can complete the work with the attention of one doctor. If you come later in the academic year, they are more likely thinking about finishing. Also make sure you don’t get talked into procedures you may not want or be able to afford — possibly so that the intern can have the opportunity to do them? (Implants, anyone?)

    I am very happy to have needed work done there at about half the going rate, and have been lucky to get some superior work –esp. by Drs. Bag, Harris, Jenkins and a gifted hygienist, Anna.

  • OK, so I posted about Lutheran almost a year ago – a hopeful year ago. The dental residents there did a fair to middlin’ job — but don’t even think about “planning” for major work like bridges or implants. If you don’t have Medicaid, they will insist you pay an equal installment plan every time you come — whether its for a cleaning or a filling — so get ready to fork over dollars you may not have for treatment(s) you may never get. And goddess help you should you request a ‘refund’ – we’re talking months and months of helpless and hapless bureaucracy (including a ‘consultant’ who deems it hospital policy that refunds take 6-8 weeks to process!) to get the money you overspent — IF you can get a statement of what work was done and what it cost to begin with. This place could be a benefit to New Yorkers who have to pay for dental work, but not without a major retrofit. That said — if you have a toothache, and no cash — they will see you, and treat you. They will probably also yell at you, a little, but that’s a small price to pay for cheap dental care.

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  • how can i make appointment to practice on me i need a new crown  or denture

    • HEY  im 3rd year dental student in NYU ,u can go to school 1st ave 23rd street ,1st floor and get a student to write a treatment plan for u.

  • I need a dentist to fix my mouth because my teeth is all messed up.

  • How much is NYU teeth whitenning and one root canal and cap? I heard that if you are a student there is a dental plan for cleaning/checkup/exrays. Does anyone know how much this plan is? are there any other plans? is there a list of plans?

  • Wife got a quote of $12,000 from private dentist and dental college did everything that needed to be done for $700. There was no waiting time for treatment and service was excellent. Cost of dental school iis about $50,000 and it is hard to see how anyone in private practice can compete when they have to recover that kind of sunk cost.

    • What do you look up to find student dental work? I’ve looked all over the internet for Houston, Tx and can’t find nothing.

  • Does anyone know where I can find student dental service in Houston, tx. I’ve looked all over and can’t pull anything up on it.

  • I do not recommend Lutheran Dental Clinic. You will have an easier time and get better care if you ask your friend to punch your teeth out. What a nightmare.
    I had a horrible experience. If you want to know in detail, please contact me. In short, ripped off, tortured, no help to correct the dental incompetence that went on. I HATE THEM.

  • I am curious as to how a school of dentistry would rate as opposed to just going to the dentist office, from what I read of the story up above, it didn’t seem like a great experience, over all. I don’t know how I would feel if the professor came over and said, if I were your professor that drilling would have failed. I mean it’s a tooth in my mouth, if it gets messed up what are my options? Would they do a root canal? My dentist typically charges 190.00 for a full mouth set of X-rays, and fillings vary. They are all enamel, he is a great dentist just that I am having a problem paying for expensive dental procedures, but I am past the time to get my cleaning.

  • I’d definitely go to a professional dentist, if I were you. There are factors to consider. First, it is highly unsafe. They are not certified and yet you want them to take care of your teeth? They might worsen the situation. I’m not saying that they are not capable of doing the procedures; I just think it is very risky. I hope you’ll make the right decision.

  • Perhaps NYU is fine for a simple procedure like a cleaning or getting a cavity refilled, but if you are considering coming to this school for an expensive and complicated procedure, I urge you to do whatever you can to see a real dentist instead. Borrow money, charge your expenses to a no-interest-for-a-year credit card, inquire about payment plans. I wish that I had done this. In the end, I was moderately satisfied with the implant and crown that I received at NYU but that was only because I did an absurd amount of research about each upcoming procedure when it became clear that the students were completely overwhelmed and/or apathetic, and I firmly challenged the students and faculty when they attempted to brush off my valid concerns or downplay complications that I experienced and constantly reminded the students to do important things like providing me with antibiotics after a surgical procedure. If you end up seeking treatment here, be prepared to fight every step of the way for adequate attention and treatment. My procedures took 18 months from start to finish and caused me terrible stress. The receptionists are some of the most unpleasant people I have ever encountered. And good luck getting a proper statement to submit to an insurance company from the program managers. It took me four months to receive my last statement despite weekly phone calls that were largely ignored and not returned. The entire program is run like a factory and you will be treated like an object on an assembly line. The student assigned to your case will be replaced by someone less experienced with no notice or explanation. Most of the faculty members will walk into your room and will act as though you don’t exist, interacting only with the student assigned to you. Groups of first-year students will be brought into the room without your permission or without any notice to gawk at you mid-surgery. During one procedure, my anesthesia wore off because it took the surgical intern way longer to perform the surgery than he had anticipated. He had an inexperienced first-year student stitch my mouth up afterwards and I felt every stab of the needle as it tore through my gums. I indicated that I was in extreme pain but they told me that I had to continue without additional anesthesia as they had already given me too much due to the unforeseen length of the procedure. As I lay there bleeding, shaking, sweating, and trying not to cry as we neared 2.5 hour mark, first-year students wandered in and out of the room to stare. It was humiliating and dehumanizing. I barely made it home afterwards and couldn’t make it to the pharmacy to pick up my painkiller prescription for several hours because I became violently ill from the large amounts of novocaine that they had injected (hence them not giving me more when it wore off towards the end of the procedure). And that is just one of many horror stories. This is all to be expected if you go to NYU for cheaper rates. Nothing is free; you will pay for the reduced sticker price with pain, stress, and humiliation. Maybe you will decide that such an experience is worth the financial savings, but at least you will know what you are getting yourself into. I wish I had known. For those of you who cannot scrape together the extra money to see a real dentist, you have my deepest sympathy. It’s criminal that dental care costs what it does in this country and that medical insurance companies are not required to cover it.