|The Value of a Tooth
Posted on 9/6/2016 by Dr. Justin Lai
|Far too often, I hear patients say something along the lines of, “I can’t afford dental treatment”, or “That seems like a lot of money for dental work”, or “I don’t want to spend that much money at the dentist.” The inconvenient truth about the world we live in is that virtually everything has a dollar amount attached to it in some form or fashion. In healthcare this dollar amount is set seemingly arbitrarily by both healthcare providers and insurance companies. But what does this amount really reflect and is this value a fair representation?
Think of a dollar amount to place on a single tooth in your mouth. In other words, how much money would you need to give up a tooth? Many people will be stumped at this question and would turn to a different question to answer; how much money would you pay to replace a tooth? Though these two questions may seem similar or identical, they are in fact two very different statements.
The Value of a Tooth
There have been many different attempts to place a dollar value on a tooth. Don Quixote once said, “Every tooth in a man’s head is more valuable than a diamond.” From a legal perspective, people have been awarded anywhere from $30-60k for the loss of a single tooth. From a replacement perspective, the cost to replace a single missing tooth can range from $3-7k or more. If you ask your insurance provider, the amount they’re likely willing to place on replacing a tooth may be $1-2k. Are any of these amounts close to the number you had picked earlier?
Is every tooth in your mouth worth the same?
Would you value your front tooth more or less than a molar tooth? How would you be affected if you were missing a front tooth? Would you be able to carry on your normal daily tasks and conversations? Do you think your employment opportunities would be affected? How would other people perceive you if they saw you with a tooth missing front and center? Then think about losing a molar, the large teeth in the back of your mouth responsible for the bulk of your everyday chewing and eating. Without the molar teeth and the support they provide when biting, the rest of your teeth will start to wear at an accelerated rate. This increased stress can lead to fracturing, chipping, and jaw pain. Without your back teeth, chewing becomes increasingly difficult. What dollar amount would you put on your ability to have a nice steak for dinner? Once you start considering these other questions, suddenly the value you’ve put on your tooth has increased significantly.
I can just get implants or dentures
While this may be true, how does the replacement compare to the original. Let’s first take a look at dentures, in general the most cost-effective per-tooth ‘replacement’ for missing teeth. Dental aesthetics have come a long ways in recent years to the point where denture teeth can seamlessly blend in with existing dentition and facial features. The issue comes in both comfort and functionality. Most people generally would prefer not to have a bulky removable appliance which must be removed and cleaned every day. Functionally speaking, dentures are not far off from having a missing tooth. Through various studies, the average person has a bite force in the range of 170-250lbs. When compared to dentures or removable appliances, the effective bite force before the appliance becomes dislodged drops down to 30-50lbs. That is a drop of about 80%. You still won’t be unable to truly enjoy your favourite foods as you had before. Then we look at dental implants, the now gold standard of replacing missing teeth. Again, with current aesthetics, implants can look just as good as a real tooth. They are fixed, non-removable, so you don’t have to worry about them falling out when you’re eating or talking. They can also withstand all the forces your jaws and muscles can give it, when placed properly. In almost every way, a dental implant is a direct analog, replacement, to a natural tooth. Except it’s not. Implants, though uncommon, can still fail, and if they do, can lead to a whole other set of problems and expenses. Implants also lack ligaments that are present in natural teeth which allow for tooth micro-movements and proprioception, the ability for your body to know where certain parts are; for example, if you extend your arm out, you don’t have to see visually to know your arm is extended. In both extremes of replacing a tooth, there is still a time factor that you will have with a missing tooth. So you will still be without a tooth for several weeks/months.
So how much is my tooth worth?
We still have not answered the question of the true value of a tooth. And truth be told, there probably isn’t one value or even range of values that would be agreed on. But I can almost guarantee that for most reading, it is much higher than what you would spend on dental treatment in your lifetime. The beauty of conservative dentistry is that we work to provide treatments and recommendations to prevent the need to remove a tooth, either immediately or in the future, unless absolutely necessary. Yes, in the short term, it may be less expensive to simply remove a tooth or postpone treatment, but ask yourself, “What is this tooth really worth to me and if it is possible to keep it and prevent further problems later on, shouldn’t I at least try?”
-Justin T Lai DDS