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How Much Can One Tooth Cost ?

A long story about bad oral health, and just one tooth. I wrote this back in 2011, but in 2020 there was more to write about.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

An important fact for many Canadians, if you lose your job, you lose your dental coverage as well. How important can a dental plan be? One tooth can add up to a lot of money.

How Much for Just One Tooth?

Over my life, my oral hygiene has not been the best. I have had extensive dental work done on most of the teeth in my mouth. I have learned to regret my poor oral hygiene habits of my youth. For this article, I will concentrate on a single bicuspid in my upper right jaw.

This tooth has had extensive work done on it. First it was filled due to it having a cavity, this must have cost upwards of $80 worth of work, which my parents insurance most likely covered. I most likely made the dentist’s life a living heck whilst this procedure was done (I am confident I am on a “patient from hell” list with the Canadian Dental Association).

Around my 30th birthday, I was eating a hard candy and I heard a snapping noise in my mouth. I ignored it, since nothing seemed to fall out of my mouth (I learned later that I cracked that tooth with that candy). This is not a good dental problem heuristic.

Root Canal

A Questionable Smile

A year or so later, I started getting swelling in my upper right jaw. It was decided that the tooth beside the bicuspid was the culprit, so a root canal was done on that tooth. It turned out that this was the wrong tooth. That cost about $300 or so in procedures (remember this wasn’t even on that tooth). Most of this covered by my company dental insurance plan.

I noticed the swelling dropped, but the pain continued in my jaw. When I returned to my dentist a few months later he did a very unscientific test by turning around his observation mirror around and tapping teeth in my upper jaw. When he hit the bicuspid in question I jumped out of the chair and screeched in pain. This is where we came to the decision, we may have fixed the wrong tooth. Another root canal was scheduled, $300 more was spent, but this time on the correct tooth.

We then needed to think about a crown for this bicuspid. Another $900 later (only half covered under my insurance), a brand spanking new crown appeared on this mummified tooth.


Story over, you might think? Nope, the crown was a little tall, and I managed to knock it off chewing some gum. The crown had to be attached again (about $120 more spent). You must be done, right? Nope, I knocked the crown out again (another $120) and this time I was told that if it was knocked out again, there was nothing else to be done.

Another year passed, the crown became dislodged after it being “loose” for a long time, another $100 spent not reattaching it (and in fact not giving back to me the crown, I should have been allowed to keep it as a souvenir).

Now I had a whole in my jaw with some mummified roots under it. That needed to be removed, and that cost another $600 to remove.

Final Cost?

So, thanks to my bad oral hygiene as a youth, I ended up spending over $2000 to end up with a hole in my jaw where a tooth once was, and remember this is only 1 tooth (and not counting cleanings as well). Oh, and if you thought that was the end of the story, nope, because now I have to have  a prosthesis put in place as well (possibly up to another $1000 (at least)).

Good oral hygiene for your kids and in your youth pays dividends later in life (OK, maybe not dividends, but does not create debt or expenses later in life).

Epilogue and Addendum

During COVID, I noticed swelling again in my upper right jaw. It ended up being the original, incorrectly root canal’ed tooth. This meant the entire bridge had to be removed. This also meant two implants had to be set up to replace those gaps in my teeth. After all that, about $5000 more spent in the same area.

I ended up max’ing out my dental plan for the year. Starting to think socialized dentistry might be nice too.

If this keeps up my mouth could end up costing about $200K? I really hope not.


Dentistry, in your financial plan?

How are your teeth? Mine are not in great shape and I have had a history of bad teeth, and it hasn’t got much better as I got older. Currently I have 4 Crowns in my mouth and at least 3 teeth that I would guess will soon become crowns.

Crowns are a wonderful thing that for some reason is viewed as a Prosthetic for most insurance plans, and thus are rarely covered more than 50% by most Dental plans (and in some cases not at all). What does this mean, financially?

Each crown with installation has been about $1000 each (that does not seem completely out of whack with what I have heard from other folks, so I don’t blame my dentist for this charge). This means I have been out of pocket almost $2000 so far for the crowns that I have had put in, and that is a LARGE chunk of change, as I had not planned on these expenses, but I will be in the future.

Do I have other options? Yes, I could have the teeth extracted, but then I must get either dentures or a real prosthetic, both of which are not covered much under most dental plans.

Other interesting dentistry related expenses might be Orthodontic work, for you (adults are getting braces more and more) or for your kids. This is usually only covered 50% by most dental plans. A lot of times if both parents are working they can get almost all of this work done, but for us lucky single income families we only get about 1/2 of the expense covered (unless it is for a medical condition like a cleft pallet, in which case it is mostly covered under Medicare (and rightfully so)).

That ability to cover both 1/2’s of a coverage shortfall that dual income families (that both have benefits plans) is yet another advantage that dual income families have over single income families.

My kids wonder why I keep bugging them to brush their teeth? For your financial future, that’s why!!!


I only paid $450 but still! (rant cont’d)

My insurance company says they cover 50% of my crown installation, which means I now owe $450 out of my own pocket. Why? Remember, we don’t really know why, I guess if dental stuff like crowns or braces were covered, it would put company’s out of business (or make us all far too good looking and we’d all be vain?).

Is it worth $450 to have a replacement tooth that works and I can chew with? That is a good question to ask about the surgery. My answer is YES, if you amortize it over my hopeful life of another 40 odd years (at least!) then it is $10 a year, which is a small price to pay to be able to chew properly.

I’d much rather have my insurance company cover this cost, but I’ll live with it if it gives me quality of life. If you can justify (not rationalize, justify) a purchase in your head and you can live with it, then spend the money (unless you are buying drugs or lottery tickets, then just send the money to me or your favorite charity).

I guess my only question now is the remainder of this deductible on my taxes? Better go look that one up. My guess is I need a few more large medical bills before that.

Money is to be spent, but WISELY and FRUGALLY.

15 Years Later

The tooth ended up being amortized over 5 years. It was the replaced as a bridge, and finally a post was put in place, with an implant. At the end this tooth really cost closer to $7000 and the Insurance covered about $4000.


I paid $900 for what? (rant)

Another classic from the early days, with me ranting about going to the Dentist and the cost. Most likely this was caused by bad oral hygiene as a child, but I note that I didn’t mention that one. I was an angry man back then.

Well, that was the question that resonated in my head after leaving my dentist yesterday. Don’t get me wrong, I needed to have a crown put on the root canal, because the tooth was in bad shape, but holy cow $900.00 !

Now here is the financial part of it, out of that only about $450 to $500 will be “covered” by my “insurance company”, and I am out of pocket for the rest, because I am getting a porcelain crown (my insurance covers a lot more of a metal one), but the porcelain one has a life-time guarantee? Very confusing.

I have always found what is covered by insurance plans (especially dental) very arbitrary, and I wondered who makes these decisions? Evidently at my company (Nortel (at the time)) since the company “self insures” (i.e. Sun Life runs the program but the money comes directly from my company) the company decides what is covered (I was surprised when I figured that one out), so my company decides, but I don’t have any chance to appeal this either {grumble}

The other problem is that since my wife does not have an insurance program, I have been told that the other half which is not covered by my “insurance company” might be covered by her “insurance company”, but I will never know. Remember my favorite rant about dual income families getting unfair advantages over single income families (I should Divorce My Wife?) add this to the list. {grumble}

Now this rant is not ragging on my dentist (he does a great job dealing with a paranoid lunatic like me) but I am not happy about the arbitrary nature of how “what is covered in insurance plans” is decided (especially in big companies).


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