"Roger. We have a tooth in trouble. We're going to need a holding pattern. Do you copy?"

“Roger. We have a tooth in trouble. We’re going to need a holding pattern. Do you copy?”

“I can’t do it right now, Doc. That’s just more than I can afford right now.”

I’ve heard this before. A lot, actually. Usually after I’ve shown a patient a photo of one of their teeth that is in trouble. Most times the patient understands my concern at this point in the conversation. We’ve probably just reviewed the digital photos that April and I took and beamed over to the iPad. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and a high resolution photo of a tooth in trouble usually brings the problem home like nothing else. I’ve recommended a crown that costs just under $1000 and it’s not in the patient’s budget.

So what are the options? Sometimes, we can get away with doing nothing for a little while. The teeth often aren’t causing the patient discomfort but often there are signs of tooth decay that can be seen, either with my eyes or when I review x-rays. Doing nothing means we may be letting an active decay situation get worse.

If a tooth could use a crown or an onlay and the patient can’t afford to do it right away, there is often another option. It’s a kind of middle ground between doing nothing and placing a crown.

Imagine you’re a pilot of a jet liner flying across the country toward Detroit Metro airport. It’s late January. You’ve been following the weather forecasts since you left Los Angeles and it looks like southeastern Michigan is getting some snow. You know that you and the other planes heading toward Detroit are going to have to land sometime soon, but you also know that the snow causes delays while they make the runway safe. So what are you going to do?Commercial Aircraft Landing from Bright Twilight Sky

The control tower radios in that they’re putting you in a “holding pattern.” This means that all the planes that need to land at DTW are given flight instructions that keep them close and ready to land, but keep them safely away from other planes. So although they can’t land now, they are in a stable flight pattern and they’re ready to land once the runway is clear.

That sounds a bit like what we need for our tooth in trouble. We know that we can’t do our preferred treatment right now, but we need our tooth to be stable and ready for treatment when the time is right. What we really need is a dental “holding pattern.” Is there such a thing?

Absolutely! In most cases we can remove failing restorations, take out existing decay and place a bonded core buildup that will last for a couple of years, if necessary. It’s not a replacement for our definitive treatment, because this core restoration isn’t as structurally sound as covering the tooth. However, it can often last long enough to allow the patient to scrape up the resources to take care of the tooth.

Is there a down side? Actually, there is. First, you’re going to add about 25% in cost to the overall treatment. A core restoration used as a “holding pattern” is less expensive than a crown, but it does add a few hundred dollars to the complete treatment cost. Furthermore, the less times you need to operate on a given tooth, the better. By placing a holding pattern restoration and then going in to make the final crown, you’re operating on the tooth twice instead of once. There is a risk of damage to the pulp of the tooth whenever we operate, so it’s definitely something to think about.

At Mead Family Dental we strive to give our patients the options they need to keep their teeth as well as their budget happy! This Saginaw dentist understands that life is often about compromise, so we offer ways to help sick teeth even when finances are a problem. Most times, we can put a tooth in trouble in a holding pattern so it’s ready for more definitive treatment when we’re able!

Did you find this post loopy? Did it make you take off and spread your wings? I’d love to hear about it! You can share any Mead Family Dental post with a “Like” on Facebook, a “+1″ on Google+ or you can even “Tweet” it with Twitter! All you need to do is hover over the heart shaped button next to the title of the post. Or you can leave a comment by clicking on the balloon shaped icon next to the title.

If you’re looking for a dentist in Saginaw, we’re always happy to accept new patients! You can request an appointment online or call the office at (989) 799-9133. And, as always, you can email me at alan@meadfamilydental.com. I always answer my own emails!