Understanding Tooth Extraction Procedures and Costs

Tooth extraction is a common dental procedure, especially for wisdom teeth in young adults and in cases of damaged teeth and in preparation for dentures later in life. Extractions can be performed by a dentist or oral surgeon with either local or general anesthetic, depending on the amount of work to be done and the patient’s level of comfort with the procedure. Surgeons may choose general anesthetic, which puts the patient to sleep during the procedure, for those who are particularly anxious about such procedures.

In advance of the extraction, current x-rays will be necessary for a clear view of the tooth or teeth to be removed and the position in relation to surrounding teeth and roots. The initial exam may cost $50 to $350, and x-rays range between $20 and $250. The surgeon will provide a list of preparations before the procedure, such as not eating or drinking anything for 8 hours before if general anesthetic is to be used. The requirements for extraction with local anesthetic are fewer, but aftercare is similar for both, including avoidance of smoking or drinking through a straw in the days immediately following. The procedure itself can be done in the dentist’s or surgeon’s office on an outpatient basis, taking no longer than a few hours in most cases. The surgeon may also require a followup visit to monitor the progress of healing at the extraction site, with recovery taking 4 to 7 days on average.

Some discomfort and pain is to be expected in the first 24 to 48 hours, and pain medication may be prescribed at the time of the extraction to aid in managing the pain. However, if pain at the extraction site is severe and persistent, it can indicate a condition called dry socket, a complication for about 2 to 5 percent of people that is easily treatable. After a tooth is removed, a blood clot forms and the gum heals beneath it, but the clot can be accidentally washed away or become dislodged, leaving bone and nerves exposed and tender. The dentist can treat this by prescribing an antibiotic to prevent or treat infection and applying a dressing to aid healing.

When the teeth are visible above the gums, they are “erupted” and require a non-surgical extraction, but those below the gums are still surrounded by a bony socket and require surgical extraction. Non-surgical extractions typically cost $75 to $300 per tooth, depending on the provider, location, and type of anesthetic used. Comparatively, surgical extractions range from $150 to $650 or more per tooth, and having four wisdom teeth out in one visit can be as much as $3,000. Dental insurance will cover most of the cost of medically necessary extractions, up to the yearly max of typically $1,000. This means that it will not cover removal of healthy teeth in preparation for bridges or dentures that are usually considered a cosmetic choice. Medicare excludes dental coverage entirely, except for a few specific cases such as oral cancer treatment. That leaves a lot of out-of-pocket expenses for consumers to cover. Fortunately, there are many options to make dental care more affordable. Some oral surgeons and dentists offer payment plans, financing, or credit through their offices or national providers. Shopping around and getting a second opinion could turn up savings as well, with dentists and oral surgeons in rural areas and outside the U.S. typically charging less than in major cities.The most certain way to save is by using a discount dental program, which works much the same way as a grocery or pharmacy preferred savings card, to provide 15 to 50 percent savings on procedures with thousands of dental care providers across the country. Discount dental programs have no restrictions on pre-existing conditions, age, or personal credit, and no yearly or lifetime spending and coverage limits. They have a simple application form online, a short waiting period before activation, various options to fit consumers’ needs, and a low yearly premium. They work in addition to and independently of traditional dental insurance and Medicare without interfering with the coverage or benefits of either.