Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Economics of Teeth

I've always felt that preventive dental care is a good investment. Easy for me to say because I have good dental insurance, but even when I was uninsured for a period of time, I still got regular cleanings because I knew that more serious dental problems would cost a lot more, not to mention cause me pain.
Then there's the cosmetic aspect: according to the Freakonomics blog at the NY Times, having nice-looking teeth may help you earn more money (just as anything that makes you more attractive may help you earn more money.)

I was thinking about this issue recently because of a friend of mine, whose teeth are quite stained. She goes to the dentist regularly and has considered evening out and lightening the coloring of her teeth via some sort of coating or veneer, but she doesn't want to do it because it would cost "thousands of dollars." (It didn't sound like potential pain was a factor.) This is a woman who is particular about her appearance, and spends plenty of money on clothes and jewelry, and I'm sure she wouldn't be going broke just from one big dental bill.
In my opinion, people (at least Americans) are much more likely to notice a flawed smile than an expensive watch or a good pair of shoes. So if you care about your appearance enough to spend thousands of dollars on it, why wouldn't you spend money on your teeth before spending it on clothes or accessories?

What would you do? Are there certain appearance-related things you're more willing to spend money on than others? Do you see it as an investment in your career, and if so, do you think some investments in your appearance pay off better than others?


skittle said...

I had my front two teeth replaced by crowns about a year and a half ago. I also have good dental insurance, but even with the insurance my bill was over $4,000.

I am glad every day I went to a great (but expensive) dentist. My teeth look great and you cannot tell they're not real. I was brok(er) at the time so I paid my dentist over the course of a year. Most dentists are happy to work out some kind of payment plan.

And as an American, I notice teeth a lot.

3beansalad said...

I wonder if she's tried anything less expensive, like the Crest White Strips? I've used them and my teeth get noticeable whiter.

mara of portland said...

I'm in the middle of a 3-year course of orthodontics. I got braces not because I wanted to make more money or my teeth were all snaggly, but I wanted to stop waking up with headaches from my horrendous open bite (and hopefully save my teeth for a few more years). Already it has been WELL worth the expense, just in terms of pain relief. I'm currently in the "awkward rubber band" phase, but I can't wait to enjoy the results when I get the braces off. My teeth are way more important to me than jewelry, shoes, handbags, clothes, etc.

My coworker had snaggly, yellowed teeth, and his dentist had been bugging him for years to get veneers. He could never justify the expense to himself, but finally he had it done a few months ago. Around the same time, he received a promotion. COINCIDENCE?

Anonymous said...

Oh My....what an interesting topic. For me, teeth are the number one people cannot take care of their teeth is beyond me. As 'skittle' commented - most dentists are willing to work out a payment plan. Also, when I first met my husband - he was a poor college student - he went to a dental school for his care. It cost next to nothing. For anyone to think that the condition of their teeth doesn't affect how people - let alone employers - view them, are sorely mistaken. And as you pointed out, if you don't take care of them now - it costs much, much more later. Not to mention poor dental hygiene has been linked to other health problems (It is suggested that inflamed, bleeding gums allow bacteria in the mouth to enter the bloodstream and cause problems in the heart.) sorry to vent :) mags

"Future Millionaire" said...

I agree with the others. Teeth are much more important than clothes or accessories. Its a matter of a health issue, plus it shows if you can take care of your self. I fully admit I judge people based on their hair and teeth. If you can't keep them clean and maintained then I worry about what else you don't maintain. I do a lot of interviewing for my company and we recently interviewed a guy who was a great candidate, seemed to be a perfect fit except he had really greasy hair. I had to veto him because if he can't even show up to an interview with clean hair what else is he going to neglect work wise if we can to work for us.

SavingDiva said...

From a childhood accident, I have two crowns on my front teeth. Last January, I spent $1500 (on top of what my dental insurance covered) to replace my existing crowns and to have two veneers placed on the surrounding teeth. My smile is whiter and looks way better than something real :)

Debbie M said...

Braces would help me look better, but I don't want to pay thousands and have months or years of pain just to look better. My teeth do not wear funny or cause me headaches--it would just be cosmetic.

You make a very interesting point, though. Fortunately for me, I think it matters less than for people who work with the public. My salary does kind of stink, but then I insist on working in a low-paying industry just because I enjoy it.

I do visit the dentist regularly, brush, floss, etc. and do think that's a very good investment. I like my teeth and enjoy eating hard foods!

And I don't think there's any irony for me with the appearance stuff. I don't wear make-up most days. I don't spend any money on hair cuts or hair dye. And I get my clothes at thrift stores. I do spend money on sparkly earrings and bead necklaces, but I mostly get the parts wholesale.

I also think I luck out because I don't have many other appearance traits that people get judged on. Very good point, though. This is one trait that can actually be changed.

MetaMommy said...

I'm in my early 30s, and I chose to get braces primarily for dental health reasons. They were wearing funny, and I'm terribly paranoid about having long-term dental pain (like my husband). I'd rather get them fixed now as a preventative measure. A side benefit is the aesthetic improvement. However, I will argue that if I'm willing to walk around with braces in my 30's while pregnant, I'm obviously beyond just thinking about looks.

I admit that I'm doing this now because I'm not working (staying at home with toddler). If I was still working, I would not have followed through with it because I already look pretty young. If I wore braces to work where I interacted with a mature group, I'm certain it would have impacted my image.

Despite good insurance, I'm still footing half the bill. That said, it's totally worth it. I've already seen significant improvements, and the pain I've experienced is more due to restricted foods (I miss almonds so very much).

Sicilian said...

I have spent $$$$$$ on my mouth. I was an adult with braces. . .in my family most people have dentures at a young age. . . . I have horrible dental insurance, but I go faithfully 4 times a year. I am trying to keep my teeth in my mouth, but even with all that I do I am constantly fighting genetics.
I agree. . . teeth are the first thing people see when they look at you. . . . they may never get to that high dollar watch once they see your smile.

frugal zeitgeist said...

Teeth matter. . . big time. Even without dental insurance I would never forego dental care.

mapgirl said...

Oh just ask me about the $12-15K I have spent the last 2-3 years on my teeth. Every penny was worth it. Of course, less than a 1/3rd of that in preventive maintenance would have been better, but SOMEONE couldn't get over her fears of the dentist like a scared idiot.

I think it's worth the money to whiten your teeth. It really does make you look healthier and younger. I have a pack of Crest Whitestrips waiting for me once my bathroom remodel is finished. I plan to celebrate by whitening. (How dorky is that?)

Clean ClutterFree Simple said...

I'm on the fence about whitening. I watched an episode of Grey's Anatomy online recently and man, those mega-white teeth almost blinded me! I do think it's a good idea to try to reduce and remove some staining, and of course, preventive care is crucial. Veneers are not a one-time thing, they require upkeep and will need replacement in the future, something to budget for since they're cosmetic and thus not covered by insurance.

Anonymous said...

Three years ago i finally decided to get porcelain veneers on 5 front teeth to fix some spacing issues. I had been self-conscious about my smile for many years. It was VERY expensive, and all out of pocket ($1,000 per tooth).

I don't regret doing it. Actually, what it also achieved is that my teeeth look clean and white. I'm in my 40s, and teeth tend to get dingy and yellowish as you age. My veneers keep me looking younger!

I did teeth whitening at the dentist a few times but overdoing that, which is easy to do, can actually strip the enamel from your teeth, which is irreversible.

pkzcass said...

My parents couldn't afford braces for me when I was young, so I got them when I was 28 and my job paid half. I was so self conscious about my teeth that I didn't smile for my wedding pictures! So I'm glad I had good dental insurance at that company, and that I got the braces. I did not wear my retainer like I should have, and my teeth shifted back a little. So insted of doing the braces/ retainer thing again (just gave me too many headaches), I had my front teeth bonded to close up the gap. This didn't cost a whole lot (about $300) and I would definitely get it done again. Your teeth can add so much to your self esteem and your overall appearance. I agree...they are one thing NOT to sacrifice on.