The economic downturn is literally costing some people their smile as they attempt to make ends meet by putting off fillings, crowns and other expensive treatments.
At his Albany dental practice, Dr. William “Bill” Primomo had planned to start working today on a crown for one of his patients, but that patient recently canceled his appointment.
Such cancellations are becoming increasingly common for Primomo and other dentists as New Yorkers cope with gasoline nearing $3.50 per gallon, higher grocery bills and a national economy that appears to be heading toward a recession.
“We have a higher level [of postponed dental work] than we did six months ago,” said Primomo.
That trend is taking place throughout the state. New York State Dental Association spokeswoman Sandra DiNoto said “patients are keeping their appointments but putting off nonessential treatments or putting off expensive work if it can wait.” The Albany trade organization represents 14,000 practicing dentists — 76 percent of the state’s total.
Glenville dentist Dr. Roy Oyangen keeps hearing the same question from patients: “How long can I wait?”
In some cases, Oyangen tells patients they can hold off on repair work for three months to a year. But that wait-and-see mentality is threatening to hurt his bottom line along with his patients’ choppers. Oyangen’s revenues for the year are down 5 percent from the same period of 2007.
The problem is more pronounced for Dr. Kathy Knox, a Cobleskill dentist. Knox said her revenues for the year are down by almost a third, and patients are even delaying routine cleanings. “We’re kinda slow here,” she said.
Dr. Dennis Moren works in the same office as Knox. He said the economic downturn has affected him less because he has an older clientele, owing partly to the fact he has worked in Cobleskill for 19 years, compared to Knox’s four years. While Moren’s patients are maintaining their regular appointments, that might change if the economy fails to recover quickly, he said.
“Like any other business, you have a slowdown. At some time, it’s going to affect the bottom line,” said Dr. Michael Breault, a Schenectady periodontist and the president-elect of NYSDA.
As a periodontist who primarily treats gum diseases, Breault tends to see patients when their dental issues are at their worst. And since January, he says he has been seeing the worst a little more often. Breault said infection-prone periodontal pockets and periodontal bone loss are appearing in his office more frequently.
“If you have periodontal pockets and you have an abscess, then you’ve waited a little too long,” said Breault.
Latham dentist Dr. Elizabeth Barra said people riddled with dental problems can spread out repair work over time if they cannot swallow the cost of getting it done all at once.
At Barra’s practice, she offers a fluoride vanish treatment or a prescription of special fluoride toothpaste, which temporarily prevents cavities from worsening, Those services are provided for free to Barra’s patients who plan to get cavities filled but need time to save money for the procedure.
“Their teeth are very important, and they just need to shop around,” said Barra.