When is dentistry not medicine? When insurance is involved

David Tuller removes his partial dentures. During a period of intense dental care, he often went out with missing front teeth.

Story highlights

  • Even under a decent plan, you'll have to dig deep in your pocket for crowns, bridges and implants
  • The mouth isn't covered by insurance the same way as the rest of the body

I'm 61 years old, a San Francisco homeowner with an academic position at the University of California-Berkeley, which provides me with comprehensive health insurance. Yet, to afford the more than $50,000 in out-of-pocket expenses required for the restorative dental work I've needed in the past 20 years, I've had to rely on handouts -- from my mom.

This was how I learned all about the Great Divide between medicine and dentistry -- especially in how treatment is paid for, or mostly not paid for, by insurers. Many Americans with serious dental illness find out the same way: sticker shock.
David Tuller says that despite decent dental coverage, he has needed financial help to pay for restorative work on his teeth.