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Tom Elliott/MEDILL

Dr. Mary Haynes numbs patient Lyle Logan before extracting some baby teeth.

As unemployment rises, Chicago dentists see fewer patients

by Tom Elliott
Feb 25, 2009


Tom Elliott/MEDILL

Dental Assistant Andrea Gutierrez cleans patient Sophie Baggs’ teeth as part of cavity prevention.

Tooth Fairy Fights Inflation

The Chicago Dental Society survey of 300 member dentists found that more than half thought the tooth fairy should pay $1 for a child’s tooth, which is the same price the majority said in the 2003 survey. However, 16 percent said the fairy should earn $2 per tooth, and 17 percent said the fairy’s invaluable services should get the tooth fairy $5 per tooth. While that might seem much, here are some things to consider:

To keep up with inflation, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said the tooth fairy should earn $1.15 per tooth for every dollar per tooth earned in 2003.

Currently, four human wisdom teeth are on sale on eBay for the going rate of about $10, or $2.50 per tooth.

Children lose 20 teeth between the ages of 4 and 13, meaning the tooth fairy will spend $20 per child if the fairy listens to the dentists’ suggestions, or $23 when adjusted for inflation.

Chicago dentists are noticing more patients pass on dental care, according to a survey by the Chicago Dental Society of its members.

More than 50 percent of the 300 dentists who took the online survey said their patients are putting off necessary dental work. The survey also found that 60 percent of dentists report a drop in elective procedures and 40 percent have noticed fewer preventative visits.

“Things have slowed down a bit,” said Dr. Alice Boghosian, a Niles-based dentist. She has also noticed “a bit of hesitation” among the patients who do come in.

“One thing I’m hearing now, that I never heard before, is, ‘Does it really need to be done?’” she said. She added that patients are more often questioning her judgment to put off dental work.

Even in good times, a visit to the dentist rarely tops American’s to-do lists. Slightly more than half of all Americans made the recommended two visits to the dentist in the past 12 months, according to an October survey from the American Dental Association. One in four Americans didn’t visit a dentist at all, the survey found.

Dr. Kim Bolden, a dentist who works at Cook County Hospital and in her own practice in the Loop, said unemployment – and the accompanying loss of dental insurance – is part of the problem because many patients think of dental health as “insurance dependent.”

“We need to break that mindset,” she said, adding that she has always offered a discount to patients without insurance.

Not all dentists are feeling the pinch, however. River North-based pediatric dentist Dr. Mary Hayes said she hasn’t seen a drop in business. “I do pediatrics,” she explained. “Relative to general dentists, we’re holding our own.”

“People will take care of their kids before themselves,” she said, adding that she is just as busy as ever.

Hayes said she too has noticed the impact of the recession through her customer’s questions. “They want more information to know they’re getting a better value,” she said.

The Chicago Dental Society has a membership of just over 4,000 dentists, dental hygienists, and orthodontists in Cook, DuPage, and Lake counties. The society’s annual midwinter meeting begins Thursday and runs through March 1, and it’s expected to draw more than 30,000 dental professionals.