You People and Your Problems: ‘Should I Pay My Dentist or Sallie Mae?’

You People and Your Problems: 'Should I Pay My Dentist or Sallie Mae?'

Here at Happy Nice Time People, we’re not afraid to be servicey. Email with your advice questions on any topic. Now, on to a question from a gal who can afford her dental bill, her cable bill, or her student loan bill — but not all three. We’ve all been there, right? Sort of? Maybe? Well, she’s there right now, so let’s be nice to her and help her out. This is Happy Nice Time People, after all.

Dear Sara:

I’m a freelance writer, so I make like zero dollars and two cents per month. This month has been particularly hard. My cable bill is due next week, as is my student loan bill. I know cable doesn’t really matter, but I figure Sallie Mae does, right? I have a dental appointment scheduled for next week, too, and I haven’t been to the dentist in six years. But I know the appointment will be expensive. Which expense should I prioritize?

Yours in brokeness,

Dear Linda:

Repeat after me: “My health comes first.”

Did you do it? I bet you didn’t. I’ll give you another shot.

“My health comes first.”

Damn, you still won’t say it, will you? Fine, I’ll shout at you: YOUR HEALTH COMES FIRST! YOUR HEALTH COMES FIRST! YOUR HEALTH COMES FIRST! Nothing is possible if you are dead. We do not want you to be dead. We want you to be alive, until God or Darwin or whoever does their/its thing and you shuffle off this mortal coil at the ripe old age of eleventy-five. Therefore, YOUR HEALTH COMES FIRST!

Look, we all know cable is a stupid expense that won’t even exist in five years; get somebody’s parents’ HBO Go password or enjoy the pleasures of Hulu/Netflix/whatever.

And as for that student loan debt, well, it’s always up for negotiation. Call up your student loan company and tell them that you’ve got to go to the dentist and you can’t pay your bill in full this month, but you’d like to pay something. Can they work with you so that you can do this very important thing for your health? (The answer is always yes, they can work with you, but it might take you being extra-sweet and slightly pitiful in order to get this to happen.)

Now comes the best part: your dentist can work with you too! He can. Or she can. Is your dentist a precious unicorn from Heaven? It can work with you, too. A goat dentist can work with you, if indeed you have a goat dentist. Call in advance and ask them if they are willing to work with you on a sliding scale basis. You really want to come in; you really want to be a loyal client; you swear up and down you will get your cleaning every six months and recommend the dentist to all your friends and all that important stuff. But you’re in a tight spot financially and, again, want to know if they can work with you. Unless they are terrible, they will help you figure something out. Be prepared to present paystubs or other evidence of income if they request it.

The most important thing to remember is this: be kind and do not whine. Understand that the person on the other end of the phone call has a lot to do, so make it as simple and pleasant an experience as possible for him or her. He or she does not owe you anything other than basic decency and respect, but if you want to get something out of him/her, you’ve got to be more than just decent and respectful. Ask ’em how their day is going. And do not whine that you totally forgot to pay your credit card bill for half your twenties so now you’re totally in debt and this dentist owes it to you to just charge you like $5 or whatever because freedom. No. The dentist is a service provider who deserves to be adequately compensated for services rendered. But everything — everything – is negotiable.

I will leave you with this thought: your dental health has the potential to affect every other system in your body. Do not fuck around with teeth. Go to your dentist every six months like clockwork in order to avoid pain and higher costs down the line. I’ve had root canals because I didn’t go to the dentist often enough. That’s gross, but it’s true. So go to the damn dentist. Everything else will work out in due time.

Yours in teeth,

Sara B.

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  • Jason M

    1. Some top notch advice from the author there, vis-a-vis yer chompers, but I’d also add that most universities with a dental program have free or low-cost services to offer. 2. So we all agree the teethies come first. But does that mean that your lack of cable-paying moolah will leave you high and dry come Game of Throne watching time? NO IT DOES NOT! As a matter of fact, you can use the very device you’re reading this with to steal any show or movie off the internets, and watch it on your cableless tv, at your leisure! Hook up the ol’ laptop to the boob-tube and rot your mind with the rest of us!3. Student loans? I don’t know nuthin bout no student loans. I got my edumacation from watching tv (see #2).

    • Mojopo

      Yeah, but as I recall from my poor days, getting an appointment with a dentist-in-training was next to impossible. Is the writer sure her mouth is a mess? Unless there is visible rot and discoloration, it might not be as expensive as she thinks. A while ago, my entire mouth was killing me, and I had not seen a dentist in years. I had myself believing that I would need dental implants. When I finally made the appointment and they took x-rays, I didn’t even have one cavity. The pain was from grinding my teeth in my sleep. I hope the writer ends up as lucky, because she sounds cool. Don’t stress about what you don’t know yet, and take care of your gob FIRST. Without it you will not smile. That means not laughing at jokes, and then people will think you’re anti-social. If you’re isolated, you will get depressed and wouldn’t that suck? Don’t get bummed, don’t stop smiling, but DO the dentist thing. They will work with you if you are candid about your finances.

      • glasspusher

        Back when I was in grad school, I walked across the street to the dental school and got fixed up by a dental student- great guy, still remember his name. Asked him all kinds of questions of what he was doing inside my numbed up mouth. Good times.

      • Yep.

        I don’t know about how hard it is to get into the student dentist’s schedule, but I’ve heard from my own middle-aged/not-student dentist that they’re usually a great deal and very up on the latest techniques and Medical Talkin Guy… stuff. He says it’s because the professor hovers over them and makes sure everything is done by the book. I was going to get my root canals at the most local dentist college, but the wife talked me out of it to go to her root canal guy.

  • Bunnicula

    Linda, after your dentist appointment, see if you can consolidate your student loans away from Sallie Mae and into the Direct Student Loan program. Those greedy Uncle Scrooges at SLMA will find amazing ways to separate you from your hard-earned money. If you have any Stafford or Ford federal student loans, they’re eligible for consolidation, which would allow you to go on Income Contingent Repayment and pay what you can afford. If you have SLMA private loans that aren’t eligible for consolidation, you can still ask them to take your income into account and adjust your payment amount. Good luck!Also, in addition to keeping up with your dental hygiene and checkups, DO NOT NEGLECT TO WEAR SUNSCREEN. Even if you’re naturally able to tan, even when it’s cloudy/cold outside, you really really need it. Saves thousands on wrinkle creams later on, and dermatologists / oncologists even later.

  • glasspusher

    My partner comes first? Most times…

  • Best. Advice. Ever.(Spoken around the saliva hissing in my missing molar holes)

  • Independently Yours

    If your healthcare is not affordable at this time, it’s possible that it could be if you look into the exchange for your state. For the sake of your health, it’s worth checking out.