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3 Business Lessons from a Cracked Tooth

Dental Implant XRayYou can learn business lessons anywhere if you look hard enough. A recent incident involving a cracked molar offers great lessons on planning, investing, and making long-term decisions.

After a couple of heart attacks, I’ve learned to eat a lot healthier. Finding snacks can be challenging though once you remove Doritos and Cheetos from the equation. A good substitute for me is now Harvest Snaps which are baked lentil pods. I highly recommend the tomato basil version.

Anyway, I was lentil snapping away the other day on some of the onion thyme ones. I bit down on a snap with my back left molar and heard a snap. Then the pain train came roaring through the station. The tooth had cracked all the way to the root. Of course this happens on a Friday at 7PM and the dentist doesn’t open until Monday morning. So I suffered through the weekend wondering what I’d be in for.

On Monday morning, Dr. Kubic saw me and put in a temporary filling to hold the tooth together. He told me it had cracked all the way down to the root. My options were having an extensive root canal, getting a crown, or getting a dental implant. With the root canal, he said it would be pretty invasive and he wasn’t optimistic about it holding up over the long term. With a crown, it would be more permanent but given it’s a molar with heavy grinding activity, it would need to be re-crowned down the road. The dental implant was the most permanent solution but also the most expensive, would take the longest, and was the most invasive. He referred me to Dr. Hinkle who had done an implant for me previously. By the way – if you live in Columbus, Ohio and need a dentist or oral surgeon, I highly recommend these guys.

Anyway… I went to see Dr. Hinkle and I walked him through my options, spouted off the pros and cons, and told him I had already made my decision. He looked at me pretty surprised and said “Seems like you’re all over this diagnosis and that all makes sense. Thanks for saving me the time of having to explain everything. And by the way – I agree with your recommendation.”

For me, the choice was clear.

I chose the implant. Yes it was going to cost me a bunch more money than the root canal or crown (ow), require a tooth extraction (Ow), the placement of a titanium post in my jawbone 12 weeks later (OW), and the addition of the replacement molar on that post 6-10 weeks after that (ow). Note all “ow’s” are capitalized according to their pain level.

My choice of the “worst” option was purely a business decision. That decision contains several great business lessons you can apply to investments you’re thinking about making.

Lesson 1: Consider the total cost of ownership

While the root canal was the cheapest and fastest option, that’s only in the near term. When it fails in the future, I’ll be in pain again, back in the dentist’s chair, and doing another root canal, crown, or implant. It would save me time in the short term and that time has a value to it from an opportunity cost standpoint. But longer term, I would spend more total time on this treatment option than on I would on a more permanent solution. From a financial perspective, that root canal is a bad investment because it would require future investment to fix its shortcomings and an investment of more total time than the other options.

The crown was a more expensive option and it would take a little longer than the root canal from a treatment perspective.  So short term, it costs more both in terms of time and money. Longer term, the solution would last longer and not need replacement for a while. When it did need replacement, it would be another crown or implant. Relative to the root canal, there’s a longer term time and money savings with this option.

The implant cost the most up front both in time and in dollars. Long term, however, it’s a permanent solution. Only something catastrophic would require it to be replaced. This makes it a “one and done” type of investment. From a total cost perspective, it’s actually the cheapest option.

Looking at investments in terms of total cost of ownership will lead to better decisions and help you avoid making bad choices based solely on near-term metrics.

Lesson 2: Time is money

As mentioned in Lesson 1, there’s value to your time. Don’t forget to factor that into your decision making processes. While the root canal would only cost me 2 hours near-term, I would still have to invest more hours down the road when it fails (which it will). I’ll spend more total time away from work to get things fixed a second and third time around.

Sure, the implant costs me a bunch of time near term between the procedures themselves as well as more extensive recovery time. That said, once I’m done with that time investment, I’m done.

Look at projects or investments you’re considering. Think about how much time you’ll spend in the future repairing sub-optimal solutions. Consider how much that downtime will cost your business. Is it really worth saving a few bucks now only to risk a lot more money and opportunity cost later?

Lesson 3: Think about the complete financial picture

The implant costs a lot of money. More than the root canal or crown. Normally the only thing people consider is the cost of each individual project but they don’t appreciate the secondary financial impacts. The big one I’m talking about here is taxes. This year I’m in a bit of an abnormal situation for me where I’ll be able to claim my medical expenses as a tax deduction mostly because my health insurance plan changed a lot this year and I had a much higher deductible as well as some out-of-network costs. Next year I may or may not be in that situation again.

That tax situation creates a financial opportunity. If I take this big implant expense this year, it will be deductible on my taxes. That reduces the actual cost of the procedure in terms of the total cash outlay. If I wait until next year, I might not get that deduction especially with possible tax code changes.

Look at your projects and investments. Do you understand the tax implications for them? How about the interest costs of making your investment? Do you have the complete economic picture of your project’s impact? If not, it’s a worthwhile analysis.

See? Thinking about a cracked tooth as a business project helps teach some valuable lessons on how to evaluate your projects. You’ve now learned from my pain. I hope it helps you make better decisions in the future.

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

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2 Responses to “3 Business Lessons from a Cracked Tooth”

  1. Ulick Stafford says:

    I recently had to make a similar decision when a number 6 tooth on upper jaw cracked in two and could not be saved. I chose another option that was also available to you. A fourth option that is less costly in money and time (considerably) and much less invasive.

    But you did not mention it not even to dismiss it. My dentist suggested it early on.

    Extraction with no replacement.

    OK it leaves a gap. But so far back in the mouth this is not normally visible. It can be a little awkward with chewing but with all my other molars available not too much of a disadvantage.

    Your analysis was interesting as far as it goes. However, your failure to even mention the least costly and least invasive option is a flaw.

    For me implants were the only other solution. The tooth was cracked in two. If it had been savable there were three roots making a root canal impractical and extremely difficult. Again because one root was completely cracked from the other two there was nothing sturdy to attach a crown to.

    So my choice was the expensive option of drilling a hole in my jaw close to a nerve to insert a metal post to attach a tooth to. Or a simple cheap extraction of a tooth that I could live without.

    How badly do you really need the tooth? What is the opportunity cost of the time and money you are spending on the implant?

    Perhaps for a business the option is to think outside the box and not to automatically replace something damaged. Could the money be spent on something more useful?

    • Mike Figliuolo says:

      Good point on me failing to mention that option. I should have. Given it was one of my primary molars that I do need, non-replacement was actually not an option from a clinical standpoint therefore it was omitted from my analysis however I should have mentioned it for completeness. Thanks for adding the thoughts though – it does raise the point of being sure you do your complete analysis!

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