When was the last time you went to the dentist? If you have to think longer than 15 seconds, it’s been too long.
Dental procedures can be expensive, especially if your dentist has detected quite a bit of work that needs to be done. Treatment plans can be as simple as a routine cleaning, or as complicated as orthodontia, root canals, crowns and periodontal root planing (wow, that last one even sounds like it costs a lot).
However, maintaining proper dental hygiene is paramount to avoid costly dental bills down the road. If you haven’t been to the dentist in a while, then don’t put it off any longer.
According to Money Crashers, your teeth are important, not only so you can eat, but also because poor gum health can be indicative of more serious health issues—so it’s imperative that you keep them in good working order. It’s inevitable: You’re enjoying a meal, perhaps gnawing on a barbecued spare rib, and you chip a tooth. Or you wake up in the middle of the night in agony thanks to a cavity that’s made its presence known. If you’ve had fillings, caps, or extractions, you know that the costs are sky-high for these dental procedures. But if you’ve always had good, healthy teeth and gums, unexpected dental work could really put a dent in your budget.
One dental bill you shouldn’t avoid? A thorough teeth cleaning and checkup is de rigueur. Many dental insurance plans will cover two cleanings per year. At each appointment, the dental hygienist will remove plaque buildup and stubborn residue from your teeth, and the dentist will carefully check your teeth and gums for signs of disease. If the dentist does find an issue that requires filling a cavity or performing an extraction or root canal, it’s wise to go ahead with those procedures. Sure, it will cost money now, but it will be worth it to save your teeth and avoid pain and suffering in the future.
Many employers either do not provide dental insurance or they are scaling back their offerings, leaving employees to pay for dental care on their own, according to BankRate.com. As a result, many consumers are going without. A poll by Harris Interactive and HealthDay found that 30 percent of U.S. adults with health insurance do not visit a dentist because of the prohibitive costs. Of those who were uninsured, more than half required dental care, but costs kept them away.
With dental insurance, consumers typically pay a monthly premium and a deductible before insurance kicks in, but even after the deductible, policies vary widely on co-pay requirements. Some policies have no co-pay while others require the consumer to pay a substantial portion," says Lou Geremia, president of InsureMe.com. Dental insurance plans also often come with a coverage cap, meaning consumers are only insured for about $1,200 to $1,500 per year. Once the dental patient exceeds that amount, he or she pays out of pocket. Consumers who go the insurance route also get the benefit of oversight from their state department of insurance, which could prove helpful if they have insurance complaints.
Individual dental insurance is similar to individual health insurance in that plan buyers can choose from managed-care options—a dental health maintenance organization (DHMO) or dental preferred provider organization (DPPO)—or dental indemnity insurance, also known as traditional fee-for-service insurance. Each option has its strengths and drawbacks, according to HealthInsurance.org.
If given the three options, plan buyers generally make a choice based on such factors as access to particular providers, price of their premiums and deductibles, types of services covered and annual maximums paid. With fee-for-service, you have much wider latitude on the amount of dental services you consume. Think of the managed care option like a personal trainer, who makes those decisions for you. They may save you from some unnecessary x-rays, but you may have longer waits between checkups or reduced access to other services.
With discount dental plans, consumers typically pay an enrollment fee and an annual fee of about $80 to $120 per year and get access to discounted services from member providers. Discounts can range anywhere from 10 percent to 60 percent, says Buddy Johnson, chief executive officer of DentalPlans.com, a discount dental plan provider. Because there are no deductibles or caps to worry about, consumers aren't limited by the number of services they receive in a given year, and there's also no paperwork to fill out for reimbursements. For those seeking cosmetic services, discount dental plans may be the way to go since they often cover cosmetic dentistry, while insurance plans typically don't.
When it comes to selecting an insurance plan or a discount dental plan, some of the same rules apply, per the report from Bankrate.com. Because the differences between plans are so great, it is important for the consumer to completely research and understand what services are covered before signing anything. It is also important to verify that any preferred dentist is part of the plan selected. And there are some very good inexpensive dental discount plans in the market including Aetna and Careington.
Dental discount plans are conspicuously different from dental insurance, according to Chuck Smith-Dewey, Founder of HealthInsurance.org. In fact, the first thing buyers need to be aware of is that dental discount plans are not dental insurance. These plans are more like buying a club membership with specified discounts for each procedure you may need. You always pay the dentist when service is performed; but with your card, you receive a designated discount off the dentist’s rack rates, depending on the plan chosen and services rendered.
Here are some other tips with your dental coverage, according to HealthInsurance.org:
- If you already have a dentist you like, make sure he or she accepts whatever plan you are considering.
- If you don’t have a dentist, be a saavy consumer and ask prospective dental offices to provide a summary of fees for exams, bitewing x-rays, cleanings and other procedures you may need.
- Also, ask about the discount they offer to discount plan holders, as discounts can make prices for the same service vary greatly from dentist to dentist.
- As always, do your homework on the Web. It’s an obvious source of plan information and an online dental quote is a great way to predict costs and choose a plan accordingly. You can find and compare multiple dental insurance plans from top-quality carriers at dentalinsurance.org.
- If you do talk to an agent, be sure to ask plenty of questions to ensure that you get the best dental plan for your needs and budget.
Your smile is incredibly important. Make sure you take good care of it with proper dental hygiene and regular visits to your dentist regardless of the plan you have. Remember, your teeth and gums can keep you smiling for a very long time. And when you can save money in the process, you’ll have something to smile about.