It is estimated that approximately 114 million Americans have no dental insurance coverage, and of that number, 67.7 million are under the age of 65. While children from lower income families might have access to dental benefits through Medicaid and Affordable Healthcare Act reforms, adults are likely to avoid the dentist if they can’t afford treatment. If dental decay is allowed to progress, what could have been a simple cavity can turn into a serious infection, creating the need for more expensive repairs or even extractions.
Fortunately, by making a few small changes, you can ward off the pain, frustration, and expenses associated with trips to the dentist. Here are three tips to save money on dental care:
Focus On Preventive Care
According to the American Dental Care Association®, the cost of quality care averages just under $700 per year. To put this number into perspective, most American families can find affordable, comprehensive dental coverage for as little as $58 a month—less than some families spend on cable television. One of the key factors in keeping dental insurance costs low is focusing heavily on preventive care, which includes regular dental exams and a proactive approach to eradicating dental decay.
Before you give up on accessing dental care, contact your insurance provider to see what preventive care options you have available to you. Many dental insurance companies offer coverage for preventive care, because they realize that paying for a few cavities now could prevent more complex and expensive repairs in the future. As you talk with your insurance company, make sure that you understand which codes are associated with different preventive care procedures, and compare them with the codes billed at your dental office. For example, while your insurance may cover amalgam (silver) fillings, they may not provide coverage for newer tooth-colored fillings.
If you do not have dental insurance, contact your dental office to ask if they have any programs that focus on preventive care. Some dental offices offer discounts to patients seeking preventive care as a way to give back to the community. Other dental offices have free events where patients can find complimentary care for common dental problems. By doing your research and understanding the resources available to you, you can drive down your overall dental care costs.
Evaluate Your Current Dental Insurance Plan
Another crucial way to save money on dental care expenses is to carefully evaluate the costs of your dental insurance premiums. Because every person has a different oral hygiene routine and genetic factors, the insurance plan that is right for your friend or neighbor might not work well for your needs.
Ask yourself how frequently you go to the dentist, how often you have problems, and how much coverage you are paying for. For example, if you rarely go to the dentist and have very few problems when you do visit, paying for 100% coverage with high premiums doesn’t make very much sense. However, if you need your dentist frequently and you tend to have oral health issues, paying a steep premium might save you money on copays at the office.
Take the time to understand your coverage limits, annual maximum out-of-pocket limits, and your in-network provider coverage. Talk with your favorite dental office to see whether or not they accept your insurance, and if there are any exclusions. Try to keep an emergency fund set aside for dental health emergencies, so that you are prepared with cash in hand the next time you experience a dental issue.
Visit Dental Colleges
If you don’t have dental insurance but you need dental help, consider visiting a local dental school. Many dental schools have programs that offer discounted dental services performed by student dentists. Although it might seem intimidating to trust your teeth to someone who is new to the profession, most schools provide services that are closely monitored by dental school teachers. Patients can save a lot of money by working with a dental student. In fact, services can be discounted by as much as 80%, making professional dental care much more affordable.
Perfect Your Oral Hygiene Routine
Prevention is crucial to maintaining your overall oral health. Here are just a few tips for perfecting your oral hygiene routine and keeping your mouth healthy:
Brush twice a day for two minutes. Time yourself. Some power toothbrushes have timers built-in so that you don’t stop prematurely. After you have tackled all of your teeth, brush your tongue and the roof of your mouth to eliminate extra bacteria.
Floss daily. If you are not a fan of traditional dental floss, try flossing picks or interdental cleaners. These modern cleaning devices are built to make flossing less invasive and quicker, making proper oral hygiene easier for children or people with mobility issues.
Drink plenty of water. Experts agree that staying hydrated is crucial for maintaining good oral health. Drink 8-10 8-ounce glasses of water to rinse away food particles and bacteria.
Last but not least, don’t forget to visit with your dentist twice a year for regular checkups. No matter what your budget is, focusing on preventive care and honing your oral hygiene routine can make a powerful difference—both for your smile and for your pocketbook.