Dental care is important throughout life and has a significant impact on your overall health. Regular preventive visits help catch issues like tooth decay and gum disease early, when they are typically less costly and easier to treat.
Dental insurance can help reduce the cost of preventive visits and procedures. But, many people don’t have access to affordable dental care.
Dental insurance is a great way to keep costs down and can be obtained through a company or purchased individually. Generally, premiums are paid monthly, quarterly or annually to the dental insurance company. The coverage amount varies depending on the plan type but most plans offer 100 percent coverage for preventative services, around 80 percent coverage for basic procedures and 50 percent coverage for major procedures after a deductible is met. Most plans also have an annual maximum, or a cap on how much they will pay out of pocket per year.
Different types of dental insurance include Preferred Provider Organizations (PPO), Dental Health Maintenance Organizations (DHMO) and fee-for-service plans. PPOs typically have higher premiums but also cover a larger range of services. DHMOs are more restrictive in that they only reimburse care provided by dentists who are part of the network.
Fee-for-service plans don’t have networks but rather provide discounts on treatments. This can result in lower out-of-pocket costs but the coverage isn’t as comprehensive as a traditional insurance policy. Most plans have waiting periods before covering non-preventive procedures. Regardless of which type of plan you have, it’s important to understand all your costs and benefits before receiving treatment. Annual maximums, deductibles and coinsurance percentages can add up quickly. Preventive procedures are often covered in full to encourage people to receive necessary care and avoid more costly treatments down the road.
Many people don’t have dental insurance, but a number of resources are available to help with the cost. The first step is to research prices. Some online sites, like FAIR Health, have published lists of estimated costs for procedures based on the area you live in. This can give you a good idea of the prices to expect, which can then help you budget.
Another option is to ask for a cash discount. Although this is a bit of a gamble, you may save a significant amount. Just remember, most dentists will not negotiate. It’s also a good idea to look for discounts on services such as whitening and invisible aligners. Many “daily deals” websites offer such discounts.
There are also some nonprofit organizations that can provide services at a discounted rate for low-income patients. Check with your local United Way or community health department to find out if such programs are available in your area.
Finally, it’s a good idea to start what I call a margarita fund, which is simply putting aside $100-$150 per month. This can be used to cover unexpected expenses and reduce the stress associated with not having insurance or knowing you may incur a large bill. It can even make you visit the dentist more frequently because you have the peace of mind that you will be able to get your care in the near future.
If you don’t have dental insurance or your insurance does not cover the cost of your needed procedures, United Way can help. They offer free and low-cost dental care at various locations throughout the country. They also have mobile clinics that come to you, which can be a huge benefit for those who don’t have transportation or live far from the nearest dental office. You can contact your local community health department or United Way to find out more about the programs that are available in your area.
dental cost can vary depending on the type of work you need. For example, a routine teeth cleaning typically costs between $90 and $120, while a crown or bridge can cost over $500. Periodontitis, or gum disease, can be a costly condition that requires treatment and surgery, which will add to your bill.
A cosmetic dentistry grant program can be an excellent option for those who cannot afford the full price of a procedure, such as a dental filling or tooth extraction. This program offers partial grants to people who meet certain criteria, including having dental insurance.
You can also contact your state or county health department for more information about dental assistance programs. Some of these programs are income-based, while others may require a referral from your dentist. In addition, there are national organizations that can help you with your dental expenses, such as the Dental Lifeline Network and the Foundation for Oral Health America.
If you can’t afford to pay for dental work out-of-pocket or meet your insurance deductible, financing is an option. Medical loans are available through banks, credit unions and private lenders such as OneMain. Typically, they require a good credit score, reliable income and a debt-to-income ratio that’s no higher than 40%. Once approved, you receive a lump sum that you can use to pay for your dental work. Then, you make fixed monthly payments until the loan is paid off. NerdWallet recommends you start by prequalifying for personal loans with several lenders to find the best rate and loan terms.
Many dental offices offer in-house financing solutions like payment plans that allow you to break up the cost of a procedure into manageable monthly payments. However, this isn’t a long-term solution and the interest rates tend to be high.
Another option is to use a flexible spending account (FSA) at your workplace. This is a type of employer-sponsored savings account that lets you set aside pretax dollars to cover health care costs. The money you withdraw from an FSA can be used to pay for dental procedures, but you must spend it before the year ends or the funds will be lost. If your credit isn’t great, consider waiting to apply for financing and working on improving it while you save up.