These days everyone is looking to manage health care costs. According to a recent New York Times article, more than 100 million Americans do not have dental insurance. Dental plans are not typically available to individuals because the only people who would purchase such plans would have expenses beyond the cost of the premium. All employer-based plans have limits because they are intended to help defray only a portion of your dental costs. These plans are not really insurance in that they are generous with twice-yearly checkups, usually only cover a fraction of higher cost procedures, and often provide no coverage for common dental procedures like implants. Cost is one of the reasons why 35 percent of Americans have not visited a dentist in the last 12 months according to a March 2009 Gallup poll.
So how can people reduce their dental expenses? Prevention is the most effective means. A small cavity detected on a routine check-up can cost $100 to $200 to treat, but allowed to further weaken a tooth; and a crown will cost around $1000. Wait until it hurts when a root canal will be required, in addition to the crown, and it will add roughly another $1000 in dental repair costs. Just like your car, routine maintenance is less expensive in the long run than driving until the car breaks down. An even better strategy is to avoid the need for dental repairs with daily flossing to keep the gums and supporting bones healthy. Additionally, products like Cari-Free can prevent new cavities. Of course consistent cleanings at the dentist can prevent gum disease–the leading cause of tooth loss.
Dental treatment can often be done in phases. Sometimes this may mean doing temporary treatment now and later doing a more definitive treatment when finances permit. There may be a downside, however, in esthetics (appearance), risk of something breaking, or additional costs. Most dentists are willing to spread the work over time if it is appropriate. Discuss the pros and cons with your dentist before phasing extensive treatment.
Next month I will write more about controlling dental costs for those people without dental insurance benefits.