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disability insurance for dental hygienists is very important

Disability insurance: Why dental professionals need it and how to choose the best policy

June 24, 2024
Even if you're young, disability insurance is one of the best investments you'll ever make. This dental hygienist learned this lesson the hard way.

In early 2020, I was hired for a full-time position at a small dental practice and was excited about what my new job had to offer. It was a modern office with new equipment, sufficient time for each patient and procedure, an existing periodontal protocol, an easygoing dentist, a friendly team that had been together for years, and most importantly, full benefits.

I had all the benefits I thought I needed—health insurance, free dental care, 401(k) employer contribution, vacation and holiday pay, paid continuing education, and uniforms. Little did I know that I was missing the one benefit I would need the most.

Fast forward to 2023 when I became unable to work as a dental hygienist due to a torn ligament in my right wrist. I was forced to stay home for about six months without consistent pay, and still needed to pay for my living expenses plus my newly acquired medical bills. The benefit that I strongly wished I had was disability insurance.

Why you need disability insurance

According to the Social Security Administration, one in four 20-year-old workers will become disabled for at least one year before reaching retirement age,1 and a large majority of disabilities are from illnesses and musculoskeletal issues rather than from accidents.2 Apart from the multitude of musculoskeletal disorders you’re likely to develop as a dental professional, you could become injured outside of work in any number of ways. 

I met a former dentist who had gone into consulting after falling from his roof and breaking his arm in several places. There are also common illnesses, such as cancer, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes. Disability insurance helps pay your bills if you cant work due to an illness or injury.

Disability insurance plan types

There are three types of disability insurance: short-term, long-term, and accident-only. Short-term disability policies typically provide coverage for three, six, or 12 months after a short waiting period. Individual plans can be expensive. Long-term disability insurance has a typical waiting period of 90 days, after which benefits are paid for anywhere from two years to retirement. The accident-only insurance pays benefits if there’s a disability due to an accident, and it’s the most affordable of the three. The most important type dental professionals should consider is long-term disability.

How your rate is determined

The following factors affect the rate of your insurance:

Age: The older you are, the more expensive it is. That’s why it’s a good idea to get a noncancelable rider. (More on this below.)

Gender: Disability insurance can cost more for women or for men depending on their age. In general, men tend to pay more as they age.

Health: Preexisting conditions are not covered, and any serious health conditions, family history of chronic disease, or smoking may cause the policy to be more expensive or have exclusions.

Occupation: Disability insurance carriers classify occupations from 1 to 6. An occupation with a class 6 has the lowest occupational disability risk, and class 1 has the highest. Higher disability risk means higher premiums. Dental hygienists are usually classified as 2 or 3. Keep in mind that different carriers classify differently, so explore your options.                                                                                                                       

Income: The higher your income, the higher your premium. But your benefits are also higher. 

Hobbies: Dangerous hobbies, such as skydiving, will increase your premium. 

Location: Cost of disability insurance varies by state.                                          

Insurance features: Type of insurance, benefit amount, benefit period, waiting period, and additional riders will affect cost.

Disability insurance basics

Benefit amount: Disability insurance will pay you 40%–80% of your salary each month should you become disabled.

Benefit period: The length of time youre eligible to receive disability insurance income is called a benefit period. This can be two, five, or 10 years, or to age 65 or 67.

Elimination period: Disability insurance begins paying benefits after a waiting period, which is generally 30, 60, 90, or 180 days from the date of the accident or illness.

Cost: Disability insurance generally costs 1%–3% of your income, which comes to $73 to $219 a month based on the average annual salary of dental hygienists.3

Key features to look for in disability insurance

Own occupation: The “own occupation” definition means that the insurer will pay you if you’re unable to work as a dental hygienist due to illness or injury. This may mean you can still perform other work and receive a salary or wages while collecting disability benefits.

Guaranteed renewable: This policy gives you the right to renew your long-term disability coverage each year without any additional medical exams. 

Noncancelable: This means the insurance company cannot cancel or change the policy or raise premiums.

Partial disability: Under this rider, the policy pays out if you have partial loss of income (20% or more) due to a disability. You may still be able to work as a hygienist, but not as many hours. Keep in mind, many companies allow partial disability benefits only after you’ve been fully disabled (could not work) for some time. If your health is slowly declining and you become partially disabled, you need the next rider.

Residual disability rider: This rider will pay a benefit if you return to work in your occupation and you experience an income loss of 20% or more compared to your income before your disability.

Guaranteed purchase option: If your income increases, you can purchase additional insurance without going through underwriting again. 

Other riders to consider: These riders include a cost-of-living adjustment, student loan repayment, and health insurance coverage.

If you pay for disability insurance with before-tax dollars, your disability income is taxable income. If you pay for it with after-tax dollars, it’s tax-free. Make sure your policy does not limit mental or behavioral health coverage, including substance use disorder. If you have disability through your employer or the ADHA, find out what it covers. You may want to purchase an individual plan to supplement your benefits.

Now that you have this useful information, you can get quotes from different insurance companies and see which one has a plan that best fits your needs and budget. Do not wait to do this when you have more time or money. Even if you’re young and healthy, an unexpected illness or injury can wreak havoc on your life and change the course of your career.


1. Disability and death probability tables for insured workers born in 2000. Social Security Administration. Accessed May 27, 2024. https://www.ssa.gov/oact/NOTES/ran6/an2020-6.pdf

2. Disability statistics. Council for Disability Awareness. Accessed May 27, 2024. https://disabilitycanhappen.org/disability-statistic/

3. Occupational outlook handbook, dental hygienists. U.S. Department of Labor. Accessed May 27, 2024. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm

About the Author

Anastassia Stoenelova, BA, RDH

Anastassia Stoenelova, BA, RDH, has been in dentistry for 10 years. She is a clinical practitioner in general dental practices in Atlanta, Georgia. As a former ESL instructor, she is passionate about oral health education and making a difference in her patients’ lives every day. She also works with Second Wind Dreams, a nonprofit organization that educates health-care professionals about dementia. She can be reached at [email protected].