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Dear Patient: Affordable dental care may be within reach

Feb. 28, 2022
Many people put off necessary dental work because they can’t afford it, but it might not be as daunting as you think. Amanda Hill, BSDH, RDH, offers some creative ways to plan and pay for the care you need.

Throughout history, having a healthy mouth has somehow been deemed a luxury. Good oral health care was only for those who could afford it. And still, to this day, many are left without access to oral health care or even an awareness that there is dental care available to them.

While I would never presume to understand someone else’s budget, there are some ways to make oral health a priority, and one that is financially an option for you and your family.

Insurance isn’t always the answer

So many people think that if they don’t have dental insurance, they can’t go to the dentist. The truth is, dental insurance isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. In fact, there are times that between the premiums and the copays you might have been better off without insurance.

While there are expensive full-mouth reconstructions and in-depth surgeries, much of the dental work that needs to be done can be done in phases, allowing you time to budget and plan. Much like when you go to the car mechanic and get a long list of repairs, you can prioritize what’s emergent and what you can do down the road.

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The best plan is to start with a comprehensive evaluation. This should include a thorough exam, x-rays, intraoral pictures, and maybe even a 3D scan of your mouth. You can expect this to take at least an hour if it’s been a long time since you’ve seen your dentist. Find a great dentist who’s focused on long-lasting results. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. In most instances, there is a good, better, and best option. While good might slow the issue down, best might keep it from ever happening again. My grandpa always said anything worth doing is worth doing right.

Once you have a good picture of the care you need, you can make a plan. There’s power in knowledge, and ignoring your health never miraculously fixed anything! A good caring office can help you make that plan, considering your time, finances, and needs.

Options for affordable dental care

Some offices might have in-house financing. There are some other great options out there to help make dental care affordable.

HSAs and FSAs

Look to see if you can set up a health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA). HSAs and FSAs allow you to use pretax income for eligible medical expenses, and that includes dental care. Many employers offer these as added benefits, or you can set up an HSA on your own. There are limits to the amounts and rules about rolling over money, but they can be a great way to set aside the funds you will need. Once you have that comprehensive exam and know what care you need, this is a helpful way to plan.

Membership programs

Dental practice membership programs are becoming more popular. These are specific to individual offices or groups. Typically, a membership program offers discounted dental care for a monthly or yearly subscription fee. Once members subscribe, they might benefit from free preventive care including exams, hygiene visits, and x-rays and a discount on other services.

Health care financing

There are many different companies that offer financing for medical and dental services not covered by insurance. While they often look like credit cards, they offer financing options that aren’t available with regular cards. With shorter-term financing options, no interest is charged if patients make monthly payments and pay off the amount due by the agreed-upon date.

A healthy mouth doesn’t have to be a luxury, and getting there might not be as daunting as you think. Once you’re on sure footing with your oral health, things should become more predictable. Every year ask your dentist what they see coming down the pike so you can plan. Don’t avoid the dentist because you’re afraid of the cost—in the end, that will cost you a lot more.