Dental care is important to your overall health as well as your smile. Failure to take care of your teeth and visit a dentist regularly can lead to gum disease and allow bacteria an efficient path into your bloodstream, potentially contributing to the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes. Unfortunately, too many Americans are not visiting a dentist as often as they should -- and, according to a 2012 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one of the primary factors is cost.
Dental insurance is not covered in many health insurance plans, nor is adult dental health covered under the Affordable Care Act. Separate dental insurance is available, but it can be out of reach for many families who require subsidies just to maintain health insurance, let alone dental coverage.
If you are not covered through your job and you cannot find dental insurance that you can afford, what are your options? There are a few ways you can take care of your teeth and save at the dentist's office during your visits.
- Preventative Care - The best thing you can do is to take good care of your teeth and gums on a daily basis. Brush your teeth twice daily and floss to remove any trapped food particles. With any luck, all you will have to pay for is a checkup and cleaning when you do visit the dentist.
Healthy eating habits should be a part of your preventative care. A package of Oreos is not going to be any better for your teeth than it will be for your waistline.
- Do not Let Problems Linger - As the old saying goes, you can pay now or pay later -- and if you pay later, you are likely to pay much more. A simple cavity may cost you a few hundred dollars to fill now, but ignoring it can lead to a much more expensive root canal in the future.
- Shop Around - There is no reason you cannot compare prices for dental procedures as you would any consumer service. FAIR Health's website contains a cost lookup tool that should give you a good idea of the cost of dental care procedures. Ask for prices before visiting and be skeptical of any providers with unusually high or low costs. Check your local providers for any coupon programs or affiliations with other merchants, service providers, and savings programs.
- Ask for Cash Discounts - Providers may offer lower prices in exchange for payments in cash up front. The ability not to have to deal with credit or insurance can save the provider money, which they can partially pass on to you. Be prepared to ask for the discount; it won't usually be offered automatically.
- Investigate Dental Savings Plans - Dental savings plans are effectively membership programs that charge a low monthly or annual fee in exchange for dental services. The certainty of income allows the dental provider to offer discounts on services, often ranging between 15% and 60% off regular prices. Be sure you understand exactly what is and is not covered under any plan before you sign up.
- Consider Dental Schools - Accredited dental schools need patients to work on, and you can get your teeth done there for considerably lower costs. Qualified instructors supervise all the work. Access may be limited and wait times may be long, so it is best to combine this with excellent home dental care and pre-planned check-up dates.
You can check the American Dental Association Website for a list of nearby accredited dental schools. Visiting any unaccredited dental school is done at your own risk.
- Look Into Assistance Programs - If all else fails and you simply have no funds for care, investigate the assistance programs available in your area. Check with your local city and state government as well as with the dental association in your state -- contact information will be available on the ADA website.
However you have to do it, make sure that you take care of your teeth with necessary dental care. Failure to do so will make you pay later, and not just in terms of money.
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