Does Dental Insurance Make Financial Sense?
by Nicole Fry: [email protected]
The numbers look good. COVID-19 new case numbers are falling, many states are reopening businesses and schools. We know by now that the virus can come roaring back, so those double-masks and well-sanitized hands will be with us for a while, but in much of America it is starting to feel like the worst might just be over.
For some, it’s time to start picking up the financial pieces to figure out what happens next. There’s a lot to think about. According to a Pew Research report on the financial impact of the virus, one-in-four adults have struggled to pay their bills in the past year, a third have taken funds from savings accounts to make ends meet, and roughly one-in-six had to borrow money from friends or family or rely on local food banks.
That said, there is good news. Job losses did not impact health insurance benefits as heavily as had been expected in the early months of the pandemic. Studies found that roughly one-half of the workers who were laid off due to pandemic-related slowdowns retained their health insurance coverage, as employers continued to pay group insurance premiums.
Some people are still struggling to recover fully from COVID-19, and many of us are dealing with health issues caused by stress, lack of exercise and delayed preventive healthcare. According to the recent “Impact of Coronavirus on U.S. Households Survey” about one in five adults (20%) in the U.S. said they had delayed or were unable to get medical care due to the pandemic, and more than half (57%) said they experienced negative health consequences as a result. The study indicated that people were delaying other essential procedures such as dental care too, which is linked to your overall health.
The cost of delaying dental care
Dentists are starting to see their practices return to pre-COVID levels, according to a new report by the American Dental Association (ADA). But the report also notes dental health has suffered due to a year of anxiety and delayed care. A significant amount (70%) of dentists told the ADA that they have seen a substantial rise in stress-related dental health issues caused by people who are clenching their jaws or grinding teeth. It seems likely that consumers may be facing significant dental bills to restore their dental health.
“Regular dental care is essential for oral and overall health. Tooth decay and gum disease have been associated with life-threating conditions such as cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer as well as poor pregnancy outcomes and bronchial, sinus and digestive issues. Untreated dental infections alone can make you very sick or can even be fatal,” said Jenn Stoll, Chief Commercial Officer at DentalPlans.com, a leading online marketplace for dental savings plans in the U.S.
“And these issues can almost always be avoided with good at-home hygiene and regular preventive dental care. Those of us in the industry are dedicated to continuing to educate consumers on affordable options. We have to make sure they know that dental care can be affordable,” said Stoll. “There are so many options to explore, including dental insurance and dental savings plans.”
How to choose the best dental insurance plan
If your employer provides dental insurance, it’s likely to be the most effective way of reducing your dental care costs. Dental insurance plans that focus solely on preventive care are also a good buy, if you and your family’s dental needs are typically limited to checkups, cleanings, and cavity-preventing sealants for children.
Dental insurance is widely accepted by dentists across the country and does a great job of making essential preventive care very affordable – with some insurance plans, your checkups, x-rays, and cleanings are completely free at any in-network dentist. If you are buying your own plan, or your employee provides coverage choices, one great way to choose the right dental insurance plan is to ask your dentist to recommend an insurance plan based on your dental health needs. No dentist? Stoll suggests that a good place to start is with the company’s guide to choosing dental insurance.
Is there a better option for me financially?
Finding ways to save on dental care can seem complicated if you have to pay for your own dental insurance, or you need costly restorative dental care. To figure out whether dental insurance is the best choice for your needs, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I have existing dental health problems (also knowns as pre-existing conditions) such as pain, loose teeth, swollen or receding gums?
- Has my dentist told me I need an expensive treatment, such as a root canal or crown?
- Have I had to skip dental visits for over a year, because I haven’t had dental insurance?
- Do I want cosmetic treatments to restore my smile?
- Do I need extensive dental restoration work, such as bridges or dentures?
- Do I or does someone in my family need braces?
Ask these questions about others who will be on your plan too, such as dependents or a spouse.
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you may want to investigate dental savings plans. Why? The most significant reason is that most dental insurance plans have an annual limit or “cap,” of $1,000 –$1,500 annually. If your treatment costs exceed that amount (and one root canal can cost over $1000) you will need to pay the rest out of your own pocket.
The other concern is that dental insurance often doesn’t cover you immediately for restorative care. You could end up waiting 6-12 months for that coverage to become available. If, however, you had an old insurance plan within a month or two of purchasing a new plan, you may be able to get the new plan provider to waive the waiting period requirement. If that is not your case, you may be faced with delaying your dental care, or paying full price out of pocket.
With a dental savings plan, you can start saving on preventive and restorative care at any participating dentist within 48-hours of purchasing a plan. And every person in your household can utilize the plan by joining a family plan.
What do I need to know about dental savings plans?
Dental savings plans are not insurance, nor are they a bank account where you stash money for your dental care needs. Instead, they aim to provide significant discounts on the most expensive type of dental treatments – restorative dental care. These types of treatments aim to repair damaged teeth or replace missing teeth and include procedures such as dental crowns, dental implants, dentures, overlays, bridges, and other treatments. Preventive care and cosmetic care are typically included too. Check the plan’s documentation for specifics, as discounts vary according to the plan you choose.
Many dental savings plans also include – for free – discounts on prescription medicines, vision and hearing care, eyeglasses/contact lenses and chiropractic services. Select plans include savings on telehealth, wellness services and other healthy lifestyle offerings too.
Dental savings plan members join once a year and save all year long. There are no monthly payments.
Think you can’t afford dental care?
Affordable dental care is out there. If you are on a tight budget, as so many people are, you may be exploring getting care at a local dental clinic, a dental school or looking for ways to save at your existing dentist. Whether you choose dental insurance, a dental savings plan, or decide to just set money aside for future dental care costs, the important thing is to make sure you get the care you need on a regular basis. Preventive care like cleanings and check-ups should be done regularly – speak to your dentist to determine how often you need to go – and restorative care typically gets more expensive if you leave it untreated.
“My advice is to look at your options side by side – evaluate them based on your specific needs and your budget, keeping in mind that the need for restorative care tends to increase as you get older – and decide what works best for you,” said Stoll. “What works now will change as your life changes, so reevaluate regularly. Above all, make sure you understand the important connection between your overall health and dental health, and see your dentist on a regular basis.”
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