Nearly 45-million Americans don’t have dental insurance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Statistics show that people who do have dental insurance are far more likely to visit the dentist regularly than those without coverage. Those without insurance are skipping basic preventative care, and living with painful and dangerous oral health conditions because they fear that they can’t afford treatment.
But you don’t need dental insurance to get affordable dental care. Your choices may include dental savings plans, payment plans, short-term loans, dental schools, and dental clinics.
Dental insurance isn’t always the right choice for everyone’s needs, and dentists are accustomed to working with patients who don’t have insurance. Don’t assume that you can’t afford dental care until you do a little research and explore all of your options.
All states are home to at least a few low-cost or no-cost dental clinics. Your local public hospital may have a community dental clinic or may be able to refer you to one. Also check with the American Dental Association (ADA) website, where you’ll find a “dental health” map that lists all of the free and low cost dental treatment programs within each state. The map will point you to dental schools, clinics, dental care access programs, and organizations devoted to helping people access affordable dental care.
You can also contact the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the nation’s primary resource for uninsured citizens or those who are at high risk of developing health problems if they don’t get medical/dental care ASAP.
Dental students need to acquire on-the-job training and experience before they can be licensed. The care may not be free – most schools work on a sliding scale basis - but it is always very affordable. The tradeoff is that you’ll likely spend more time in the dentist’s chair - as students are working under supervision of a licensed dentist who needs to check their work carefully and spend plenty of time one-on-one with each student and patient¬ - and so you may need to visit the clinic numerous times to complete your treatment plan. You can find a list of dental schools here.
Many dentists will help uninsured patients to get the care that they need. Your dentist may have an in-house financing program, may offer discounts to uninsured patients, or may be able to plan out treatment over several months so that you don’t have to pay off a huge sum all at once. Some dentists offer treatment priced on a sliding scale, meaning they will adjust their rates to your income.
Don’t be embarrassed to ask about payment options, or to let the dentist know how much you can afford to pay for dental care per visit. You certainly won’t be the first – or the last – patient with budget concerns. Consider setting up an appointment for a checkup, and let the person who books the appointment know you have dental health issues, don’t have insurance and want to discuss a treatment plan with the dentist to understand your options.
You’ll need a checkup and x-rays, and potentially a cleaning depending on how fragile your teeth are, during that first appointment. The cost will be between $150-$270, but ask when you book the appointment as rates vary from dentist to dentist.
If you’re embarrassed about the condition of your teeth, and worried what the dental staff will think about you – stop fretting and make the appointment. Dentists want to help people to regain their health. They understand that cost, fear and other issues keep people from getting their teeth taken care of properly. And you’ll feel so much better after you take that first step toward a healthy future.
Dental insurance is not a good choice for emergency situations. A dental insurance policy typically imposes restrictions on what treatments they cover and whether the policy covers pre-existing conditions. With a new-to-you plan, you’ll usually have to wait six months to get coverage for basic restorative services or a year for major restorative services. And dental insurance often will not pay to restore teeth that were missing before you purchased the policy; any may not play for work that was underway prior to the policy going into effect.
Dental insurance can be a good buy if your employer provides it as a benefit, or if you want to basically “pre-pay” for basic dental care. After all, if you pay out of pocket for two checkups and cleanings and a set of X-rays, your cost, on average, will be around $375-$400, according to the American Dental Association. So, with a dental policy, you’re basically pre-paying for your essential preventive care, with a little assurance built in that if you need a couple of fillings, or chip a tooth, you’re also covered.
Dental savings plans, in contrast to insurance, have no waiting period before you can access care, and there are no restrictions on obtaining care for preexisting conditions. As a plan member you have access to a network of dentists who have agreed to offer reduced rates to members, the savings range from 10-60%. Dentists like the plans because they don’t have to deal with insurance company red tape, plan members simply pay the reduced fee directly to the dentist.
The plans available on dentalplans.com range from $79.95-$199.95 annually. There’s a plan for every budget and dental care need, whether you want to save on braces or root canals, dental implants or dentures, basic care or complex treatments. Plus, virtually all dental savings plans on dentalplans.com include additional free bonus benefits too, such as savings on vision and hearing care, prescriptions, and other wellness services.
Select plans provide a bundle of health and wellness services which range from telemedicine –free consultations with local doctors who can diagnose and treat common ailments (including prescribing medications), discounts on chiropractic, alternative medicine and fitness centers, and savings on lab work and medical diagnostic services.