The best way to save money on dental care is by going to the dentist. That may sound odd, but regular dental care — both at home and at your dentist’s office —not only saves your teeth, it also saves you money. According to the Coalition on Oral Health, every dollar invested in preventive oral health care saves between $8 to $50 in restorative care.
It’s obvious that preventive dental care is among the very best investments you can make in your health and financial well-being. Here’s what you need to do to keep your teeth and mouth healthy.
Yes, we know – when the budget is tight, the seemingly optional expenses are the first to be cut. But skipping cleanings and checkups is a false economy. Dental decay is almost entirely preventable with regular professional dental care. Spending a little on dental checkups and cleanings will save you a lot over the long run.
While there’s no set schedule for routine dental visits, twice per year is often recommended, at about $200-$300 per visit and are typically free or heavily discounted if you have dental insurance or a dental savings plan. If you don’t have a dental plan, checkups and cleanings may seem expensive - until you consider the cost of not acting.
If you develop a cavity, it costs an average of about $150-$300 to have it filled. This treatment stops the decay process but drilling away large areas of decay can lead to weaker teeth that are prone to problems over the long-term. And if you let the decay process go on, the costs mount quickly. The most common dental treatment performed on badly decayed teeth is a root canal, which typically costs $1000 to $1,300. The crown that you’re likely to need after the root canal will probably cost an additional $1,000 and up. If your tooth/teeth are beyond saving, dentures or dental bridges typically cost from $3,000 to $4,500. A single dental implant can cost at least twice as much as a dental bridge.
Periodontal (gum) treatments, which may range in cost from $600 to $2,000, are often needed when infection has set in to restore oral health. Skip your cleanings, and you’ll likely be dealing with dental problems ranging from bad breath to tooth loss. Untreated gum disease has also been connected to health issues such as cardiac disease, strokes, respiratory infections, digestive issues and Alzheimer’s Disease. Oral infections can also complicate the medical management of conditions such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
Most of the population of the U.S. will experience gingivitis (the mildest form of gum disease) during some point in their lives; while 30% to 40% of us will experience periodontitis (the severe form of gum disease). Bacterial plaque is the primary cause of 90% of all dental disease, and treatment requires removal of bacterial biofilm and its associated calculus (tartar) from the teeth and gums, and sometimes treatment with antibiotics.
Unfortunately, infections caused by dental biofilms can stubbornly resist antibiotics. Prevention is the best strategy. That means brushing twice a day, flossing, and seeing your dental hygienist regularly for professional cleanings.Even if you do brush thoroughly and regularly, it’s easy to miss tartar that can be lurking between your teeth, in tiny chips and cracks, or just under the gum line.Over timethe plaque works its way under the gums, resulting in oral infections.
Removing plaque does not take force, it just requires you to gently and thoroughly clean your teeth. If you don’t brush correctly and consistently you’ll end up with tartar – hardened plaque. You can’t remove tartar safely on your own; a professional cleaning is the only way to dislodge it without damaging your teeth.
Consistently taking care of your teeth and oral health at home is critical to staying healthy and saving money.
You might figure that vigorous brushing is more likely to remove food debris and just-forming plaque than a gentler approach. But the truth is that forceful brushing can actually cause cavities, tooth decay and gum disease.
Even though tooth enamel is the toughest tissue in the human body, it can be damaged by forceful brushing. The enamel that covers your teeth is comprised of tiny, tightly-packed rods of minerals. Each rod is comprised of millions of carbonated hydroxyapatite crystals, and the rods in single tooth range from 5 million in the lower lateral incisor to 12 million in the upper first molar.
And since enamel has no living cells, the body cannot repair it if it is damaged. So it’s especially important to protect it from chips and cracks. Brushing your teeth with a side-to-side motion can cause the rods to weaken and break. Instead, position your toothbrush’s bristles at a 45-degree angle to the surface of the teeth and brush gently in small circles.
Be especially careful when brushing near your gums – hard, side-to-side brushing here can cause irritation that can lead to infection and receding gums. But it’s equally important to clean the gumline properly. As noted above, plaque, tartar and bacteria tend to congregate here, so take your time and do a comprehensive job. Rinsing with water or your favorite mouthwash can help to dislodge debris, along with flossing. Yes, flossing – ask your dental hygienist for tips on effective flossing.
Dental insurance aims to help cover the cost of dental treatment. The typical cost of an individual dental insurance policy is around $350 a year. For a family, the cost is around $550, annually.For this, you typically get all of your preventative care -cleanings, checkups and x-rays – for free or very inexpensively. Basic treatments such as fillings are covered up to 80% of the cost, and your insurance will pay 50% of more complex procedures such as root canals and crowns.
One thing to be aware of is that dental insurance policies generally limit coverage to $1000 -$1,500 a year. When your dental costs go over that limit, you then have to pay for your own dental care for the rest of the year out of your own pocket. The limit is called a “cap” or a “maximum amount.”
If your dental care costs go over the amount of coverage offered by your dental insurance policy, or if you don’t have dental insurance, you can still save money at the dentist with a dental savings plan.
Dental savings plans are an affordable alternative to traditional insurance. Plan members get discounts of 10%-60% on their dental care from dentists who have agreed to accept a specific plan.Dental savings plans have no annual caps and no restrictions on obtaining care for preexisting conditions.
Carefully consider your options – dental insurance, a dental savings plan, or self-insurance (banking the amount you’d pay for insurance in your own health savings account), and then choose the option that’s right for you.