What keeps people from getting the dental care they need? Fear is a major factor. Another is concern with cost.
According to a new Consumer Reports reader survey on oral health, 43% delayed care due to financial concerns. But the survey also found that those who delayed dental treatment were also less satisfied with the care they got. The why is simple:
Because not going to your dental appointments may lead to more extensive and more costly dental treatment in the long run.
Whether money is tight or you’re a committed saver, the best way to minimize dental costs is the same: Take a proactive, preventive approach. This means
- Brushing after meals, flossing daily and regularly using a proxy brush, perio-aid or oral irrigator to clean the necks of teeth and at the gumline.
- Eating a varied, balanced diet based on whole foods, low in sugars and refined carbs.
- Regularly exercising.
- Getting enough quality sleep and rest.
- Managing stress and maintaining a balanced lifestyle.
- Seeing your dentist every 6 months for a cleaning and exam.
Any money you spend pursuing the above is nothing compared with the cost of dental surgery and restorations!
Funny. You know the entertainment discount books full of coupons? We don’t usually think twice about buying things like those, justifying the cost by thinking of the money we’ll save. Sure, there’s more fun potential there, and a quicker payoff to the investment. It takes years for our lifestyle choices to catch up with us, but when they do…! Of course, writes one dentist,
It is easy to rationalize buying something you want like shoes, a car, diamond ring, etc. On the other hand, it is even easier to rationalize not doing something like dieting or going to the dentist, right? I mean who wants to have someone stick their hand in your mouth, poke around it, mumble a few things and then tell you the bad news?
The catch: It doesn’t have to be bad news.
The challenge: Start backing up our words with action. Most everyone agrees that good dental hygiene is important, yet according to the CR survey, only 1/3 of readers brush and floss as much as they should. Changing that behavior alone would do much to cut down on dental bills.
Here are CR‘s tips for dealing with the cost factor:
- Shop around and bargain. Look up typical insurance paid rates in your area at FairHealthConsumer.org and HealthCareBlueBook.com, then ask providers to accept that amount, or less, as a cash payment. [Of the two, the first seems better - more specific, targeted and accessible to the layperson.]
- Consider Free and low-cost clinics and health centers. Some community health centers offer dental care with fees based on the ability to pay. Consumers should call their local health department to find one nearby. But they should expect to encounter waiting lists in some locations.
- Look into dental and dental-hygienist schools. Consumers who are willing to be treated by supervised students can avail themselves of schools that offer free or discontinued care to the public. A list of schools is available at http://www.ada.org/267.aspx.
- Investigate dental discount plans. For an annual membership fee of around $50 to $100, one can get access to a network of dentists who have agreed to discounted rates. But Consumer Reports recommends that consumers watch out for pricey add-ons and extra procedures they don’t need.
One caveat: Most low-cost clinics and dental schools are not holistically focused. Things like mercury amalgam fillings, root canals and insufficient cleaning of the socket after tooth extraction can have long term health effects that vastly outweigh the short term bargain of low-cost care. As my colleague Dr. Gary Verigin writes,
In short, “cheaper now” usually means “more expensive later.” In the best case, you wind up replacing work sooner and more often. In the worst case, cutting corners causes more extensive and expensive problems down the road.
The smart consumer looks at the big picture.
Or as a small plaque hanging in our office has it, “Beware of bargains in parachutes, brain surgery and dental care.”
Consider: If you needed surgery on any other living organ – and each of your teeth is a vital organ, just as your heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and such are – would you opt for the cheapest surgeon or the most qualified surgeon whose services fit within your budget?
So also keep in mind that some dental offices will work with you to develop a payment plan for costly procedures. It’s worth asking about when you first call. There are also options such as CareCredit for financing over time.
But again – and as ever – your best bet is to make your oral (and physical) health a priority and minimize the risk of pricey problems arising in the first place.
Image by Danielle Moler, via Flickr