Many employer-sponsored health care plans do not include dental insurance, and those that do will typically offer only limited benefits. Individual private insurance is often too costly to be feasible. And Medicaid and Medicare offer only limited safety nets.
For most people, a toothache that turns into an expensive procedure like a crown or implant means thousands of dollars out of pocket while routine checkups, cleanings and fillings cost only a smalll fraction of it.
Even if you’re fortunate enough to have some kind of coverage, you have probably discovered just how little it pays if you have big problems. Most dental policies pay for preventive care like twice-a-year checkups, but cover only a fraction of higher-cost procedures like root canals. Even fillings can get short-changed, if the insurer decides the tooth-colored filler the dentist used was too “cosmetic” for the pothole being patched.
At the same time, dental care costs are rising faster than inflation, just as the evidence mounts that taking care of your mouth can be a critical gateway to good overall health.
The health care bills circulating in the House and Senate include dental care provisions for children, which is good. But it also means that for most of us relief from dental bills is not likely to come soon. That leaves it up to consumers to find smart ways to reduce their dental care costs without sacrificing their oral health. So we asked experts and patients for advice.
Taking care of small problems keeps them from becoming big ones. Enough cannot be said about prevention, according to Dr. Matthew Messina, consumer advisor for the American Dental Association and a dentist in Cleveland.
Left unchecked, a small cavity that would cost about $100 to fill can easily turn into a $1,000 root canal. Skip those $80 cleanings each year, and you may be looking at $2,000 worth of gum disease treatments. An abscess that lands you in the emergency room will set you back hundreds of dollars for the visit, “and you’ll still have to go see a dentist, because emergency rooms don’t handle dental work,” said Dr. Messina.
Finally, your dentist also routinely looks for more serious problems, like oral cancer. More than 35,000 cases are diagnosed each year, according to the American Cancer Society. Early detection, usually during a dental checkup, is critical to successful treatment.
"Patients who stay on top of their dental maintenance schedule enjoy the best of oral and overall health and end up saving themselves from unnecessary pain and expense" says Dr. Cherukuri from her Chino, California Dental Practice.