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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Taking a Bite Out of Dental Care Costs

Dental care is as expensive as it is important, yet it’s not covered under Medicare. But there are a few tricks you can use to save money.

Check-ups, cleanings, x-rays: dental care can put a “dent” in a fixed budget even before anything goes wrong! Until the day when taking care of your teeth is covered by insurance just like the rest of your body, you’ll have to pay out of pocket. However, there are some tips and tricks that may help you lower the cost. 

Dental Visits During the Pandemic

You may well wonder how safe it is to visit a dentist during the COVID-19 crisis. As of this writing, the American Dental Association and the CDC are recommending dental teams weigh the risks of serving clients, but they are not stopping visits. Your dentist should be particularly concerned about disinfecting, distancing and wearing protection. Every office can operate a little differently, but here are some questions you can ask:

  • Will clients wait in their car or in the waiting room?
  • How often are surfaces and tools disinfected?
  • What protective gear will you wear?
  • Have appointments been spaced out? 

  • Dental schools. Students studying dentistry have to get experience somewhere, so most schools run clinics where the public can get treated for free or at a substantially reduced price. Anything from a standard filling to a root canal and crown can be done, but be aware that it will take longer than at a dentist’s office. Licensed supervisors check on each stage of the work. Worried you won’t be able to find a school? Every state has at least two, and some have over 100. Check the website of the Commission on Dental Accreditation to find one close to you
  • Clinics. Your local or state health department may get grants from the federal government to hold a clinic that charges a reduced fixed price or provides services on a sliding scale according to your income. They offer a wide range of services, from preventive care to tooth extractions.
  • Dental tourism. Naturally, you want to be careful where you’re traveling during the pandemic; staying safe is the main concern. With this in mind, consider a trip to Mexico, Costa Rica or Central America when it is safe to do so (and when Americans are welcome). They have dentists that trained in the U.S. but practice their profession in a country that is much less expensive, so the same care might be half the cost. Be sure to check their rating on the internet and find out what amenities the office has. Some border offices in Mexico specialize in older Americans, but there is a wide variation in care. Alternatively, an excellent office may be found in a town loaded with ex-pats, such as Ajijic or San Miguel de Allende. Do a search with your desired country to start comparing rates. Most offices provide a phone number and are happy to answer your questions. They are used to visitors from the U.S. and can provide hotel and transportation options for your stay.
  • Cash discount. Many offices will offer a substantial discount, such as 20%, for paying in cash.
  • Flexible spending account or health savings account. If you are employed and have an FSA, you can use the money in it to pay for dental services tax-free. Don’t forget that funds expire on an annual basis. Contributions to an HSA are tax-free going in and coming out, and if you use the Affordable Care Act for insurance, an HSA plan is likely available. Medical expenses, including dentistry, are eligible for reimbursement from the account. 
  • Dental discount plan or insurance. Dental discount plans are offered by a network of dentists who have agreed to charge less in exchange for an annual fee, usually about $75 (although family members can often be added for considerably less). After joining, you could save anywhere from 10% to 60% on services. For most people who have relatively healthy teeth and gums, a discount plan will save money over insurance. However, insurance may be your best bet if you have ongoing dental issues.

A Comparison of Dental Plans and Insurance

  Dental Discount Plan Traditional Insurance
Premiums   No Yes 
$12-$30 per month
Membership fees Yes
$75 single
$100 family
Copays No Depends on the plan
Deductibles No Depends on the plan
Preventive services covered
(exams, root canals)

Discounted 10%-60%
with in-network providers

Basic services covered
(fillings, root canals)
Discounted 10%-60%
with in-network providers
A percentage of the cost, depending on the plan you select
Major services covered
(crowns, bridges)
Discounted 10%-60%
with in-network providers
A percentage of the cost, depending on the plan you select
Waiting periods No Depends on the plan
Annual benefit limit None Yes
Pay dentist directly Yes No

If you don’t have an urgent need to visit the dentist, the best decision might be to wait and reassess in another four to six months. In the meantime, follow best practices for taking care of your teeth. Brush morning and night, holding the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the base of your teeth. Brush about a half a minute each on all four quadrants: lower inside, lower outside, upper inside and upper outside, paying special attention to any problem areas. Use fluoride. Follow the evening brushing with flossing. Avoid sugar and starches when you can, stay away from soda, and if you do smoke, try to quit or cut back. 

Dental care is expensive, but there are ways to cut down on the cost. Not all of these suggestions will be right for you, but you should be able to find a couple that will offer relief from a huge bill. 

Click below for the other articles in the September 2020 Senior Spirit


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors