During a recent conversation with someone who wasn’t aware I’m a periodontist, I learned the person’s child had been injured in a fall. When I asked if the child’s teeth had been checked for damage, the response was jarring.
“No, we don’t have dental insurance.”
I can’t tell you how hard these comments hit me. If people really understood dental health, they would probably seek care. As for cost concerns, do the uninsured think their first visit is going to cost thousands of dollars? A consultation is usually less than $100.
If you’ve been without insurance for awhile, when you finally get it, you can get all the work done that you have put off for so long, right? Well, sure you can, but you need to know your policy’s limitations.
Dental insurance is not like medical insurance; it only covers so much per year, and that amount is very low in most cases. I have patients who tell me their “really good” dental coverage is $1,500 a year. But here’s the thing: This maximum has stayed relatively unchanged for 40 years, and dental costs have risen since then.
Maybe you’ve decided to get some of your dental work done this year, some next year, to save money. This plan can work in some cases; in others, it doesn’t. The longer a person waits to have an extreme dental problem fixed, the more severe the condition becomes. A filling can turn into a crown, a crown can turn into a fracture/extraction/implant, and so on. As expensive as treatment seems now, it will only get more costly as time goes on.
Now that I’ve impressed on you the importance of immediate care, let’s discuss the limitations of dental insurance.
First, some procedures will not be covered. This doesn’t mean the work is unnecessary; it just means your plan has excluded it from coverage. Also, some insurance companies only cover certain procedures every 36 months or, for example, pay for two cleanings a year. If you assume dental insurance will pay for everything, then you’ll be upset to learn your dental provider recommends a treatment not covered by insurance. I have said this before and I will say it again: Please don’t let your insurance company dictate what is done in your mouth.
Second, some dental providers are not considered “in network.” If your dentist happens to be in your provider network, great — but don’t leave your trusted provider just because he or she is out of network. At the end of the day, the most expensive dental work is dental work that is done incorrectly.
To those of you who have said you can’t go to the dentist for lack of insurance: Look around you, at your expensive cellphone, computer, TV set, car, etc. When it came time to buy these items, you found the money. It may not be as fun to spend your money on dental work, but it is fun to be able to eat and function, right?
Take care of your teeth properly now. You’ll be happy you did.
DR. PATRICIA BERUBE is a periodontist in private practice in Denton. For more information, visit www.dentonperio.com .