Most health insurance plans don’t cover dental care, so this becomes the key question. You ask yourself, “Can I get access to affordable dental care through cheap dental insurance, the kind that won’t break my budget but will help me and my loved ones?” In other words, is dental insurance worth the cost?
You can search this question online, but you won’t find any consistent answers.
You’ll find articles (usually on sites selling dental insurance) that say definitely “Yes.” Of course, you should have it. Taking care of your teeth as part of your overall health is important.
You’ll find others (on financial advice websites or sites selling dental discount plans) that say definitely “No.” Between the premium and the annual maximums, they say, the best you can do is break even on your investment.
The real answer is, “It depends.”
It would be easier if it were just about the money. You could just add up what your dental premium cost you for the year and how much your dental plan paid for at your dentist’s office that year. Then you could see if you come out even or ahead and call it a day.
But the decision to get any insurance isn’t solely a financial one, is it? Insurance is one of those things you buy hoping you never have to use it. Sometimes you’re paying to help address an area of concern or worry or to declare a priority for yourself.
This is probably the real question. Whether or not it makes sense for you depends on where you’re at in life, what you value or what you want to protect.
So what might help you decide if it is worth the cost to you?
You don’t like surprises, especially ones involving money. Dental insurance can help with some of the surprise costs that come with your teeth, the cavity you weren’t expecting or that fall that left you with a broken tooth.
You like discounts, but you don’t like to negotiate. If you don’t like to haggle at car dealerships, chances are you’re not going to want to haggle with your dentist over getting a cash discount. You don’t have to worry about that with your dental coverage. In-network dental providers agree to discounted rates on the services they provide. No dickering, no hassle, you just benefit from a pre-negotiated lower rate.
You’re older. According to Medicare.gov, the official U.S. government site for Medicare, “Medicare doesn’t cover most dental care, dental procedures, or supplies, like cleanings, fillings, tooth extractions, dentures, dental plates, or other dental devices.” It will cover only certain dental services you get when you are staying in hospital or for hospital care if it’s required for emergency or complicated dental services.10 If you’re concerned about the dental issues that come with aging, then a dental plan may be just the right thing to keep you in your healthy dental habits, encourage regular checkups and help with dental costs.
You’re not so good at saving money. Don’t worry. Most of us aren’t. “The majority of American households (55 percent) are savings-limited, meaning they can replace less than one month of their income through liquid savings.”11 This means having dental insurance to provide some buffer against possible dental costs may suit you.
You have kids. Children’s teeth change with remarkable speed. Dental insurance can be a way to keep up. Having it often means access to preventive care either through a low copay or at no additional cost at all, depending on the plan. Regular cleanings, routine exams and X-rays, and fluoride treatments are the types of preventive services many dental plans will cover for kids. And that kind of treatment early and regularly can head off the larger and more expensive problems down the road.
You’re looking to get into a healthier lifestyle routine. If you’ve ever bought a gym membership or a treadmill to help remind you to take care of yourself, dental insurance can be that reminder to take care of your teeth. Even better, it can help you plan, control and budget for the costs of your dental care. The benefits of a healthy dental lifestyle could be significant to both your overall health and finances. Tooth decay remains the single most prevalent chronic disease in both children and adults12, and a 2012 United States Senate report stated over 830,000 emergency room visits were due to preventable dental issues.13
These are just some of the reasons finding the right dental plan might be worth it to you in your current situation. Why might you want a plan for you and your loved ones? What are the reasons? Once you figure that out and consider what those reasons mean to you, you’ll be able decide what represents affordable dental insurance to you.
2 The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Precarious State of Family Balance Sheets, January 2015. Retrieved from http://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/assets/2015/01/fsm_balance_sheet_report.pdf.
3 Medicare.gov, Your Medicare Coverage, Dental services, How often is it covered? Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/coverage/dental-services.html
4 National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/datastatistics/finddatabytopic/dentalcaries/.
5 Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, U.S. Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor & Pensions, Dental Crisis in America: The Need to Expand Access, February 29, 2012. Retrieved from http://www.sanders.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/DENTALCRISIS.REPORT.pdf.