The Cost of Skipping Dental Insurance

Did you know that approximately 40% of Americans do not have dental insurance? And that number is not expected to improve considering the health care law, the Affordable Care Act, makes the coverage optional for adults. This is turning out to be a very significant problem considering the mountain of evidence that has surfaced regarding the connection between poor dental health and other, serious chronic health issues. So while those who choose to forego dental insurance often do so in an effort to save money, the medical bills they potentially face down the road could be far more significant.

According to the 2013 U.S. Survey of Dental Care Affordability and Accessibility, approximately 56% of individuals without dental insurance skip any preventive treatment, instead opting to only see the dentist when a problem arises. Reasons for delaying or forgoing care were cited as being high costs and lack of price transparency in a recent U.S. News article. Ironically though, the money saved by skipping regular cleanings, dental exams, and other preventive care could result in astronomical medical bills down the road, even if you follow a good oral hygiene routine of brushing and flossing daily.

“I’ve seen patients with excellent home dental care develop severe gum disease because their tartar had built up for years, causing gingivitis and gum disease,” claimed Dr. Marshall Young, a dentist in Newport Beach, California. Additionally, what started off as small, repairable problems often turn into large issues that result in loss of teeth when ignored for too long. It has been estimated that more than 27% of U.S. adults ages 20 to 44 have untreated cavities, most of many can be repaired with a simple filling. Left untreated, those cavities will likely require a root canal or extraction, must more invasive and costly procedures.

Unfortunately, when patients visit the dentist with pain, they believe that the issue is new, considering they are just starting to experience discomfort. “But when a dentist hears a patient complaining that they feel something, we already start to wonder if it’s a root canal or extraction type of problem,” said Dr. Don C. Atkins, a dentist in Long Beach, California. The median cost for a filling is approximately $170 for a front tooth or $183 for a molar. That’s relatively low when compared to the median cost of a root canal, which is between $700 and $900. Similarly, the deep cleaning that is required to treat periodontal disease can cost several times more than a regular dental cleaning, and also includes costs for anesthesia and antibiotics.

If the added costs aren’t enough to encourage you to visit the dentist, maybe the impending pain and inevitable embarrassment of missing teeth will do the trick. And then there’s the the links between gum disease and heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and respiratory disease (to name just a few) to consider. When looking at the big picture, saving a few dollars by avoiding dental insurance is a drop in the bucket to the money you’ll save by regularly visiting your dentist for preventive care. It makes the debate seem rather ridiculous actually.

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