The Decay of Dental Insurance

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — A disturbing trend has emerged amid the health care hoopla: More than 45% of Americans don’t have dental coverage, and that number is growing. Companies are cutting back on dental coverage, and that could result in a nationwide epidemic of lousy teeth, says one industry group. But take heart: Aside from a good toothbrush and reliable flossing habits, much more can be done about it.

 

Let’s look at the problem first, and then some solutions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the roughly 172 million Americans under 65 with health insurance, 73% did have some dental care coverage. But a large segment of Americans in that demographic – 45 million, to be exact – didn’t have any.

You’re more likely to have dental insurance if you work for a company, especially a large one, or the government. The CDC says that eight out of 10 Americans with employment-based health insurance had dental coverage. But for those who work for themselves, or for those at small firms, only three in 10 had dental coverage.

Financial status was the biggest factor in differentiating those with dental insurance and those without. The CDC reports that “As income level increased, the percentage having dental insurance increased.”

Current trends show dental coverage in decline. The NADP/DDPA 2010 Dental Benefits Enrollment Report concludes that dental benefits decreased by 5.7% from 2008 to 2009. It’s the first time the NADP has ever recorded a decline in dental insurance since it started tracking the market in 1964. The report says that from 2008 to 2009, 10 million Americans were pared from the dental benefits rolls.

As usual, when it comes to harsh financial news, the Great Recession is mostly to blame for the drop in dental care coverage. "The reduction in subscribers in some employer groups in 2009 most likely reflects family financial constraints and layoffs, as our data indicates that dental benefits remain an important part of employer benefits programs despite a challenging economy," said Kim Volk, President & CEO of DDPA.

So if you find yourself among the burgeoning number of Americans without dental insurance, how can you still get the care you need without undergoing the financial equivalent of root canal?

Like any other commodity, dental care has its costs, but not all of them are etched in stone, and creative consumers can save big bucks thanks to some tricks of the trade. Here are some of the best ways you can leverage dental care prices:

Join a discount dental plan – There’s a rapidly growing market for discount dental plans, and some plans are actually good deals. Websites like DentalPlans.com offer individuals, families, and even small businesses dental plans for $100 or less per year (per subscriber). They typically limit annual maximum coverage to about $1,000, so anything past that and you’ll be paying out of pocket. Still, for traditional dental work like cleanings, x-rays and cavity work, discount plans can foot the entire bill.

Pay cash at the dentist, and ask for a discount – This strategy is more effective than you might think. Dentists are open to giving you a discount if you pay cash. For private dentists, it’s less hassle than the paperwork involved when using dental insurance, and as a small business, dentists hate to lose customers over cost. So you may be able to chop 10% or even 15% off your dental bill by paying cash. You might even be able to save more if you can refer a friend or two to your dentist.

Save at your local college of dentistry – Chances are that if you live near a big urban area, or near a major college campus, you can take advantage of low costs associated with your local college of dentistry. Big schools tend to have discount dentistry clinics where you can save as much as 20% to 40% by having a dentistry student do the work.

One last tip: If you live in the Southwestern U.S., you could be near a DentiCenter location. The Mexico-based chain of full-service dental centers has locations in northern Mexico not far from border crossings in California, Arizona and Texas. While the six DentiCenter locations are all technically in Mexico, 97% of patients come from the U.S.

If you lack dental insurance, don’t despair. Just get creative and you can keep your chompers as sharp as they would be under a gold-plated dental insurance plan.

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