Almost one-quarter of all Americans say that their teeth are in “bad condition” and health professionals strongly suspect that the number of people with significant oral health problems may be much higher.
Many of us assume that good-looking teeth are healthy teeth. The truth is that even attractive smiles can harbor hidden cavities and the early stages of decay which can only be spotted and addressed by regular dental checkups.
So, factor in what is likely to be a significant number of people who aren’t going to the dentist because their teeth – at least the front ones – look OK and you have a nation with big dental problems. And the health effects extend through the entire body as poor oral health has been linked to diseases such as diabetes, heart and lung disease and stroke.
The Kaiser foundation points out that there are additional issues connected to untreated oral health problems, which “can affect appetite and the ability to eat, or lead to tooth loss, all of which can lead, in turn, to nutrition problems. Untreated problems can also cause chronic pain that can affect daily activities such as speech or sleep.”
“Oral health problems can also interfere with work; employed adults are estimated to lose more than 164 million hours of work each year due to oral health problems or dental visits. Visibly damaged teeth or tooth loss can also harm job prospects for adults seeking work.”
Unfortunately, finding affordable dental care is a growing struggle for many, even those with dental insurance. And preventive dental care is increasingly becoming an unaffordable luxury according to a new USA Today report that states many people can’t afford dental care even when they have specific dental problems that are causing them significant pain and other problems.
Marko Vujicic, chief economist of the Health Policy Institute in the American Dental Association, says that adults, in particular, have increasingly been skipping dental care due to the high cost of treatments.
“Dental insurance is not really health insurance. Health insurance is to help you smooth out the risk, it protects people from catastrophic costs. Dental insurance is structured completely the opposite. There is a cap on how much the plan will pay and beyond that, it’s fully out of pocket, Vujicic told USA Today.
Medical insurance is indeed different from dental insurance – so much so that some insurance providers simply refer to their plans as “dental benefits” rather than “coverage.”
Healthcare insurance covers costs after your medical bill reaches a specific financial amount – as an example, an Obamacare mid-range silver plan has an average deductible of $2,927 per individual or $6,010 per family. Once you spend that amount on healthcare, the insurance kicks in.
Dental insurance only covers you up to a specific limit. Typically that limit is $1,000-$1,500 annually. When your reimbursable dental costs go over that limit, you are responsible for paying your dental care costs for the rest of the year.
The policy caps on dental insurance have remained the same for the past forty years. Meanwhile, expenditures for dental services continue to rise, at an average rate of 5.5 percent annually. Given that the average cost for a crown is $750-1200, and the cost of a single implant starts at $1500, you can exhaust your annual dental allowance fairly quickly.
The Department of Health & Human Services recently awarded $156 million to 420 health centers around the country in an attempt to respond to the growing – and overwhelming, according to the report – demand for affordable dental coverage.
Visits to private dental offices fell by 9% from 2006 to 2012 (the last year for which statistics are available) – but adults have been seeking more care at community health centers and emergency departments, where dental appointments have increased 74% and 20% respectively.
The fact that dental health coverage is not all that helpful for most people is not news to anyone, including dentists. In fact, last year, roughly half of those with dental insurance saw a dentist, as compared to only 17 percent of the completely uninsured, both abysmal numbers when periodontal disease and tooth decay has been indicated a key factor in the development of heart disease.
Last month, the Department of Health and Human Resources awarded a $156 million dollar grant to be split between 420 facilities that provide dental care for the indigent and uninsured, but that amount is far less than what is actually needed to address the overwhelming problem of dental decay and periodontal disease.
It’s a good start, but it’s not nearly enough to meet the demand.
Dental savings plans, the affordable alternative to traditional dental insurance, were designed to make dental care affordable. Plan members save 10%-60% on the typical cost of dental care and treatments at a nationwide network of more than 100,000 dentists.
Participating dental care providers have agreed to accept a discounted fee from plan members. As a plan member, you simply show your membership card when visiting any participating plan provider to receive most dental services at discounted fees. You pay the discounted rate directly to the dentist.
Find out more about dental savings plans at dentalplans.com, or by calling 1-800-238-5163.