According to the American Dental Association, slightly more than half of Americans ages 19-64 have private dental insurance. That means for a significant percentage of people, every trip to the dentist — whether for a regular dental cleaning and maintenance or an emergency — means money is coming out-of-pocket.
An additional 7.4 percent have dental benefits through Medicaid. That leaves 33.6 percent of Americans who do not have any dental benefits.
While everyone may understand the importance of maintaining good dental health, what can you do if you do not have insurance or the ability to pay for services?
Dr. Kristen Schintz, DMD and medical director for dental services with Geisinger Health Plan, says it becomes even more important to stay on top of your dental health when you don’t have insurance.
“Try to establish yourself as a patient with a dentist and keep up with regular cleanings,” Schintz advised. “While visiting the dentist twice a year as recommended seems counterproductive to saving money,” Schintz noted preventative dental health can play a huge role in saving you from even bigger bills later on.
“Failing to keep up with regular dental care can lead to problems like gingivitis, untreated decay, tooth loss, and bad breath. It’s best not to delay regular treatment.”
Establishing a relationship with a dentist can also make it easier to secure a payment plan or to pre-plan for any more extensive work that might need to be done.
“I don’t want people to have to go for more extensive dental treatments, so by being proactive the likelihood of things snowballing is minimized,” explained Schintz.
If you don’t have a regular, established dentist, finding an appointment for an emergency visit may be tough as many offices will not take on emergency clients who are not already patients.
Some will participate with commercial insurances, some participate with Medicare, some Medicaid and some will take a mixture of insurance and self pay, but be sure to ask.
Most importantly, though, a patient needs to feel comfortable where ever he or she decides to go.
How does one find the right fit?
“Sometimes it’s a distance people will need to go, but they’ll need to weigh out their needs and if they can drive to a farther away location they may get lower cost care,” she said. “Those options are available though not always ideal because of the commute.”
There is also Care Credit, which many people can qualify for instantly and allows six months of interest free payments.
“Care Credit is a big one — but there are also dental discount plans, which are different than insurance/commercial insurance or employer insurance as well,” she said. “They can be an easy and friendly way to be able to finance some dental work.”
If you have no insurance and you’re having trouble finding help, one thing you do not want to do is try to solve the problem yourself.
As a provider and practitioner, Schintz said she has heard all sorts of things about people who take things into their own hands. She cautions against much of it, saying a simple mistake in trying to treat a serious dental issue can escalate quickly to become a dental and medical emergency.