Dear Nurse Katz,
I just graduated and I am trying to stay healthy and avoid going into medical debt. I was thinking about cutting out my dental care, but I have been told that it is just as important than seeing your primary car doctor, but insurance does not seem to cover a lot when it comes to dental care, and every time I go to the dentist, I come out with a huge bill. I want to keep my teeth until I am at least 70. What should I do?
Kansas City, MO
Good for you for thinking ahead Matt! You should not cut out oral care all together due to the expense. Keep in mind that bad oral care today could potentially lead to expensive dentures when you are 70. In addition, many times, the condition of the mouth mimics the condition of the body as a whole. Some reports have indicated that there is a relationship between periodontal (gum) disease and stroke, heart disease and other systemic diseases. In essence, your dentist may be the first healthcare provider to diagnose a health problem, but at the same time, dental visits can become VERY expensive if you are not careful. Unfortunately, there are some dentists out there they will try to "up-sell" you, or make you buy treatments that are unnecessary, which is why it is important that you find the right dentist that you trust and can work within your budget. It is best that you are honest with your dentist and let them know your concerns upfront so you can maintain good oral care without going broke. In addition, here are some tips that might help you save a ton on your next visit:
•Watch out for the Fillings Scam: On occasion, fillings can become cracked and surrounded by decay, thus needing to be replaced. However, fillings generally last from 5 - 60 years depending on how well they were put in, how much you are grinding your teeth, etc. If your dentist suddenly recommends you replace all your fillings with no reasonable explanation, you might want to get a second opinion.
•Ask for a copy of your films: This is much easier (and cheaper) to do the day your films are taken. Ask your dentist to email them to you or print them out for you before you leave along with a copy of your medical records. This way, if you decide to get a second opinion at a later date, it is unlikely that you will need to get more x-rays, especially if it is soon after your current appointment.
•Go to dental school: There are plenty of dental schools out there, and dental students need practice. This does not mean you will be a "guinea pig" per say, but you MAY have to sit in the chair a bit longer and these students will be thorough since there is a huge amount of oversight from their professors. The best way to find out where these schools are located is ask a dentist, call up a local dental school or go to the American Dental Association website.
•Check out the free/discounted dental clinics: Some dentists who have been practicing for years want to give back to the community and will volunteer at dental clinics for those families who need low cost or free dental care. You can find some of the clinics at http://www.freedentalcare.us, but know that times, days and services may be limited.
•Opt of Silver: If you can, opt for the amalgam fillings since they tend to be cheaper. Who sees the back of your mouth anyway?
•Go to a Dental Expo: Want to find out the latest and greatest in the dental world for free? Go to a dental expo and educate yourself as well as get some freebies and maybe a quick "mini-check-up."
•Ask for samples: Toothpaste, floss, and toothbrushes can add up; especially if you are changing your toothbrush as much as you should. I keep an extra toothbrush and floss in my purse since you never know when that piece of broccoli will get wedged in between your teeth or how long you might be stuck at the airport due to a canceled flight; this is when these samples come in handy! Your dentist might even have some extra tips on where to get some of your dental supplies cheaper as well as the latest and greatest in oral hygiene.
So there you go Matt. While I can't guarantee that you won't need dentures by 70, I can tell you that cutting out your dental care all together probably won't save you money in the end, but following some of these "time tested tips" may help you avoid going into medical debt. In addition to these tips, there are more healthcare savings tips listed in the book Healthcare Made Easy that may help you navigate through the healthcare system and help save you from additional medical expenses in the future.