Patients come to our San Antonio dental clinic every week and we listen to their stories. Oftentimes, dental insurance coverage, or lack thereof, is part of the story. There are many barriers that prevent patients from seeking dental care. Lack of money. Lack of time. No awareness that there is a problem or a solution. Fear of the dentist. These are all real barriers to care that affect millions of Americans.
For patients that have absolutely no money and no means for their dental care, there are options available (click here to learn more).
I see patients in this circumstance frequently and we do our best to help them. But there is another group of patients that we see, too, that don’t fall into this category. They have the money and the means to seek care, they simply choose not to see a dentist without the benefit of dental insurance. Even when the dental insurance benefit it relatively negligible, which it often is when a patient has extensive needs, this becomes a barrier for many patients. Here are nine examples where this type of thinking results in a less than desirable outcome for the patient:
1. Don’t Go To The Dentist At All. Many people won’t go to the dentist if they don’t have insurance. If something breaks or hurts, they see the dentist, but if not, they eon’t come. One reason this is dangerous is because typically when something is broken or hurting, the options are usually limited and more costly than preventative or simple dental procedures. A tooth with a big hole in it that needs extensive treatment now might have only needed a simple filling a year or so ago. Ignoring dental problems never makes them go away.
2. Don’t Get Their Teeth Cleaned Regularly. Having your teeth cleaned regularly can decrease your chances of getting gum disease or periodontal disease. Periodontal disease usually doesn’t start causing patients pain until teeth are loose and about to fall out. Obviously, at a time like this, preventative treatment is no longer an option. Gum disease caused from extensive buildup on your teeth can cause foul mouth odors, stained teeth, and sore, bleeding gums. Having your teeth cleaned twice a year without dental insurance is not as cost prohibitive as many people think.
3. Delay Recommended Care Until They Are Covered By Insurance. Sometimes patients come in and put off needed care until they get insurance. Imagine this scenario. A patient just signed up for dental coverage with an employer, and they are in pain. They see a dentist and he gives them a plan, but the treatment coordinator informs them that they aren’t covered by the insurance company until a waiting period passes of 6 months. A surprising number of people will cope with the pain for 6 months. They’ll spend a lot of money on pain pills, topical anesthetic gels, and other drugstore dental items. They’ll miss work or not be productive at work because of the pain. They won’t feel like spending time with family and friends because of the pain. They’ll lose money and time that they can’t get back.
4. Shop for The Cheapest Dentist. Some patients may go to three or four different dentists looking for the best price. The fact of the matter is most dentists fees are generally in the same neighborhood, especially in the same part of the country. For example, here in San Antonio dentists overall have a high end price and a low end price, but most dentists by definition are in the middle. While no one can argue that the price should be fair, finding a relationship with a dentist you trust and believe in is much more important than a few dollars here and there in the long run. You want to find someone that is going to do you right and take care of you.
5. Accept the Least Expensive Treatment Plan To Save Money. If a tooth has a major problem, taking it out is always least expensive in the short term. If a patient is missing several teeth, doing nothing about it as opposed to getting implants or a prosthetic is obviously less expensive. But what about long term cost? What happens when you want to go back later and fix problems you once neglected? In the long term, dental problems that are ignored or are treated hastily can come back to haunt you later. Let’s say you have a toothache and you need a root canal. You don’t want to pay for a root canal and crown, so you have the tooth extracted. A few months later, you want to replace the tooth with a dental implant only to find that an implant and crown costs more than a root canal and crown. You decide not to do it. A few years pass, and you decide it’s finally time for the implant. The only problem is, your teeth have shifted to the point where you’ll need orthodontics first before the implant can be placed. What started as a ~$200 problem is now a ~$9000 problem.
6. Go to the Emergency Room for Dental Pain. This probably should have been number one since it costs US taxpayers millions and millions of dollars every year. Patients that don’t have dental insurance go to an emergency room for antibiotics and pain killers for a toothache. They never seek dental care and end up back there a month or so later in the same state or worse. Most emergency room facilities are not equipped for dental care. A physician or nurse can not extract a tooth, only a dentist can. Because of the staff and facilities, an emergency room visit is much more expensive than a dental visit. The cost of an emergency room visit can easily exceed two thousand dollars. A lot of dental care can be performed for this amount of money!
7. Ignore Financing Options. The great news for many patients is that there are financing options available so that many people can afford the care they need. Most dental offices offer CareCredit and other similar products so that patients can pay over time and not feel the burden of a bill all at once. Many practices can also work with patients with payment plans and in house financing. This is quite common and most patients without dental insurance seek this option to make the care they need work with their budget.
8. Travel to Another Country to Save Money on Dentistry. It goes without saying that there are risks involved in doing something like this. The US has very strict laws and standards governing the practice of dentistry, and they’re all in place for the protection of the patient. Obviously there are very skilled practitioners in other countries, and you may have even seen or heard about a good experience. As with anything, there’s also bad experiences. Good dentists stand behind their work. If you have treatment done and have follow up questions, concerns, or needs, you want your dentist nearby to be there to take care of anything that needs to be addressed. This can be impossible if your dentist is in another country.
9. Perform Dentistry on Themselves. This is probably the worst. Most patients that claim to have pulled their own tooth have usually just pulled off a broken crown and have infected roots right below the surface. This is never a good thing. Drug stores have filling materials and other short term fixes that aren’t meant to be long term dental solutions. This risk for irreversible trauma and infection is just too great to ever consider performing a dental procedure on yourself. Here are some tips to improve your dental health to avoid any need for dental treatments in the first place.
Unfortunately, there are many people in San Antonio and all over the United States that have no dental insurance, their credit is not excellent, and they have absolutely no money they can contribute toward care. Options exist for patients in these circumstances, with free and low cost care available for a select few. I have volunteered many times at these clinics and missions and they offer a great resource to patients in dire need.
Here is a list clinics in San Antonio that offer free and low cost care to patients that qualify:
San Antonio Christian Dental Clinic, Kaplan Career Institute, University Health Center Downtown, Barrio Family Clinic -Communicare, Frank Bryant Clinic -Communicare, UTHSCSA Dental School, Wesley Clinic, La Mission Family Health Care, and CentroMed.
Coming Soon: 9 Things Patients WITH Dental Insurance Often Do (But Shouldn’t)
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