It’s estimated that somewhere around 76.5 million adults in America don’t have dental insurance. But even those that do often have to work out dental financing for their treatment. How do dental payment plans work? Are they affordable? Is it worth it to take out dental loans? And why doesn’t insurance cover everything, anyway?!
When you’re trying to figure out how to pay for dental work without insurance, most dental offices offer some type of 3rd party dental financing. These “dental credit cards” allow you to pay for necessary (or elective) treatments and then make low monthly payments until you pay off the balance.
You might be thinking that dental loans or dental credit cards are expensive. But they actually aren’t in most cases. The usual dental financing plan is 0% interest or low interest for up to 12-18 months for most patients.
Most of these dental payment plans are not through your actual dentist’s office but rather a 3rd party. You can usually apply for and be approved for dental financing right away, making it easy to schedule treatment whenever you’re ready.
Even if you do have insurance coverage but are trying to figure out how to pay for dental expenses, dental payment plans can cover whatever isn’t included in your benefits package.
One of the most common frustrations we hear in the dental industry is the fact that it’s “too expensive” or insurance doesn’t cover as much as it should.
You’ll probably be shocked to hear this, but the amount that most dental insurance plans cover today is almost exactly the same amount it covered 40 years ago. It hasn’t increased with the cost of living. So yes, your insurance doesn’t cover as much as it probably ought to.
Dental insurance is meant to pay more for preventative services like exams and cleanings, keeping you from needing expensive dental procedures. But when you don’t keep up with checkups or home care—and need restorative treatment—it only pays a portion of your procedure. This is why it makes it seem like “all” dental treatment is expensive!
Once you get past a filling or two, or maybe a crown, you’re on your own when it comes to affording dental work.
Your employer and HR department get to choose which type of health package they offer to employees. Every plan, regardless of whether it’s through the same carrier, is different from the next. The details are worked out based on how much your employer pays into it.
But employers aren’t required to include dental add-ons to health coverage, so sometimes it gets left off. Or if they do provide it, it’s just a basic policy without a lot of perks.
For some reason, dental services are categorized separate from medical ones, even though your mouth is attached to your body. The same goes for when you see an optometrist for eyeglasses.
Until legislation and health care laws change, dental treatments aren’t going to be included in your health insurance package anytime soon. The ones that tend to be surgical in nature, like when you’re being sedated for wisdom tooth removal, for example.
That’s why almost everybody is familiar with dental payment plans!
The absolute best way to pay for dental treatment is to book your appointment as early as possible when issues are smaller and cheaper to treat. A small filling is going to cost a whole lot less than a root canal and crown. The longer you wait to treat an issue, the more complex it is.
That being said, life happens. If you’ve had something (like a pandemic, for instance) preventing you from seeing a dentist for checkups, you might have dental work to catch up on.
Here are some of the best ways to fit it into your budget:
In the perfect world, all of your preventative care and your basic dental work is covered by your insurance policy.
To find out what’s covered by insurance and how much coverage you have, your dental office can work up a care plan that’s itemized with your specific policy.
Keep in mind that your dental insurance has a cap (annual allowable) that they’ll pay out each year. If you use it up, you’re out of luck until it resets annually, which is January 1st for most policies. This might be $1,000 or $1,500.
There are also deductibles to meet, and co-pay amounts to cover. You might have to pay $50, for example, before you can apply the cost of a filling to your insurance coverage
And last but not least, insurance coverage is set at percentages, with tiers dropping down the more complex a procedure is. So, you might get 80% on a filling or 50% coverage on a crown (up to your annual allowable.)
Since a lot of people don’t have insurance—or the coverage they want—it’s starting to be fairly common for dental offices to have membership plans or discount plans.
A dental savings plan is like a private, in-house insurance policy without the annual cap. You just get a flat discount on all services.
Dental discount plans are similar. Accepted by specific offices, you buy into the dental payment plan and use the discount card at a participating office in your area.
Most dental discount plans are still a lot like insurance, but without having to wait on claims to process or fees to guess about. It’s like a membership plan where you receive certain services at a fixed rate, then discounts on others. There may be an annual cap, or there might not.
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Most dental financing programs are actually types of dental credit cards where you use the card to pay for your treatment, regardless of which type of procedure you’re getting. There are no pre-approvals, so you can use it on anything dental-related, whether it’s implants and veneers or same-day teeth whitening.
The good news is that with dental credit cards, you can still get low or 0% interest financing for up to a year. As long as you’re paying on the card balance every month, you can get interest-free dental financing on the total cost of your care, which can be life-changing if you’re going through a smile-makeover or full-arch dental implant treatment.
Just remember to read the fine print. Not all dental credit cards have low-interest rates. The last thing you want to do is miss a payment or deadline and get hit with high fees. Your credit score will also play a factor in which type of credit card you can apply for.
Besides 3rd party lenders, you can also take out a dental loan the same way you would other small personal loans. Working with your private bank or credit union is one of the best ways to get started.
Be sure to ask your dentist if they offer dental financing or a low interest dental loan through their office. They may have some type of payment installment or 3rd party provider they work with for lending purposes.
At what point is it “worth” it to consider dental financing? That’s a personal decision that only you can make. But typically, dental loans are going to be for truly life-changing and medically necessary procedures.
For example, you might have tons of cavities everywhere, and it would jeopardize your health if you waited another day to start treatment. Or maybe you’re embarrassed by the way you look, and the only thing that will restore your confidence is a dramatic smile makeover.
What type of dental financing depends on the type of dental procedure or treatment. You wouldn't need to take out dental loans for a whitening treatment. You might consider a dental or personal loan for full-mouth dental implants.
Here are some of the most common types of treatments that people seek out dental financing for:
Dental implants permanently replace missing teeth, whether it’s just one or all of them. And unlike a lot of other options out there, implants can last for the rest of your life. Mathematically speaking, they provide the best return on investment of any other type of tooth replacement.
Some types of teeth whitening treatments (particularly same-day/in-office treatments) are more expensive than others. If you’re about to start a smile makeover process, your dentist may suggest whitening your teeth beforehand so that they can match the new restorations to a brighter shade of tooth enamel.
Dental crowns are important full-coverage restorations for teeth that have a lot of structural damage. Without them, teeth can crack in half and need a root canal or tooth extraction. But they cost a whole lot more than dental fillings do, and if you need more than one, your insurance benefits will probably run out. When you finance your crown, you can save your tooth without having to risk additional damage a few months later.
Fixed bridges help retain tooth spacing and normal biting/chewing patterns. If you don’t replace a missing tooth early enough, the ones around it will start to move and get worn down. You might even develop TMJ problems. Investing in a bridge earlier will help you keep your oral health at the current level it’s already at before things get worse.
Full, partial, and implant-supported dentures are literally life-changing for people with missing teeth. If you can’t afford them, you shouldn’t have to suffer in silence.
Medically necessary oral surgery like cancer removal can’t wait. Financing treatment now could literally save your life.
When it comes to your confidence and quality of life, you can’t put a dollar figure on a smile makeover. But affording multiple veneers or other treatments may not be in your everyday budget. Dental financing can change that without having to wait another day to schedule treatment.
Avoiding trips to the dentist because you don’t have dental insurance can wind up costing you. Literally, the longer you wait between checkups, the bigger the risk there is for major dental treatment needs when you do finally go back.
If you’re not worried about paying out of pocket for dental treatment, it’s financially smart to go ahead and schedule a checkup and cleaning every six months. That way, your dentist can spot issues earlier when they’re simpler and more budget-friendly to treat.
Regardless of how long it’s been since you’ve seen a dentist, most dental providers offer some type of dental payment plan in their office. They understand that people are frustrated by their insurance (or lack of it), and it’s something they see every single day.
Don’t let not having dental insurance keep you from seeing a dentist. Any good dental team will be understanding because you’re in good company with millions of other people.
Let’s take a step back for a second and discuss how to pay for dental treatment if you have bad credit. Maybe you don’t qualify for private dental loans, or you can’t get dental credit cards without sky-high interest rates.
If you have a bad credit score, you might still be able to get dental financing that you’re able to pay off quickly, even though the interest rate is higher than you’d like.
If you know you’re already going to pay into dental loans, don’t forget about your FSA/HSA (flex spending account or health savings account) either. That way, you can set money aside without paying extra taxes. And whatever you save up, you use, then finance the rest.
If personal loans are out of the question, some people even borrow money from family members, sell things, or take up part-time jobs just to pay for something like changing like a smile makeover. It’s temporary, and the benefits are worth it.
Find the best dental loans with bad credit here!
There are some creative ways to pay for dental work without insurance. A common example might be paying for a dental procedure with a 0% credit card or monthly payment plans with your dentist. Or you might even have a few good old-fashioned garage sales to purge your house of things you don’t need while getting a little extra cash.
Apart from coming up with extra money to cover dental costs, there are other things you can do to make treatments more affordable, like:
But with the lower price does come a trade-off. It can be pretty hard to get into dental schools as a patient since so many people want cheap dental treatment. You might need to sit on a waiting list for a while, and when you do get scheduled, the appointments last a lot longer than your routine private practice appointment. Getting treatment from a dental school is one of the best dental treatment options if you are on a budget.
Some communities have brick-and-mortar or pop-up discounted dental clinics. They might be open full-time and income-based or once a year with a first-come-first-serve line. Usually, these clinics are funded by grants or dentists donating their time and resources. So, you might not be able to get veneers or implants, but you can get a cleaning and dentures.
The downside to low-cost dental clinics is that they can be harder to get into because of the high demand. But when you’re desperate, they’re almost always an option if you’re willing to drive to get to them.
Depending on which state you live in, Medicare or Medicaid might cover some types of dental treatments for certain age brackets. But like low-cost clinics, the treatments that qualify will be limited and more therapeutic for “fast” relief, like extractions and dentures, instead of smile makeovers and dental implants.
Most government assistance programs will be for young children, older individuals, people with disabilities, or who fall into some at-risk socioeconomic group.
If you’re looking for a dental financing option to help cover treatments like implants or smile makeovers, you’re not alone. With or without insurance, dental payment plans can be extremely helpful. After all, you get to reap the benefits right away and make low monthly payments. Some dental credit cards even offer 0% interest for up to a year!
The longer you wait to correct oral health issues, the pricier they get. Worrying about how to pay for dental work shouldn’t cost you your health. Ask your dentist about which types of dental financing they offer!
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