Ouch! My Uninsured Trip to the Dentist

ToothDo you have dental insurance?

Confession time. I haven’t had dental insurance since February of 2010 when I quit my job. Subsequently I haven’t visited the dentist since that time.

I’ve wanted to go a few times, but I either never found the time, or I was scared off by the fear of having to do a crown or something ridiculously expensive. So ignorant, I know.

The lack of insurance is by choice. I could totally afford a small dental policy, but I just haven’t pulled the trigger. From my limited research, you need to have dental insurance at least six months prior to going to the dentist. So, I always put off purchasing insurance because I thought I was about to go to the dentist anyway and it wouldn’t apply.

Additionally, I’m just not sure dental insurance is worth it. It made sense when I had an employer subsidizing half the cost of the plan, but now that I’m solo it’s not a clear financial choice.

I was caught in this crazy downward spiral of no dentist – no insurance – no dentist. About half of U.S. adults appear to be caught in the same spiral:

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, “[i]n 1997, 56% of adults..had some form of dental insurance, compared to 86% who had medical insurance.”

Well, my teeth finally kicked me out of the spiral. Pain beneath one of my crowns forced me to head to the dentist for a cleaning and to check on the crown.

I was prepared to drop a grand on a new crown, but I was hoping for just a cleaning charge from the dental hygienist.

When I arrived I told the receptionist that I wanted to go over costs before any work was done.

She passed this information along to the dental hygienist who quickly ignored it. I forgot as well because I started panicking about pain like I always do at the dentist.

One thing I was conscious enough to notice though was the technological advancements the dental industry has gone through in just the past year. For instance, after x-rays, the hygienist used a small digital camera to look around in my mouth. No more tiny little mirror (what will become of them all? melted down? sad).

Next, and pleasantly so, the hygienist broke out some sort of micro ultrasonic tooth cleaner vs the scraper-pick thing. While I enjoyed the luxurious experience, it made me start thinking about the bill. Surely this new technology was going to cost a fortune?

At the end of the appointment, the hygienist told me (based on the x-ray and cleaning) that nothing was wrong with my crown other than a small infection, which she said would clear up after the cleaning. She then told me she forgot to go over finances so she offered to waive the cost of the x-rays. Sweet savings!

So, at the end of the day I owed $125 (less a $20 credit on my account) for the cleaning and the fluoride.

Not that bad, right? It could have been a lot worse. Now that I have a clean slate I’m thinking of getting dental insurance. I started looking around at dental coverage options and ran some quotes and here’s what I found:

I can get dental insurance for around $25 a month, or $300 a year. But it’s capped at $1000 in coverage a year. I can get a dental discount plan for around $7 a month, or $84 a year. That may be something I look into.

My teeth are prone to needing significant work, so I think it’s at least worth the $84 a year investment, right? At a minimum I need to starting looking into other ways to save on dental care.

What about you? Do you have dental insurance? Is it worth it?

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About Philip Taylor, CPA

Philip Taylor, aka "PT", is a CPA, blogger, podcaster, husband, and father of three. PT is also the founder and CEO of the personal finance industry conference and trade show, FinCon.

He created Part-Time Money® back in 2007 to share his advice on money, hold himself accountable (while paying off over $75k in debt), and to meet others passionate about moving toward financial independence.


    Speak Your Mind


  1. Dental costs are on the rise and if you are like most you want to know should you purchase dental insurance. Many dental offices now offer great specials to first time patients for a full exam, x-rays, and most include a cleaning.

  2. Dr. Kevin Williams dismisses the notion that problems only have a negative impact. http://voices.yahoo.com/turning-personal-crisis-challenges-into-growth-11705454.html?cat=5 “Problems are opportunities for you to think differently,” he told me during an interview. “Look at inventions; they derive from problems and the quest for solutions. The person who’s trying to get past it is the one who will be innovative.”

  3. I think dental care is something of which you are most likely to regret not having at any given time for many reason but most strikingly is purely that there is no greater pain than toothache. As with most things in life, the moment you neglect something, fate then has a way of coming to sting you. And when it comes to pain with teeth, there is little that stings more. I don’t have the figures at hand to do the math’s, but I sometimes wonder whatever people have to say about European style taxation, are they actually any worse off than Americans when you consider how much they get back compared to what the average American needs to shelve out on various health and dental care policies whether assisted and subsidized by employers or not. It would be a very interesting comparison. It could be an interesting feature for a future blog post comparing what the various citizens of different European countries pay in taxes and how much the individual American pays out for the same quality health and dental care. I think it results may be surprising and I often think we need to think, do the math’s and then judge.

  4. I have dental. Ive used my yearly limit and then needed a root canal. i have to pay out of pocket. about $2000. and they had not checked the ins. I checked and reallized I reached my yearly limit. They just assumed….But I have the money, dont want to part with it, but am and am almost done, hopefully, it takes multiple visits.

  5. Squeezer @Personal Finance Success says

    My work offers separate dental insurance.  However, it just so happens that my health insurance pays for 2 dental exams per year with a $25 co-pay, so i use that and would pay for any cavities or other work out of pocket.

  6. $84/year?  That’s worth signing up for just to discover the fine print.
    We ditched our dental insurance when we retired from the military.  But we seem to have good dental genes (and a lot of floss).  For the last decade I’ve been getting away with one visit every 2-3 years, which is almost as cheap as your $84/year bid.  No TV cameras, either… maybe I need to shop around for a new dentist.
    Our daughter kept making the usual semi-annual visits, but the office gave us a 20% discount for cash.  That was almost a wash against insurance.  We were able to negotiate a good cash deal with the orthodontist, too, since they didn’t have to go through an insurance company.
    While the price of dental insurance may be rising, the cost of the hardware & procedures seems to be dropping.  Maybe discount plans really are the trend.

  7. I am a federal retiree and although I can keep dental coverage and renew at open season, I opted out of it this year. I and my husband had two crowns done the previous year and our daughter can no longer be covered under the dental insurance as she is age 22 so we figured we would save approximately $900.00 in premiums 2012. Fortunately, we had no problems to speak of, just the regular cleanings and Xrays and I think that I may choose to enroll every other year rather than once a year.  Of course, we make sure to keep the good dental habits we both have so we don’t encounter any problems but there is never a guarantee that something may or may not happen.

  8. AverageJoeMoney says

    I have dental insurance, but over the years have had time when I haven’t had it through work. I’ve always opted for it because my smile has been my lifeblood. If I’m with a client, I can’t have horrible teeth that they’re wondering about instead of focusing on the topic at hand.

  9. I have dental insurance through my company.  Definitely worth it since I go twice a year.

  10. William_Drop_Dead_Money says

    How good is dental insurance any more these days? When I managed our previous company’s health insurance, the impression I got is that most plans these days are just discount plans, because true dental insurance has become very expensive.
    Did you ask your dentist if they offer either insurance or discount plans? Many dentists do (or at least did a while ago).
    Also, if you have a normal high deductible health insurance account with a Health Savings Account, the HSA allows you to pay dental costs from it. It’s still out of pocket but at least it’s pretax dollars.