Financing professional dental care
More and more, medical professionals and researchers are finding that oral health is tied to overall physical health. For example, recent studies have shown a connection between periodontal (tooth and gum) disease and cardiovascular (heart) disease, and there is also some indication of a further link with respiratory illness and other systemic ailments.
Of course, oral health can also be tied to emotional well-being. People who want to hide their teeth and gums tend to smile and laugh less often, which can actually have fairly serious negative effects on their mental health. Smiling and laughing create social connection and relieve stress. They are an important part of maintaining our mental and emotional balance.
With so much at stake, it's clear that proper dental care is imperative, not optional. Unfortunately, dental care can be expensive and is beyond the means of many individuals and families. In response to the growing concern over oral health and its ramifications for physical health, many low-cost and even free dental care options are emerging.
Medicare and Medicaid Dentists
Dental care is now part of two public assistance programs: Medicare, for people 65 years of age and older, and Medicaid, for qualifying low-income individuals and families. Medicaid and Medicare dentists work in both clinics and private practices. Your local state government Medicare or Medicaid office will likely have a listing of the participating dentists or dental clinics in your area. It's also a good idea to confirm that the office accepts this coverage when you make your appointment.
Private dental insurance can be purchased but is generally too expensive for the average individual or family. Some employers include at least basic dental coverage in their health insurance and benefits plans, but more advanced procedures such as getting dental implants may not be covered. It's also not always the case that there will be any dental insurance plan.
A number of options for cheap or affordable dental insurance are emerging, but at this point, free dental insurance doesn't exist. For families whose income is too high to qualify for Medicaid but too low to afford private health insurance, the Children's Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) offers extremely affordable dental coverage for children.
When looking for a dental insurance provider, make sure they have dentists available in your area. Many dentists or dental clinics align themselves with one particular agency; for example, they might be Blue Cross dentists, Blue Shield dentists, Aetna dentists, and so on. Even if a dentist or clinic is listed in a company's directory of providers, it's always best to confirm their participation when you call to make an appointment.
Emergency Dental Care
Regular oral care is important and can generally be planned for, but as with physical health, there is always the possibility of a dental health emergency. A chipped, broken or knocked-out tooth, a sudden toothache, or the loss of a filling or crown—these events are usually unexpected and often very painful, not to mention that they can be dangerous if left untreated.
Some urban areas are fortunate enough to have 24-hour dentists who can be called upon in such cases. In other areas, hospital emergency rooms or urgent care clinics may provide initial assessment and treatment, referring the patient to their regular dentist or another dentist on call.
Emergency dental care, like emergency medical care, can be expensive and may not be covered in full, or at all, by insurance. Make sure you know what's covered by your dental insurance plan, and try to save an emergency fund to cover any upfront or unreimbursed costs.