My new job doesn’t have the best dental insurance. The premiums for two people cost about $76 a month, and has an annual maximum of $1000 per person. That means I’m paying more than $900 a year for the potential of us using up $2000 in benefits. That didn’t seem ideal to me. My previous dental insurance costs only about $40 a month for two people with better coverage. So, I did what I do best: research my options.

Paying out of pocket

Basic exams and cleaning costs about $100 to $300 out of pocket. But, if you need more than just preventative dental care, the costs start adding up. My dental health is not the best. I’ve had a root canal, a few crowns, fillings, and surgery for gum recession. In fact, the root canal is what prompted me to take better care of my finances. So, paying out of pocket would not be the best route for me. But, it’s possible to get some discounts if you can pay upfront.

In-house discount plans

Some dentists offer discount plans that covers 2 exams, x-rays, and cleaning. They usually also include a 15 to 20% discount for all other dental procedures. I called several dental offices near me and asked them if they have any discount plans for people without dental insurance. One of them offered a $498 discount plan for two family members. It covers dental exams and cleaning twice a year, bitewings and x-rays, and most preventives, with a 20% discount for all other procedures.

Discount plans

You can also purchase discount plans on dentalplans.com. For a family of two, most plans cost $200, and provides discounts for most dental procedures. A routine 6 month checkup costs $22, full mouth x-rays $63, bitewings $28, and adult teeth cleaning $49. For two people, a twice a year checkup and cleaning with a full-mouth x-ray and bitewings then will cost $466. Add in the cost of the plan, and this will be $666 (cue ominous music).

Individual dental insurance

You can purchase individual dental insurance. For example, Delta Dental of Michigan offers plans for individuals and family. These plans, however, are expensive and don’t seem to cover much. For my spouse and I, the Delta Dental Graduated Low Plan costs $65 a month, covers all preventives, but only covers 30% and 20% of basic and major services, respectively, for the first year. The annual maximum is only $800 per person. So, we would be paying $780 a year for $1600 of benefits. I’d rather pay for the dental insurance my employer provides.

Delta Dental Patient Direct

One of my coworkers referred me to this plan, but I’m not sure if it’s still valid. The only info I could find is this PDF. It costs $80 per household, and has more than 5400 participating dentists in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. The oral exam and adult cleaning costs $80, while x-rays is $36. The total cost for preventives for two people is about $392. However, I don’t think this plan is good for preventives. Instead, it’s something to purchase when you do need something major done as it provides discounts for most major procedures with no waiting period and no limits.

Dental school

We’re lucky to live in Ann Arbor, close to one of the best dental schools in the nation. You get care from dental students (under supervision), graduate students in specialty training, and the dental faculty that are considered experts in their fields. They also have a community dental center which has a tiered fee structure, if you’re okay with getting care from pre-doctoral dental students. This is a great option for those without dental insurance.

Medical tourism

A final option is to go the medical tourism route. We can travel to Mexico and get great dental care at much lower costs than in the US. Of course, you have to factor in the cost of travel and accommodations and you also need to find time to travel. This is an option for us in the future when we retire early.

What we’re doing

We will be buying the in-house discount plan that one of the dentist offers in my neighborhood. It costs $498 for two people, and covers all preventives plus a 20% discount on major services. If we do need something major done, we will shop around and most likely use the dental school. I’m also putting $500 towards our limited-purpose FSA in order to pay for the discount plan. This will also provide a little bit of tax savings as the annual contribution is deducted pre-tax from my paycheck. We’re also contributing to my health savings account (HSA). Finally, if we do need something major done that is not time-sensitive, I will enroll us in the dental insurance during open enrollment if the math works out.

Conclusions

Dental care costs a lot in this country. But, it’s important to take care of your dental health and keep up with your biannual cleaning and exams. It is especially important if you have an autoimmune disorder like mine, which affects your dental health. So, while I would like to skip dental care to save the money, I know how important it is to take care of my teeth and oral health. It will also save you money in the long run as you are likely to catch problems early on before they do much damage. There are many ways to save money on dental care, and hopefully some of the ways I listed above will help you mitigate some of the high costs of taking care of your oral health.

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