If you’re living without dental insurance, you’re in good company. According to the National Association of Dental Plans, about 40% of Americans are living without dental insurance of any kind, as compared to the 12.9% who were living without health insurance in 2012.
These numbers are concerning, to say the least. Poor dental health has been linked to numerous life-threatening conditions like heart disease, diabetes, respiratory diseases, and cancer, so skipping that all-important checkup is risking far more than just your teeth.
If you’re one of the millions living without dental insurance, here are some reasons why you should pay your dentist a visit, anyway—even though the most painful part of the visit may be writing the check.
It’s a well-known fact within the dentistry industry that even patients with excellent home dental care can develop severe gum disease over time. Even if you are an excellent brusher and flosser, at some point plaque is bound to slip under your gums into places your toothbrush can’t reach. Once there, the plaque will eventually harden into tartar, a rock-hard substance that no mere toothbrush can destroy.
If you spend years without seeing a professional dentist, your tartar will gradually build beneath your gums and cause gingivitis, gum disease, or even tooth decay. Ignoring small, fixable issues for years will impact your overall dental health—no matter how well you practice daily dental hygiene.
A minor cavity can turn into a major problem if it’s left untreated—and if you haven’t seen the dentist in a while, you might already have one. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 27% of U.S. adults aged 20 to 44 have untreated cavities, mostly due to a diet high in sugars and high-fructose corn syrup.
When a cavity is ignored, what might have once required a simple filling can require a root canal or even a tooth extraction. Though an out-of-pocket dentist appointment can be expensive, it’s certainly not as costly as an invasive procedure—which can run in the thousands of dollars.
Remember that tartar buildup we talked about? Having that taken care of isn’t cheap, either. A deep cleaning for tartar buildup may require local anesthesia and antibiotics, and can cost many times the price of a regular cleaning. A regular dental exam, on the other hand, costs about $100-$200, and can uncover small problems before they grow in size—and cost.
You may feel that it’s just not logical to see a dentist until you feel pain somewhere in your mouth. But most patients aren’t aware that by the time they start to feel pain, it may already be too late. A dental problem may exist for months, or even years, until it progresses to the point of affecting a tooth’s root or surrounding gum tissue.
Dr. Don C. Atkins, a dentist in Long Beach, CA, says, “When a patient comes in reporting pain, since they’ve just noticed it, they’re thinking that it’s early and probably no big deal. But when a dentist hears that, we already start to wonder if it’s a root canal or extraction type problem.” If you wait until you start to “feel” the problem, the problem will already be significantly advanced by the time it’s discovered.
If you lack dental insurance and are really in a pinch, there are several options which you might consider. Firstly, you might be able to speak with your dentistry about payment plans, cash discounts, or package deals it offers. Many dentistries offer deals for first-time patients; for instance, at Friendly Dentistry in Greensboro, customers can receive a free tooth whitening kit on their first visit. Dentists always want their patients to be able to have clean, healthy teeth, and it never hurts to ask what options might be available for the uninsured.
You may also consider going to an accredited dentistry school, where students practice under the watchful eye of trained professionals. You may also be able to use a health savings account to pay for your treatment with pre-tax dollars.
No matter what you do, don’t simply skip your dental appointments. Those who do pay very dearly for their mistake, and every dentist can share story after story of people whose cleanings take hours instead of minutes because they simply have not received any treatment for years. There are some things in life that are absolutely worth the money, and your oral health is one of them.