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Finances and Dental Care

A strategy and plan of action for people with financial limitations

A Consultation with Dr. Allen Wong

Dear Doctor,
I am a 32 year old male. I started having problems with my teeth when I was 23. I didn't have the money to see a dentist as I had to put my family first. My teeth are very rotten, my breath is horrible and it's painful to eat the foods I love. I don't have any dental insurance. Where can I go for help to get a smile again that is affordable?

Finances and dental care

Dear Earl,
Unfortunately I hear this from too many people and from those that don't have insurance, especially in these tough economic times. Here are some pointers for you and others in similar situations:

First, you can begin to take charge of your oral and dental health, by good preventive strategies and practice. That means good daily oral hygiene, removing dental (bacterial) plaque, the soft whitish sticky film that collects at the gum line in the absence of effective daily oral hygiene habits. Dental plaque is the primary cause of the two major dental diseases, dental caries — tooth decay, and periodontal (gum) disease.

Second, you can empower yourself by addressing your diet and nutrition. Oral health and general health are intimately related; in fact many argue that they are one and the same. You may review Dear Doctor's feature articles on “Dental Decay” and “Nutrition and Oral Health,” the basics of which are to empower you to help yourself, your family and your friends in a way that you may never have considered before. All these “Self Help” strategies and practices encompass the basics of prevention and health maintenance.

You can empower yourself by addressing your diet and nutrition.

A relationship has been shown between periodontal (gum) disease and systemic (general body) disease, particularly diabetes and cardiovascular (cardio-heart, vascular-blood vessel) disease so its also a good idea to see your physician and get a physical exam.

For those who are unfortunately struggling to fix broken teeth and smiles, these measures will go a long way to halting dental disease progression, and in fact ensuring that dental treatment, fillings, crowns and periodontal surgery last for a long time.

Third, there are a number of options you can consider pursuing to get treatment. You should seek out a dentist who you feel comfortable with — let him/her examine you so that they can come up with a plan of action to repair what dental problems you have and let you know how much it may cost. The dentist should consider your financial concerns and stage your treatment to address the immediate concerns of pain and arresting dental/ periodontal disease first. If you are not satisfied with the answers to your questions, do not be afraid to get another opinion.

Most all dentists will make some kind of financial arrangement with you to pay over time or finance your care through a specially designed “third party” financing. Your employer may consider covering you with dental insurance or starting a cafeteria plan where a portion of your earnings are set aside to pay for dental/medical care and which are then not taxable.

There are a variety of other ways to reduce costs of care including going to a local dental school/university where care usually costs less and where you will be treated by dental students under supervision. These are a few of the many options. Chances are the longer you put things off, the worse they'll get and the more expensive they will become, so at least get an evaluation and consultation. Once your dental health is stable, prevention is the most cost effective way of maintaining your oral and dental health. Hope this helps and good luck.

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