Most people understand the benefits of a biannual trip to the dentist. After all, cavities don’t fix themselves and a minor toothache can turn into a major headache if it’s not addressed early on.
But if you’re skeptical about the importance of dental insurance and whether it’s really worth it, you’re not the only one.
If you’re like me, your dental insurance card probably sits at the back of your wallet collecting dust in between your twice-a-year cleanings. If your teeth require minimal maintenance outside of routine visits, you might actually save money by dropping your dental plan.
Of course, dental insurance does have its benefits, and some people need dental insurance to keep their treatment costs low. But the bottom line is, dental insurance isn’t essential for everyone.
Here are six good reasons to ditch your dental insurance plan.
1. You don’t use it
If you only visit the dentist twice a year, and maybe once or twice to have the odd cavity filled, you might be spending more on dental insurance than you would be if you just paid out-of-pocket for all your appointments.
Even though dental insurance premiums are cheaper than health insurance premiums, it’s not worth keeping your dental insurance if you rarely use the coverage. If you have group dental insurance through your employer, those biweekly deductions add up over time, snowballing into a hefty chunk of change could be put to better use.
2. You can get a discount for paying in cash
It’s a common misconception that you need dental insurance to cover the enormous cost of dental treatments. The truth is, most regular dental services, like routine cleanings, are less expensive than you might imagine. Plus, most dentists offer a discount for patients who pay out-of-pocket, rather than using insurance.
Let’s look at some numbers to illustrate this point. According to the 2017 annual fee survey from Dental Economics, the average cost of a comprehensive dental exam ranges from $84-$127, depending on where you live. If your dentist offers a 5% discount for paying in cash, the cost of your cleanings could be less than the cost of your annual dental insurance premium.
3. Many plans have limited coverage
To sell you on a dental plan, many insurance companies promise perks like preventive care covered at 100% or discounts on teeth whitening. But the truth is, many dental plans have very limited coverage for certain types of oral care that you might need.
For example, a good dental plan will cover the cost of two cleanings each year. But other “routine” dental work, like fillings, crowns, and root canals, are not always covered in full. Also, the annual x-rays that your dentist insists you need are not always covered, either. Unless you have perfect teeth and only require annual cleanings, you will probably end up paying out-of-pocket for some of your dental care anyway.
4. You already had your wisdom teeth removed
One of the biggest benefits of having dental insurance is that it typically pays for a portion of the cost of wisdom teeth surgery, which most people need to have done. Depending on your plan, that can equate to savings of $800-$1,000 — a big chunk of change that would otherwise come out-of-pocket.
But if you’ve already had your wisdom teeth out, keeping your dental insurance plan is less valuable. Most people don’t need to undergo major (and majorly expensive) dental surgeries as an adult. Plus, if you have a good health insurance plan, it will probably cover at least some of the surgery, particularly if your wisdom teeth are negatively impacting your health in other ways.
5. Your dentist might suggest unnecessary procedures
There are plenty of things that can go wrong with your mouth, at least as far as the trained professional eye is capable of spotting. But the line between dental problems that need prompt fixing and minor issues that can go by unaddressed is not always clear.
When you walk into a dental office and hand over your insurance card, a big dollar sign lights up above your head. Having insurance allows money-hungry dentists to recommend procedures that you might not really need. If you don’t have insurance, it’s less likely that your dentist will recommend treatments that are not 100% necessary, as most people aren’t willing to spend their own money unless it’s for a good reason.
6. Most dentists offer payment plans
If you have bad teeth and spend a lot of time at the dentist, dental insurance can definitely be helpful. However, keep in mind that if you really want to get rid of your dental insurance, most dentists offer payment plans for those pricier procedures.
For example, if you need a root canal but you don’t have dental insurance, you can probably pay off the treatment over a period of time, rather than paying the full amount upfront. If you’re used to paying your dental insurance premium each month, paying off the cost of a treatment is really no different.
What to consider before dropping dental insurance
There’s no doubt that dental insurance can be valuable. If you’re one of the lucky few who spend hours in the dentist’s chair on an annual basis, it’s likely that your dental plan is saving you some serious cash. In this case, keeping your dental insurance is probably in your best interest. But if you’re thinking about dropping your dental plan, there are some things you should consider.
First, be honest with yourself about your oral health. If you’ve been averaging three cavities a year for your entire lifetime, don’t expect that to change any time soon. Some people need more dental care than others, even if you take good care of your teeth, and that’s where dental insurance is valuable.
It’s also a smart idea to run some numbers and make sure you can afford to pay for your dental treatment out-of-pocket. Call your dentist and find out how much cleanings, x-rays, and fillings cost without insurance, and remember to ask about cash discounts.
In addition, consider your financial situation realistically. If you needed an emergency extraction or a new crown put on, could you comfortably afford to pay for more expensive procedures using your savings? If not, consider keeping your dental plan until you have an emergency fund for this purpose.
Above all else, remember this one thing before you drop your dental insurance — if you want your plan back, you have to wait until the annual Open Enrollment period to buy a new one.
You can’t drop your dental plan and reinstate your coverage whenever you want to. When you get rid of dental coverage, you will be uninsured until Open Enrollment comes around, which happens every year from November through January. The only exception is if you have a Qualifying Life Event (QLE), like moving states, losing employer-sponsored dental coverage, or getting married.
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