Have you or a member of your family recently skipped a visit to the dentist owing to the rapidly rising cost of dental care? Well, many Americans have and statistics show that the numbers are on the increase. While the public and law makers have been focused on the millions of Americans without health insurance and rising medical costs, scant attention has been paid to what has been happening to the availability and cost of dental care. For every adult who lacks health insurance, an estimated three are without dental insurance. In fact, according to the National Association of Dental Plans, just slightly more than half of the American population had access to dental insurance in 2007.
Why such few numbers?
One of the main reasons why so many of us opt out of having dental insurance, even in instances where our employers pay part of the premiums, is the relatively skimpy coverage afforded to anything other than routine cleanings and checkups. For instance, a typical dental plan entails 50% co-pay for high-ticket items like bridges and crowns and complicated procedures. Moreover, most of these plans contain a ‘missing tooth clause’ meaning that they are unlikely to replace a tooth that was missing at the time that you were enrolling for the plan. The downside to this is that most dental plans limit coverage to just $1,500 a year which is hardly more than a down payment on your child’s $6,000 braces.
The end result: Many people who cannot afford dental insurance end up postponing visits to the dentists due to prohibitive costs. This, inevitably, puts their health in jeopardy because of the close connection between overall health and oral health.
In recent years, dental care costs have been increasing at a faster rate than overall medical care costs. Between 2008 and 2012, statistics from the Bureau of Labor indicate that in the health care sector, only the prices of adult day care services, nursing home care, and hospital services rose at higher annual inflation rates than dental care. As a result of these steep increases, it is little surprise that dentists now rake in more money on average than many physicians.
According to the American Dental Association, the average net incomes for general dentists in private practice was $192,680 in 2009, with the average for specialists, including dental surgeons and orthodontists being $305,820. In contrast, the average income for family practice physicians and pediatricians in 2012 was $175,000 and $173,000 respectively.
Americans now fully understand how prohibitive dental care has become, which partly explains why less than 36% of all adults in the U.S. are expected to visit a dentist this year and why one in four non-elderly Americans live with untreated tooth decay. Another reason why most of us forego much-needed dental care is the apparent lack of transparency in pricing. BC Soft Touch Dental postulates that besides not being able to afford it, the most cited reason people give for avoiding the dentist is fear of not knowing the costs. As with medical care, finding out well beforehand how much you will have to pay from your own pocket for dental work is next to impossible.
These high out-of-pocket expenditures and lack of transparency have led our dentists at BC Soft Touch Dental to try and help people establish how much dentists in their communities charge for everything from root canals and other complicated procedures to routine checkups and use their group buying power to negotiate for more affordable prices. However, more still needs to be done to improve access to dental care, especially in poor and rural areas of cities where dentists do not practice.