Friday, February 15, 2008

Health Care and Your Pearly Whites

Who doesn't want to be the picture of dental health? Evidently, about half of America. About 150 million people are without a dental plan of some kind according to the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors. They also report that only 69% of adult Americans visited a dentist with the most recent annual survey they conducted. If everyone wants to have gleaming pearly whites, the public will have to do better than that. Dental work can be expensive, but not caring for them can be outrageously pricey if oral health problems develop.

The Academy of General Dentistry wants everyone to see a dentist especially for preventive measures since good dental health promotes overall health and wellness. Studies have been done recently that show the downside of not taking care of your teeth and gums. In addition to halitosis (bad breath) and ugly, discolored teeth, severe dental health issues can increase the cost of health care and create lifestyle problems. Over the recent years there is increasing evidence to support the fact that dental problems like periodontal diseases can cause other serious health implications. Bacteria enter the blood stream and travel to major organs and begin new infections. Poor dental care can definitely lead to severe health issues including heart disease, strokes, and more. Periodontal disease starts as an inflammation of the gums. And if left untreated, it can affect and gradually destroy the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth.

Here's what the Mayo Clinic says: "Your mouth is normally teeming with bacteria. Usually you can keep these bacteria under control with good oral health care, such as daily brushing and flossing. Saliva is also a key defense against bacteria and viruses. It contains enzymes that destroy bacteria in different ways. But harmful bacteria can sometimes grow out of control and lead to periodontitis, a serious gum infection." What is the lesson? Fix oral health problems when they develop, not when it's too late.

Most Americans get their dental plan as insurance through their employer. But many also have individual dental benefits through a policy they purchase directly from an insurance company, usually from an insurance agent. There are several types of dental insurance including traditional indemnity plans, health maintenance organizations (HMO), and preferred provider organizations (PPO). When these plans are used by the insured, there are typically going to be waiting periods, annual maximums, and exclusions. Most of the time, dental insurance can be expensive, and the policy can be difficult to understand or limited in scope.

There are additional options to help keep your teeth healthy if insurance is not available. Discount plans have become very popular and usually can be purchased for not a lot of money. Discount dental plans are a great alternative to dental insurance. There is no claims process or waiting to use the plan, and members pay the participating dentist at the time of service a reduced fee based on a schedule of services. The patient receives immediate savings, and the dentist is happy to have payment at the time of service. Discounts range from 10% to 60% on most discount plans, and the patient is a member of the plan--not an insured. In many discount plans, the membership includes all residents of the household. Prior to joining one, check out the providers in the area, what discounts are available, refund and cancellation policies, and if the company is registered to do business in your state.

Also, an option that some consider is to visit local dental schools. Dental students provide supervised treatment at reduced rates. However, these locations are not always available for most Americans. Additional low cost options for dental care can be with various state and local health departments which maintain information on locations or groups who provide this for free or nominal fees. Government programs like SCHIP and Medicaid vary by state, and there are income qualifiers for anyone who uses these options. Medicare only covers certain dental procedures related to another medical treatment covered by that plan, such as an accident which caused severe mouth injury.

And if your credit rating is decent, the majority of dentists in the U.S. will work with you on certain financing options for major dental work. One company that many dentists accept is CareCredit--accepted by about 75,000 providers. Some banks, such as Bank of America, are also open to health care lending. But you still need to pay the bill when the statement comes from the finance company. They won't repossess your teeth if you don't pay the bill, but your credit rating will be negatively impacted--not worth the hassle just for a pretty smile.

Paying for dental care can be challenging, especially if the dentist has provided a treatment plan at the initial visit. This information will tell you what the dentist feels may be necessary to correct any problems detected during the oral exam. If you are lucky, you will get off with a bill just for cleaning and X-rays. More critical needs, such as crowns, root canals, fillings or orthodontia may require budgeting to pay for those dental health issues. Remember, the key is to keep your real teeth in your head and in good shape as long as you can. If you are able to afford dental insurance, then use it. If you need more help, find a good supplemental program that will knock the bill down to a more palatable amount. Don't put off dental hygiene until you have a problem. If your teeth start to hurt so bad that you're about ready to pass out from the pain, then maybe you've waited too long.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

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