Free Dental Care Doesn’t Exist

December 11, 2019


The old saying goes, “there’s no free lunch.” The idea is that, even if you’re offered something that doesn’t cost you anything at the moment, you (or someone else) is going to pay for it somehow down the road. It’s not necessarily good or bad, it’s just a fact in the world we live in, and accepting it helps us stay aware, cautious of offers that seem too good to be true. 

The same situation applies when it comes to obtaining dental care. If you’re offered “free dental care” through an insurance plan or community program, it’s wise to recognize that there’s no such thing as free dental care. It doesn’t exist. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take full advantage of your dental insurance or an insurance alternative that offers dental services at no cost to you. It just means you need to be aware of the trade-offs that have to be involved in order to cover the cost of the care you’re receiving. 

Free dental care through insurance

According to the American Dental Association, less than half of all adults see the dentist on a regular basis. Of that group, 59 percent avoid the dentist due to the cost of care and 19 percent because they’re unable to find a convenient appointment time or location. Statistics prove that individuals with dental insurance go to the dentist more consistently and obtain more of the oral health care they need than those who do not. 

Largely, this is due to the fact that most dental insurance plans offer the basic preventive dental services — a biannual cleaning and routine examination — at no cost at the time of service. These vital procedures are covered in full by insurance. So, when an insured individual’s six-month appointment comes around, they don’t need to worry about setting aside money in their budget to pay for it. 

However, are those preventive services actually being performed for free? Of course not. The insurance company pays the dentist’s office for every appointment and each procedure code billed as part of that appointment. The insurance company isn’t in business to lose money, so they’re obviously recouping the cost of those payments through the premiums you or your employer are paying them every two weeks from your paycheck. Even if your insurance is government-funded, you’re still paying for that “free dental care” via payroll withholdings, income tax, or both. 

Again, this isn’t a reason to not take advantage of these vital preventive services you’re entitled to. But, it is eye-opening to recognize that your total out-of-pocket cost for dental insurance even applies to the supposedly fully-covered services the plan offers. And, with that total out-of-pocket cost in mind, you’re in a better position to evaluate alternatives to traditional dental insurance. 

No- and low-cost dental care

Free and low-cost dental clinics are typically staffed with either dental professionals who volunteer their time or dental students who are supervised by licensed professionals. Either way, you’ll receive the same skilled treatment you’d expect from a traditional provider. In terms of available services, these clinics focus on preventive care, primarily exams and regular cleanings. Some teams may also offer basic restorative solutions like cavity fillings, simple extractions, or root canals, so it’s best to confirm what’s available at each location. Advanced or multi-phase treatments, such as implants or bridges, are typically unavailable. 

Two considerations to keep in mind include schedule and availability. Such clinics are often located in urban areas, leaving rural communities underserved or forced to travel longer distances. Also, due to staff makeup, service hours can vary, making appointment windows less flexible for those with tight schedules. 

To explore what no- and low-cost dental services are available near you, check out this list of resources.

Dental discount plans

Dental discount plans are a viable alternative for uninsured patients, and they offer the same convenience and care you would receive using insurance. There are differences, however:

  • Under a discount plan, there’s no free dental care provided. Instead, every service you receive at a participating provider is discounted up to 50% off the retail price. 
  • Rather than paying premiums that often hover between $30 and $60 per month, discount dental plans charge a much lower monthly or annual membership fee for access to the program. 
  • Should you need anything beyond the basic preventive care, dental discount plans have no copays, coinsurance, deductibles, or benefit maximums to worry about, and you can use them as many times as you want with no decrease in the discount you receive

So, no matter which method you use to get the important oral health services you and your family need, there’s going to be some cost involved. As nice as it would be, free dental care simply doesn’t exist. However, armed with information, you can make an informed decision about what option offers the best value for your unique circumstances. 

If it turns out that a dental discount plan is the best choice for you, click below to sign up today.

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