There’s no getting around the fact that dental care — like all health care in the United States — is expensive. There are many different options for obtaining quality dental care, from insurance and discount plans to free neighborhood clinics and paying completely out of pocket. But every option includes its own set of pros and cons that need to be considered if you’re going to make the best decision for you and your family.
The only decision that’s guaranteed to be wrong is to ignore your oral health because you don’t want to pay for dental care at all. Failing to care for your teeth is only going to come back to bite you (pun absolutely intended).
In this case, let’s focus specifically on the option of paying for dental care completely out of pocket. That means we’re assuming you have no access to any sort of funded dental insurance coverage or community assistance program that offers free or low-cost dental care. Instead, you’re responsible for the bill once services are rendered.
Cons of out-of-pocket dental care
As was already noted, dental care is expensive.
Not only are all dental services, products, and procedures expensive to begin with, there are no regulations in place limiting what individual practitioners can charge. So, like any smart businessperson would, dentists tend to charge whatever the market will allow. That’s why a routine examination in uptown Manhattan costs many times more than what the same exam costs in a small town in Kansas.
Another difficult aspect of out-of-pocket dental expenses is the fact that the office is going to expect payment in full at the time of services in most cases.
If you’re just in for your scheduled semi-annual cleaning and exam, you’ve had plenty of time to save money in preparation and this shouldn’t present a problem. However, if you find yourself needing dental care unexpectedly because of a chipped tooth or some other emergency situation, you may have a difficult time covering the cost in the short term. If you’re responsible for a family, you can multiply this difficulty for every family member in your home.
On the other hand, there are some real benefits that come with paying out of pocket for dental care.
Pros of out-of-pocket dental care
When you pay out of pocket for dental products and services, there are no limitations placed on where or when you visit the dentist, or what services you receive.
This is a significant factor compared to any kind of funded dental insurance or community program since all such plans need to place strict limitations on services and timeframes in order to control costs. These plans will also generally have lists of participating providers who have agreed to accept the plan, which effectively limits who you can choose to see for services.
Out-of-pocket payment also puts you in an excellent position to shop around for the best value and even negotiate better rates.
"Not only are all dental services, products, and procedures expensive to begin with, there are no regulations in place limiting what individual practitioners can charge."
Dentists are businesspeople who value a happy customer, and they’re in a highly competitive field. They know you could just as easily choose another dental practice, and they want your business. As a result, most offices are willing and able to negotiate their fees and/or payment terms if that’s what it takes to secure you as a patient. This is especially true if you’re paying cash upfront, since it’s the fastest and least expensive payment for them to process.
So, those are the basic pros and cons of paying out of pocket for dental care. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to maximize the benefits while mitigating the potential hazards of self-funded dental care?
The perfect compromise: A dental discount plan
Interestingly, joining a dental discount plan manages to do just that.
A dental discount plan is not the same as insurance. Therefore, there are no copays, deductibles, or limitations involved in receiving services. You’re free to choose when you visit the dentist and how often, and nearly all dental services are included. The discount plan will still require choosing a participating office, since these offices have agreed to accept the discounted fees the plan offers.
When you visit a participating provider and show them your discount plan membership card, they subtract the contracted discount from the retail cost of whatever services you receive, and simply charge you the remaining balance. At that point, you’re paying out of pocket and reaping all the potential benefits that go along with doing so.
In competitive markets where many offices may accept the same discount plans, there is still a possibility an office may be willing to negotiate the remaining balance. Or, in many cases, offices will have some form of financing available, either privately or through a third-party lender. While they may not be allowed to offer these options in conjunction with insurance or other funded programs, when you’re paying out of pocket — even at a discounted rate — it’s up to the office when the options can be used.
So, if you’re currently up in the air about how to pay for dental care for you or your family, don’t immediately assume that out-of-pocket payments are impossible. It may or may not be the best option for you, but with the help of a dental discount plan and a willingness to shop around and negotiate, paying out-of-pocket is certainly a viable option to consider.
For more information about dental discount programs, or to join a plan today, click the button below.