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Can you get financing for dental procedures?

Even if you have dental insurance, you still might need to finance dental work, especially for major procedures.
Even if you have dental insurance, you still might need to finance dental work, especially for major procedures.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Twice-yearly cleanings. X-rays. Fillings. Braces. Root canals. Veneers. Keeping up with dental work is necessary for overall oral health, but it can get very, very expensive. If you're lucky enough to just get away with a cavity now and then, you may not have yet experienced the sticker shock of major dental work. Taking care of your pearly whites can run from a couple hundred dollars for a filling to thousands of dollars (per tooth!) for porcelain veneers or for a series of dental procedures such as a bridge.

We complain about the cost of dental work, but there are good reasons behind the high price tags. Dentists are professionals who have gone through years of education, training and professional development, and their specialized equipment, staff and general operating costs are significant [source: Butler].

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While many people save money to cover medical expenses, dental work often isn't included in those savings. So if you have to have a dental procedure but can't pay for it immediately, can you finance it? Luckily, the answer is yes. You can finance dental work, for both necessary procedures such as cavities and root canals, as well as cosmetic dental work such as dentures or teeth whitening.

Dental work, whether it's part of a routine visit or a specialized procedure, can include [source: Colgate]:

  • Twice-a-year cleanings
  • X-rays
  • Fillings for cavities
  • Crowns and bridges
  • Tooth extraction, including wisdom teeth
  • Root canal treatments
  • Tooth implants
  • Treatment for gingivitis and periodontal disease

Cosmetic dental procedures include the following:

  • Porcelain veneers
  • Teeth whitening
  • Cosmetic gum surgery
  • Tooth bonding
  • Dentures
  • Tooth reshaping
  • Invisible braces

The process of financing dental work begins with getting a thorough estimate of how much your procedure will cost. Your dentist should provide you a line-by-line breakdown of services, including X-rays, anesthesia and time for the work itself, as well as any medications or equipment you'll need after the procedure. Costs vary from doctor to doctor, and many times, you'll have to use a specialist for certain procedures, such as an oral surgeon for a root canal or an orthodontist for braces.

If you have dental insurance, call your provider to see how much of the cost will be covered. Your insurance company should give you a close estimate of how much you'll owe out of pocket, but generally, cosmetic dentistry is not covered by insurance. Your dentist can appeal to your provider, though, if a cosmetic procedure is necessary.

Finally, check your credit report. If you have a low credit score or unstable credit history, certain financing options may not be available to you.

Now that you know financing is an option, read on to learn about the types available.

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There are various ways to finance both cosmetic and necessary dental work. Using your own credit card is an option to pay for your dental work, although putting a large amount on your card may not be the wisest financial decision for you. As always, when using a credit card, be wary of your interest rates and monthly payment costs.

Dentists typically don't finance dental work themselves anymore. Using a third-party healthcare financing company, such as the Care Credit program or Citi Health Card, is becoming an increasingly popular method to finance dental work for both doctors and patients. There are no upfront costs to enroll, no teaser rates, low monthly payment plans, extended payment plans and instant qualification [source: Care Credit]. They also cover a wide range of dental procedures, including medical, cosmetic and orthodontic [source: Chase Health Advantage]. Think of these programs as credit cards to be used exclusively for dental health. Of course, be sure to read all the fine print before you agree to any plan.

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Dental insurance is easy to obtain, much like general health insurance. Plans vary in price and coverage, so be sure to read through each plan thoroughly before you enroll. Many plans include these options:

  • Dental PPO (Preferred Provider Organization): PPOs usually require you to meet a deductible and have an annual maximum amount of coverage. You can visit a dentist outside the network, but you'll probably have better rates if you use an in-network dentist. A PPO is your best choice for maximum coverage, but you'll probably pay the most out of pocket for the initial premium [source: Delta Dental].
  • Dental HMO (Health Maintenance Organization): A HMO typically has no deductibles or maximum coverage cap. It does, however, limit your choice of dentist. This option requires a referral from your dentist or preauthorization from the insurance company for visits to dental specialists, as well as a co-pay for each visit [source: Aetna].
  • Dental Indemnity Plan: This offers the greatest range of dentist and specialist choices, with no need for referrals. Instead of a set co-pay per visit, expect to pay a percentage of your dental costs up front, called coinsurance [source: Delta Dental]. You'll pay more out of pocket but have the advantage of choosing any dentist, anywhere.

Securing a loan from a bank or credit union is possible, but it can be a time-consuming process. Like a credit card, obtaining a bank loan is based on your credit score and credit history. If you need immediate dental work, a loan may not be the right option.

If your employer offers a flexible spending account, you might be able to use it to pay for your dental work. A Medical Flexible Spending Account (FSA) is an Internal Revenue Service-approved, tax-exempt account that saves you valuable tax dollars on eligible medical expenses, which typically covers dental work and braces. Each pay period, an amount of money that you have specified is deducted from your pay before federal income, Social Security, and Medicare taxes are assessed [source: Konrad]. You have to pre-determine how much money you want in the account, but your employer should provide resources to help you decide.

How do you go about comparison shopping for the best dentists and overall plans? Web sites such as DentalPlans.com and 1800Dentist.com can assist you locating in a dentist in your area who will accept a payment plan. It's as easy as entering your zip code and clicking to find the right financing options for your needs [source: Dental Plans].

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Sources

  • About Cosmetic Dentistry. "Cosmetic Dentistry Procedures." (Oct. 8, 2011)
  • Aetna. "Dental Plan Types." (Oct. 13, 2011) http://www.aetna.com/plans-services-health-insurance/overview/dental-insurance/plan_types.html
  • American Dental Association. "Financing Dental Care." (Oct. 13, 2011) http://www.ada.org/2679.aspx
  • Butler, Sarah Lorge. "Why Your Dentist Costs So Much." CBS Moneywatch. June 10, 2011. (Oct. 14, 2011) http://moneywatch.bnet.com/saving-money/blog/family-finance/why-your-dentist-costs-so-much/4569/
  • Care Credit. "Learn Why You Should Use Credit Care." (Oct. 8, 2011) http://www.carecredit.com/howccworks_whyshouldi.html
  • Chase Health Advantage. "Procedures We Cover." (Oct. 9, 2011) http://www.chasehealthadvance.com/procedures/
  • Cleveland Clinic. "Health Library: Braces and Retainers." June 2011. (Oct. 16, 2011) http://my.clevelandclinic.org/devices/dental_care/hic_braces_and_retainers.aspx
  • Colgate. "Checkups and Dental Procedures." (Oct. 13, 2011) http://www.colgate.com/app/CP/US/EN/OC/Information/Articles/Oral-and-Dental-Health-Basics/Checkups-and-Dental-Procedures.cvsp
  • Delta Dental. "Types of Dental Plans." (Oct. 8, 2011) http://www.deltadentalins.com/individuals/plans/plan-types.html
  • Dental Plans. (Oct. 9, 2011) http://dentalplans.com/
  • Konrad, Walecia. "Making the Most of Flexible Spending Accounts." The New York Times. Jan. 30, 2009. (Oct. 12, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/30/health/policy/30patientmoney.html

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