One of the biggest obstacles to getting dental work done, outside of worries about pain and a general fear of the dentist, is the sheer cost of many dental procedures. Dental work can be expensive, and even those with a solid income might find that needed procedures easily surpass their budgets. So what is the best way to pay for the dentist?
If you don’t have the cash to pay out-of-pocket, here are some alternative ways to pay for dental care:
- Dental insurance policies can help defray at least some of the costs for routine and emergency treatments.
- Some dentist may work with patients to come up with an installment payment plan.
- Third-party financing companies that offer credit cards specifically for dental care. Some examples are the CareCredit program, iCare Financial, or Citi Health Card.
What Kind of Care Do You Need?
Dental expenses fall into three categories. First, routine dental exams. Ideally, these should happen every six months. Regular visits to the dentist will include x-rays and a checkup to look for signs of tooth decay. If the dentist finds cavities, fixing them fast is the most economical choice. Letting them wait can cause pain and even more expensive treatment later on.
Next is cosmetic dentistry. This includes orthodontia, such as braces or another straightening method like Invisalign. Teeth whitening, veneers or cosmetic tooth implants also fall into this category. Voluntary treatment like this is something that is usually out of the question unless someone has saved up the money for it.
Finally, there are emergency dental procedures. If you chip or crack a tooth, it is best to have it fixed immediately. Also, as we mentioned a moment ago, painful conditions like abscesses or pulpitis can develop when cavities are ignored. This can lead to needing an emergency root canal procedure or even an extraction.
Whether these visits to the dentist are planned, like routine exams or Invisalign, or an unexpected emergency, you may find yourself in need of dental financing options.
How are Dental Credit Cards Different?
Dental credit cards are not that different from regular credit cards. The concept is the same: You use the card to pay for services and pay the credit card company later. But just like a gas card or a store’s credit card, they can only be used in one place. In this case, that place is a dentist’s or orthodontist’s office. Some cards have broader coverage and can be used for other medical care too, such as vision, hearing, or dermatology.
Here are the major similarities and differences between dental credit cards and other credit cards:
Paying With a Dental Credit Card
We used a gas card as an example to explain how dental credit cards work, but there is a slight difference. A gas card allows you to fill up only at that company’s locations. A dental credit card typically can be used as payment at any dental office. Most dentists accept these forms of payment, but some do not. It’s best to check with your office when making an appointment.
Having a card that’s dedicated to dental care is an advantage for some people. This is especially true for people trying to rein in their credit card spending. If it’s too tempting to charge a new outfit or a night out with friends, no worries – you can’t use a dental credit card for that!
What Can I Pay For With a Dental Credit Card
Even if you have dental insurance, it won’t cover just anything. You may have to meet a deductible before some policies kick in. And some cap the total amount they will pay annually. You may also owe a co-pay or an upfront co-insurance payment for every visit. On top of these out-of-pocket costs, you may be required to choose from a specific network of dentists.
One appealing aspect of a dental credit card is that it allows a patient to charge the amounts that insurance won’t pay for. It can also be used for any dental service or procedure. For example, you can use one to pay for teeth whitening. Cosmetic dentistry like whitening is not covered by dental insurance because it is an elective procedure.
Dental Credit Card Terms
Dental financing companies sometimes offer incentives that sound impressive for their dental credit cards. Common selling points are no up-front costs, low payments, or instant qualification. Instead of having a minimum payment due each month, many offer the option of paying a fixed amount. Knowing that your payment will be the same every month for a set period of time (usually from 6 to 36 months) is helpful for budgeting.
Another popular marketing tool is a zero-percent interest promotion. This is a great deal if you are able to pay off the balance within the agreed-upon time frame. But if you can’t it will cost you. If you have a balance due at the end of the contract, you will owe interest dating back to when the card was first used. And the interest rate on dental cards can be higher than a regular credit card.
Just like a regular credit card, getting a dental credit card requires a credit check. And having one will affect your credit history. Missed or late payments will not only cost you interest but can harm your credit score too.
If your dental bills will exceed your usual credit card’s credit limit, a dental credit card gives you another financing option.
Dental Credit Card Choices
If you decide to try a credit card specifically for dental work, you have a few options. Here are links to some popular dental card companies. (Note that The Dental Health Society does not endorse any particular card; we are simply providing these names and links here for information purposes only, so that consumers can continue to do research on their own.)
There are also financing companies that specialize in dental loans:
Other Dental Credit Options
If you would rather not get a credit card for dental bills, there are a few other things you can do. Ask your dentist if they offer the option to pay for services in installments. Many dental practices are willing to work with a patient’s budget.
If your employer offers an FSA (flexible spending account), consider enrolling. A small amount is deducted from each paycheck and set aside for eligible medical and dental expenses. It’s a way to help you save, and since it’s taken out of your check like taxes, you most likely won’t even miss it.
Avoiding Extra Dental Costs
Finally, don’t forget the importance of preventative dental care. Many procedures—at least those in the emergency category—can be avoided with good oral hygiene. Regular brushing and flossing can prevent cavities and keep your costs to a minimum. Find a dentist and schedule routine dental checkups.
Even the best cared for teeth can experience problems, and we know costs can add up. Whether you choose to try out a dental credit card or another financing option, it’s wise to do your homework. Read the fine print and know what you’re in for. However you pay for it, remember that your dental health is important and should not be overlooked.