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When it comes to dental insurance, or insurance in general, many of us are quickly baffled. There are so many different types of plans & unfamiliar vocabulary that it often feels like trying to learn a new language. However, there is one important concept about your dental insurance that you should absolutely know, & it can save you money!
There are actually a few sweet spots on the calendar when it comes to getting dental treatments done, & one of them is the beginning of the year. Because your dental benefits don’t roll over from year to year, every New Year you’re granted with a fresh set of benefits. That means no matter how much dental work you had done the previous year, you have new benefits you can use right away this year.
If your dental insurance plan has a deductible (i.e. a total amount you must pay out-of-pocket before the insurance company starts covering your costs), getting treatments completed at the beginning of the year could mean reaching your deductible early. Once you’ve reached your deductible, any treatments you may need later in the year might be covered entirely by your insurance, meaning there will be no out-of-pocket cost for you. By contrast, if you started treatment at the end of the year before reaching your deductible & your follow-up appointments fell in the New Year, you’d be paying some out-of-pocket cost for all of it!
If your dental insurance plan has an out-of-pocket maximum, starting a treatment at the beginning of the year can help you reach that maximum sooner. Once your out-of-pocket maximum has been reached, that may mean that any follow-up appointments you have for your treatment, plus any other treatments or appointments, could be covered 100% by your dental insurance for the rest of year. Also, most dental plans cover your regular teeth cleanings at no cost to you (or a very small co-payment), often regardless of whether you’vereached your deductible or out-of-pocket maximum. That means no matter what time of year it is, you’re entitled to teeth cleanings for free with your insurance.
Both of these examples demonstrate why the beginning of the year is a great time to get started on dental work that you may have been putting off. Plus, it may be a great way to get started on your new year’s resolution to be healthier!
When most of a us thinking of a teeth cleaning appointment, we think of polishing & maybe a little scraping. But the truth is that teeth cleaning appointments are about so much more than clean, shiny teeth!
Most teeth cleaning appointments also include a quick examination by the dentist. That’s one of the reasons we call them check-ups: your teeth cleaning appointment is an opportunity for the hygienist & the dentist check up on your oral health.
The dentist will pop in at some point during your time with the dental hygienist & perform a quick examination. This exam looks for more than just cavities. The dentist & the hygienist will examine your gums for signs of gum disease & your entire mouth for other problems, such as early signs of oral cancer. This may involve a little poking & prodding with a small metal tool called an explorer & a dental mirror. They will also review your x-rays, which are often taken at the beginning of the appointment. The dentist will discuss any potential problems that they have spotted, introduce treatment options if necessary, & ask you if you have any concerns.
Your teeth cleaning appointment is also a great opportunity for educate yourself about your teeth. Even if all you need is to brush up (so to speak) on your toothbrushing & flossing techniques, your teeth cleaning is a great opportunity to ask questions. You can ask your dentist or hygienist for recommendations on which toothpaste to use, options for whitening your teeth, or any other topics of concern or curiosity. Regular dental care works best when the dentist, hygienist & the patient are all actively involved in the treatment process, so don’t be shy about getting informed!
It’s also extremely important to know that your dental health is part of your overall health. Just because you see one doctor for your teeth & another for your general health doesn’t mean these things aren’t related! Gum disease & tooth decay have been linked to other health problems like heart disease & low birthweight in babies. People with certain health problems like diabetes or cancer are more prone to dental problems than others. In addition to oral health related problems, your dentist & hygienist can spot signs in your mouth (such as dry mouth, bad breath or sores) that may indicate a problem in your general health.
We know not everyone looks forward to teeth cleanings, but going to your dentist frequently for a cleaning & checkup is the best way to prevent potentially painful & expensive dental problems in your future & keep tabs on your health in general. If we catch a problem early during your cleaning appointment, your treatment is likely to be more comfortable, less complicated, & less expensive.
Over time, plaque (a thick, bacteria-filled film) and tartar (a hard calcium-based build-up) can build up on your teeth. While regular brushing & flossing at home can help prevent this buildup, it can’t necessarily remove it. That’s why going to your dentist for a professional cleaning is so important.
Even if you have impeccable home oral hygiene habits (you floss & brush for at least two minutes twice daily, or even after every meal), there is still work for your dental hygienist to do at your teeth cleaning appointment. The cleaning you get at the dentist is a more thorough cleaning that you can get at home, even if you’re a brushing & flossing superstar.
If left on your teeth, icky buildups of plaque & tartar create an ideal habitat for bacteria to thrive. Allowing bacteria to stay on your teeth & near your gums can lead to both tooth decay & gum disease, both of which can cause you to lose your teeth (not to mention the pain & expenses). Bacteria have a harder time sticking to smooth, clean teeth than rough or fuzzy-feeling teeth with plaque & tartar on them.
Plus, having a professional teeth cleaning at the dentist means that you have a head start on keeping your teeth clean. Rather than battling potentially years of buildup (if you haven’t been to the dentist in a while), getting your teeth cleaned regularly means your get a clean start every six months & it will be that much easier to get a smooth, shiny smile at home between dental visits.
Best of all, cleanings can save you money in the long run. Most insured patients don’t pay anything out of pocket for their cleanings, so it’s essentially free. Plus, if you catch problems early or have the opportunity to prevent them you could eliminate the need for more expensive restorative procedures or gum disease treatments in the future.
What if we told you the more often you see your dentist, the less you’ll spend on dentistry? We know it sounds like a contradiction, but that is the power of preventive dentistry.
We recommend that you visit us at least twice a year for a teeth cleaning appointment, which also includes a basic exam. You’ll hear dental professionals refer to this kind of appointment as prophylaxis (prophy for short), which is a word that comes from a Greek term that means “guard”. The services we perform during your teeth cleaning & checkup are intended to guard against the spread & development of disease, particularly tooth decay & gum disease.
Think of your preventive dental care in terms of this metaphor: you’re at home & a bad rain storm is coming. What would you rather respond to, a weather report telling you that there is a flood warning, or three feet of water in your living room? Wouldn’t you want the early warning so you have time to place sandbags to keep the water out?
As a dental patient, which would you rather have, a dental hygienist gently removing plaque & tartar from your teeth, or the dentist telling you that your tooth is too far gone to be saved & has to be removed?
We say this not to scare you & not as a threat, but because we want you to think of preventive dentistry as an early warning system for your mouth. We’d rather let you know about the risks to your health & help you take preventive measures than be on the phone with the insurance company telling them about the damage.
A few dozens sandbags are a lot cheaper than replacing your belongings & repairing damage to your house. Preventive dentistry, like teeth cleanings, is much cheaper than restorative repair to fix decay, such as fillings, crowns, & bridges or gum disease treatments. If you have dental insurance, most of your annual preventive dental care is covered & won’t cost you any extra money. That’s like if your homeowner’s insurance offered you a load of sandbags for free twice a year, just in case there was a flood. If you knew there was a risk of flooding, why would your refuse the offer?
So if you want to avoid costly restorative dentistry or gum disease treatments in the future, be sure to come see us every six months for your preventive care & cleaning appointment. An hour of your time twice a year is well worth trying to repair the damage after a catastrophe!
Our team has been caring for our community for a while now & we’ve noticed many patients come to us with the same questions over & over again. Always feel free to ask us questions when you have them! In the meantime, check out the FAQ & answers below to learn more about your oral health. Read more