Seeing your children's smiles is an irresistible treat for parents, but a mouth full of pearly whites isn’t the only reason to invest in your kids’ oral health. A North Carolina study showed that children with poor oral health were nearly three times more likely to miss school for dental pain compared with kids with proper oral health.
Not only is school attendance affected, but your pocketbook could also suffer if you don’t help your kids take care of their teeth. A dental filling for a cavity costs $183, but if you skip this treatment, you’ll pay much more. Caring for a decayed tooth can cost more than $2,000 over a lifetime, according to the Children's Dental Health Project.
While a $2,000 emergency is way outside of most parents’ budgets, even coming up with a few hundred dollars can be a challenge, especially if you’re paying for daycare, sports, and other kid-related costs. However, parents have options to save money and keep their children's teeth clean and healthy. Here’s what we found out about saving money on children's dental health.
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Prevention Is the Best Medicine for Children’s Dental Health
When it comes to keeping kids smiling, prevention is the best medicine. “Dental decay is nearly 100 percent preventable. Make sure that your child brushes twice a day for two minutes with fluoridated toothpaste, flosses daily, visits the dentist regularly, and limits sugar intake,” says Joe Castellano, a dentist and the president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
The Children's Dental Health Project recommends starting to brush a baby’s teeth as soon the baby has a tooth poking through his gums. Castellano also tells CentSaithat the AAPD recommends having children visit the dentist around 1 year of age.
By helping your kids take these actions, you’ll reduce the likelihood of childhood cavities and keep costs way down for your kids.
If you’re having trouble getting your kids to brush and floss, consider buying toothbrushes and toothpaste emblazoned with their favorite cartoon characters. The American Dental Association also has seven ways to make brushing teeth fun.
Resources That Help With Affordable Children’s Dental Care
It’s great to know that preventive care can keep children's teeth healthy, but even preventive visits can be costly. And even parents who religiously help their children brush and floss their teeth could need to pay for emergency dental care. For example, you may need to pay for an emergency dental visit if your child falls down the stairs (not that I would know about that).
These costs can be especially hard to cover if you don’t have dental insurance. In 2016 and 2017, my husband and I spent close to $1,000 per year on dental care for two children. The costs covered two dental visits per year (per kid), one filling, and one emergency X-ray (from the time my son toppled down the stairs).
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How are parents supposed to manage these costs? There are a few options to make children’s dental care affordable.
1. Dedicated Medical Savings Accounts
Since we didn’t have dental insurance, we managed the costs through a savings account dedicated to medical expenses. If you have a flexible spending account (FSA) or a health savings account (HSA) from your health insurance, you may be able to save tax-free through those vehicles. We didn’t have that option, so we simply saved in a high-yield savings account.
Unfortunately, trying to save for dental costs isn't a very effective way to guarantee that you can afford dental coverage for your kids. Costs are the leading reason that patients who need dental care don’t actually visit the dentist, according to the nonprofit group Children's Dental Health Project.
2. Employer-Sponsored Dental Insurance Plans
The nonprofit’s research shows that the best possible solution for keeping dental care affordable — for children and adults alike — is to have insurance. Dental insurance typically covers routine visits to the dentist, including cleanings, X-rays, and fluoride treatments. It will also help you cut down on costs if your child needs a filling or some emergency treatment.
If your employer offers dental insurance, it may be worth your money to buy it, especially if you’ve got little ones.
3. Dental Coverage Through CHIP
Parents who don’t have dental insurance through work (or those who can’t afford it) may still have options. Children who have insurance through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) have preventive dental care covered under their insurance.
Think you earn too much for your kids to be on CHIP? You might not.
A family of four earning less than $50,000 may have children who qualify for CHIP (in some states, the maximum is even higher). You can find out more about the program through Insure Kids Now.
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4. Buy Dental Insurance Through the Health Care Exchange
The last coverage option to consider is buying dental insurance through HealthCare.gov. Some states have standalone dental insurance plans that you can buy through the exchange. Other states only allow you to purchase dental insurance as a part of your health insurance. In either case, you’ll need to consider the monthly premium cost, which is the cost you pay each month for insurance. You’ll also need to consider the out-of-pocket maximum, which is the maximum you will pay if you need emergency care.
You can learn more about buying dental insurance through the health care exchanges on the DentalPlans.com which helps you save up to 55 percent on dental procedures and visits at participating dentists.
What Should You Do If Your Child Needs Emergency Dental Care?
If your child is suffering from tooth decay or other dental health issues, it’s important to seek medical treatment. You definitely don’t want your kid trying to attend school, play, and live life while in major pain. But how can you cover the costs if you don’t have insurance? Even in those cases, you’ve got options for affordable children’s dental care.
“If you are fortunate to have a dental school in your city, that could be a great option,” Castellano says. “Other resources might be a community health center or a community service day that offers free dental services.”
If you can’t find either of those in your area, most dental and orthodontic offices offer payment plans. These plans allow you to make a monthly payment until you’ve paid for the dental work in full. If your dentist doesn’t offer these plans, or you can’t afford the monthly payments, you may be able to take out credit to pay for dental work.
Thankfully, you don’t have to borrow on a high-interest credit card to pay for your kids’ dental work. Castellano tells parents to consider dental credit card products. These cards allow you to borrow money to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses, but the interest rate on these loans is much lower than traditional credit card interest rates.
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For example, CareCredit offers zero percent interest financing on purchases over $200 that are paid back within 24 months. However, if you need more than 24 months to pay off your balance, the interest rate on CareCredit’s loans are between 14.9 and 16.9 percent.