Your gums and teeth are more important than you may think. Bad dental hygiene can cause a host of other chronic health issues, but it can be expensive to care for your teeth.
California's Department of Insurance says dental insurance needs to be a priority. Because of the high cost, a lot of people without insurance don't go to the dentist until they're in pain, which could be too late.
"If you're trying to save money at the dentist, the sooner you go, the more you save," said Ivan Santos, D.D.S., of Smile Dental. "It's time-dependent, so the more you wait, the less options you have and the more expensive it will be."
Even if you have insurance, going to the dentist can be expensive — there's not always a guarantee everything will be covered.
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"From time to time they authorize this, they don't authorize that," Santos said. "They have to be in the loop on things."
If you don't have insurance, it's even harder. Five million Californians lack dental insurance, according to the California's Dental Association, compared with the roughly 3 million state residents who don't have health insurance.
Dental coverage is not usually included in comprehensive health insurance and is often sold separately. Sometimes, people opt to skip dental coverage due to costs, but not taking care of your gums and teeth can lead to other health problems.
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tell us 45% of all adults 30 years and older have signs of gum disease," said Dr. Ramiro Zuniga, medical director at Medi-Cal. "That's been linked to heart disease, strokes and other chronic illnesses."
That's why there are more efforts to expand dental coverage. Medi-Cal recently approved several changes, including better materials for dental procedures.
"They're authorizing some crowns," said Santos. "A lot of times patients don't want stainless steel. Now they're allowing porcelain crowns."
Perhaps more important, Medi-Cal changed its age qualifications, meaning more people could qualify for coverage.
"People 50 years of age or older are now eligible regardless of immigration status," Zuniga said
Programs like Medi-Cal are designed to help people with lower incomes — often college-age students or seniors. But whether you have insurance or not, dentists say the best way to save money starts at home:
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day for two minutes each time
- Floss daily and use mouthwash to remove any leftover food particles
- Replace your toothbrush every three to four months or sooner, if needed
- Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings
If you want to change your insurance or opt into dental coverage, many enrollment periods start in the fall. When yours opens, take a close look and make sure that you're fully covered.