If you’re old enough to have been employed in the 1960’s, you might remember when your company began to provide dental insurance as part of your health benefits package. Like many consumers, you may have thought-and perhaps might still believe-that your medical and dental coverage were similar, but that is not the case. Understanding the differences between these types of insurance can be a vital tool as you continue to seek the highest quality, lowest cost oral care.
General Medical vs. Oral Health Concerns
To understand why health insurance and dental coverage are different from each other, it is helpful to think about the nature of the problems each addresses.
Most non-dental, medical conditions we encounter cannot be predicted, and can be considered uncertain or random. Quite often, their occurrence results in significant and even catastrophic expense. Take a look at an itemized hospital bill or a receipt that shows how much your insurance covered when you needed an MRI or extensive blood tests, and you will understand just how quickly health costs can spiral out of control, as well as the key role insurance coverage plays in cushioning many of us from bankruptcy.
Contrast these health problems with dental issues such as tooth decay and periodontal disease. While oral diseases can be found in people from all walks of life, races and creeds, their prevalence has markedly decreased in recent years. This positive trend is due, in part, to community water fluoridation, as well as to the fact that more people are seeing the dentist regularly for preventive care. But unlike many health problems that may disappear unexpectedly, dental problems such as tooth decay and gum disease only worsen over time, resulting in extensive and costly care.
How the Dental System Structure is Unique
Interestingly, the average per person expenditure for dental care in 2002 was $513.06, compared to $3,302 per person in the same year spent for standard medical care.
These figures suggest that these systems operate very differently from each other. Technological advances in the field of dentistry have enabled oral practitioners to be more efficient and to bring their costs down. Innovations in standard medicine, however, tend to result in higher costs.
When you visit your dentist, he or she can address most of your needs right in his office. In fact, 80% of dentists are general practitioners, with specialists like oral surgeons making up the other 20%.
This stands in direct contrast to the medical profession, where specialists comprise 80% of the field. In addition, most if not all of the dental care you ever receive in your lifetime will be on an outpatient basis, whereas a good portion of general healthcare takes place in hospitals or other in-patient settings. Finally, a much lower percentage of dentists are allied into larger groups or partnerships than are doctors. All of these factors combine to separate dentistry from general medicine.
Dental Insurance vs. Health Insurance
There is one final factor that sets dental care apart. Because most oral conditions are not of a life-threatening nature, you as the patient can have the luxury of time and choice. You can go online and consult family and friends or get a second opinion to find the dentist who will best meet your needs.
This time to shop around for oral care could give you the chance to research helpful coverage options known as discount dental plans. These alternatives to dental insurance enable a patient to save significantly because large groups of dentists band together and offer quality care at reduced prices. Insurance has come a long way since the 1960’s, and obtaining the coverage that will save you the most money for the best care is one of the best things you can do for yourself.