COMMENTARY | With all the controversy concerning the nation’s healthcare, one area that seems to be forgotten is dental care. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is trying to push a bill through Congress that would extend comprehensive dental coverage for all Medicaid, Medicare and Veterans Administration recipients. The coverage would be paid by a tax on Wall Street’s non-consumer financial trading.
Dental care is one of the most neglected areas of personal healthcare. In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that 45 million Americans did not have dental care coverage. Additionally, while all Medicaid recipients under age 21 are covered for dental care, most states only offer emergency care for those 21-65 years of age.
One of the nation’s popular low cost dental coverage programs, Delta Dental, costs approximately $175 a year for a family of three. The expensive parts are for the fees that are associated with care. An oral examination with an X-ray costs $71 per patient per visit. The cleaning is an additional $69. Now, if you brush and floss properly, then that should be a total outlay of $140 per patient per visit.
Most dentists would like you to have an oral exam and cleaning twice a year which translates to an additional $303 for that family of three per year. If you have a cavity, it would run you approximately $120 per tooth for the filling and sealant. A new crown is approximately $800 per tooth and a root canal to remove the tooth would set you back an additional $515-$693 per tooth.
So as you can see, this starts to sound a little expensive. Tacking on if it’s an emergency ($87), means you could be looking at nearly $800 for that toothache. Last summer my wife needed emergency dental care. She developed a toothache a week before we were planning to drive cross country from New Mexico to the East coast. She paid $225 to enroll for our family and another $175 for the exam, X-ray and medication (penicillin, vicodin, and ibuprofen), just so we could drive cross country. She was in pain and tending to our 1-year-old while I drove. So much for her vacation!
Both of these scenarios were using a dental plan. For the 45 million Americans without dental coverage or the money to buy it when needed, it would have been much more. Perfect Teeth of New Mexico estimates my wife’s coverage would have been approximately $508 out of pocket if she hadn’t bought coverage that day. Not many low-income families could afford to spend $500 for that emergency and still pay for their rent, food, and transportation for the month. Senator Sanders should be applauded for his efforts in reducing the costs for those Americans who can’t afford dental care.