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With the High Cost of Modern Dentistry, Can You Afford That Great Smile?

 by Patricia Lynn Henley   Posted on November 7 2013

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Everyone wants good teeth, and a nice smile. But can we all afford it?

"My mouth looks awful and I'm embarrassed," writes a CostHelper reader from La Mesa, CA, who is seeking a set of false teeth, but has no dental or health insurance.

Rapidly-improving techniques such as implants, gum grafts, crowns and hidden braces make it increasingly possible to correct just about any type of oral problem --for a price.

Unfortunately, health insurance doesn't include dental work (except for strict medical necessity). And dental insurance -- for those who can get it -- categorizes many up-to-date procedures as "cosmetic," and therefore not covered. Plus, many policies have an annual maximum payout of no more than $1,000 or $2,000 a year, which doesn't even begin to cover typical costs for many of these dental services.

Here at CostHelper, we have a unique view of this problem, based on years of comments posted by our readers nationwide.

"I just want to hold my head up and smile again," writes a reader from Tallahassee, FL, who has had many teeth extracted, and now wants (but can't afford) dental implants.

Even as dentistry makes great strides forward, the new procedures require additional equipment and expertise, and costs are rising. Few people are planning adequately for the inevitable expenses when their teeth decay, grow crooked, crack, are injured, or simply succumb to years of eating, grinding and general use. People of all ages -- first-time workers, families, retirees -- are finding that the dental work they suddenly need costs more than they can afford.

Traditional dentures can cost $600-$8,000 or more. A single dental implant topped by a crown typically costs $1,500-$13,000 or more; multiple implants with a dental bridge or dentures can cost $3,500-$90,000 or more. Full mouth reconstruction costs $15,000-$80,000 and up.

For those with dental insurance, the co-pays on these services can be painful. Without insurance -- the Department of Health and Human Services estimates that about 108 million people in the United States have no dental insurance -- the costs can be overwhelming, particularly for folks with moderate or fixed incomes.

Being able to afford modern dental care is like the proverbial elephant in the room. It's obvious it's there, but few people are talking about it -- except maybe at CostHelper, where we hear from consumers struggling to pay for needed dental work, and from those who just cannot afford the care they need, but are desperate to regain their oral health, their confidence and their smile.

We feel that this is a massive problem that isn't getting enough attention. Unfortunately, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (commonly called Obamacare) in 2014 includes dental care for children, but not for adults.

On an individual level, consumers planning their financial futures -- especially those contemplating retirement -- need to factor potential dental costs into their calculations.

And on a collective level, we need to start a national dialogue. Should modern dental procedures only be available to those who can afford them? Or, if we consider these services essential to basic health and happiness, who foots the bill? And who decides which procedures are necessary, and which are a personal and cosmetic choice?

We need to start talking about how to fix it.

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