ASK THE DENTIST
THURSDAY, JANUARY 8, 2008.
Dear Dr. Mady: Do you think that the weakened economy has caused people to visit the dentist less often than before? I know my job loss caused me to lose my benefits indefinitely and I had to cancel my appointment for my regular check-up and cleaning. Jamie in Tilbury
Dear Jamie, As a practicing dentist, I have received many inquiries from colleagues, patients, family members and others about whether or not the slumped economic conditions are stopping people from seeking dental care. You know how the old saying goes, “put your money where your mouth is”? Well people just aren’t doing that quite as much as they were a year ago, two years ago……….
In a painfully slow economy, more individuals are delaying their dental treatment for various reasons, and not all of them are money. Many dentists now have cavities in their appointment books and there is not a lot that they can do about it. They blame it on the failing economy and layoffs mostly, but there are other factors involved.
When asked why not as many patients are visiting their dentists I say “either they have lost their job, been laid off, their employer has completely cancelled their dental benefits to save money, or the plan they did have has been cut back”. When I say cut back, I mean that many employers now have chosen to cut costs in order to avoid closures and one of the methods they have administered is to decrease their insurance costs.
Many employees of such companies now have deductibles that have to be paid before the insurance carrier will start paying and co-pays are becoming more common along with some carriers paying according to a previous year’s suggested fees. Co-pays involve the patient accepting the responsibility of not getting reimbursed 100 percent for their dental treatment and the insurance company reimbursing them only a certain percentage. An example is if you had a 20 percent co-pay. Hypothetically this means that if your dental visit cost is $100, you will only get reimbursed $80 by your benefit plan instead of the full $100. Also it is very important that these co-pays must be paid or it may be construed as insurance fraud. (for more information on co-pays, call the Ontario Dental Association at (800) 387-1393, talk to your insurance agent, benefits representative or ask your dentist).
Many people feel that one dentist charges more than another so if co-pays or no insurance is the issue, one may save by going to another dentist who charges lower fees. This is not true. Almost all general dentists and dental specialists follow an Ontario fee guide that is the same for each of them. They can charge more or less if they wish, but the fee guide is exactly that. It is a guide and it is respected by most insurance carriers also.
Let’s face the facts. Many of us do not enjoy seeing a dentist anyway, and if any one of us is faced with spending only on bills or the dentist, the dentist will lose every time unless there is a bad toothache. Some feel now that dental visits are on the bottom of the priority list. I have found that the worry of possibly losing a job is a big distraction these days, even more than money being an issue in some cases. This can cause dental care to be completely ignored.
There is one facet of dentistry that I have noticed lately seems to be stable or on the rise. That is emergency dental treatment. The increased amount of people not going to the dentist regularly seems to correlate in some way with toothaches and other urgent needs due to a decrease in regular check-ups. Some things that could have been diagnosed prior are now turning into expensive root canals or extractions.
So what can some patients do during these tough times? Speak to your dentist. See what can be done to help you. Prioritize the more needed treatments and only postpone other things. Remember that the better you keep your mouth, the better your overall health will be. Making good choices now can also significantly reduce future, more costly dental expenditures and tooth loss.
Whatever the case may be, the economy should turn around. I don’t have a crystal ball that can tell us when, but until then we will keep plugging away and be grateful for everything we do have. Health is the most important thing to be grateful for and oral health is included!
This column is reprinted with the permission of the author and The Windsor Star. "Ask the Dentist" is written by Windsor dentist (and ECDS member), Dr. David Mady Jr.. The column appears the first Thursday of each month in the Windsor Star. Readers with questions can write to "Ask The Dentist", c/o The Windsor Star, 167 Ferry St., Windsor Ontario, N9A 4M5