Recently I heard from the McBrides who live in Pennsylvania. “We’re a family of five living on a single income. Things are very tight for us. We have no dental insurance and find we cannot afford the luxury of dental care. Is there a dental plan that caters to low income families in our situation? Please answer soon before our teeth fall out.”


Dental insurance is not the answer for the McBride Family’s particular situation and that’s probably a good thing. Paying for dental insurance is a very expensive way to achieve good dental health. The only affordable dental insurance plans out there are those that are part of an employer’s benefit package. These days, even that benefit is becoming as scarce as, well, hen’s teeth.

Dental insurance is designed to cover unexpected occurrences—not the routine preventive maintenance required by a family with young children.

Let me suggest several ways families not covered through employee provided dental insurance can begin to see dental care as absolutely essential and something they can fit into their already strained budgets.

ESTABLISH RULES. Starting today make rules that every family member is expected to abide by: Restrict sugar for children, use a fluoride rinse, have fluoride in the water supply, have sealants applied when necessary. Brush (preferably with an electric toothbrush) and floss daily plus have regular check-ups and most dental problems can be completely avoided.

CUT IT OUT. Don’t chew pens, ice or other hard items like popcorn kernels, or use your teeth as tools. Be sure anyone playing sports wears a mouth guard. You can get one at a sporting good store with directions how to custom fit it yourself.

GIVE IT UP. Don’t smoke or chew tobacco. Both lead to stained teeth, gum disease, and oral cancer.

GET HOOKED UP. Find a dental hygiene school or dental college in your area that operates a clinic. All treatments performed by students are under the careful supervision of instructors. The drawback can be the length of time and the number of visits required to complete the treatment, but you should be able to handle that just fine once you realize the fees are typically 50-75 percent less than treatment by a private practitioner.

FIND A ROOKIE. Try to find a dentist who is just starting out and doesn’t have a full schedule yet. Explain your situation (low income with no dental insurance). Because the dentist is trying to build the practice you could well be offered a reduced fee as the dentist’s way of building a loyal following. It sure can’t hurt to ask.

In the event you experience an expensive dental emergency, many dentists are willing to work with families in setting up financial arrangements in the form of money payments. This does, however, represent a new debt. Do everything you can to get that debt paid quickly.

There is no doubt that when it comes to dental care, prevention is the cheapest way to go. It’s your money, and your teeth. Savvy consumers find a way to keep them both.

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