I’ll start by saying Carter is 53 years old and doesn’t have a single cavity. HOWEVER, he has managed to crack 4 teeth. I guess he follows his own motto (DON’T DO ANYTHING HALFWAY) even when it comes to dental hygiene!
We both clench and grind our teeth at night. And, we both wear nightguards to help with jaw pain, etc. After a couple months of NOT wearing his nightguard, Carter casually mentioned he had a tooth ache. Oh Lord! I immediately knew what that meant…another cracked tooth.
Not a big deal, right??? Think again. We didn’t have dental insurance and dental offices were on a very limited schedule because of COVID-19. Here’s how we managed the situation and lessons we learned the hard way.
Purchasing a dental discount plan
The first thing we did was purchase a dental discount plan. We’d considered purchasing a discount plan since we retired, but hadn’t pulled the trigger. We researched all kinds of plans and landed on an Aetna discount plan which cost $175 for 12 months coverage for both of us.
Our new dental discount plan is different from normal dental insurance in that nothing is “covered”. We have to pay for everything. Why bother, you ask? All of the dentists in the plan offer discounted prices. In Carter’s case, we saved over $2,000 between his dentist and oral surgeon. Yes, we still had to pay $3,700 for the exams, x-rays, extraction, and implant. But, that’s better than $6,000.
Even if we’d had traditional dental insurance, we still would have paid everything beyond the maximum annual benefit which is usually $1,000-2,000.
Finding in-network dentists
The key to every dental discount plan is choosing in-network providers. Thankfully, we got multiple recommendations for dentists in the area, and Carter was able to get an appointment the same day our new plan was activated.
The exam and x-ray with his new dentist were discounted 45%. Getting his tooth pulled was crazy expensive. Even with an in-network provider, we paid $3,600 for the oral surgeon. Believe it or not, that was discounted 40%. Yikes!
Mexico, here we come!
We already had antibiotics from our recent trip to Mexico, so the only prescription cost was for pain management.
We’ll be heading back to Mexico once Carter’s implant heals (3-6 months) so he can get a new crown. Our cost estimate for that is ~$200. The estimate using our dental discount plan is $1,200. So, Mexico, here we come!
Squeezing $5,000 out of our budget
Now, the question is how do we pay for these dental expenses on an early retirement budget? Thankfully, we have a big annual budget for medical expenses (health and dental). But, we assumed most of that budget would cover health vs dental expenses. We didn’t see BIG dental bills coming our way.
The good news is that we have a savings account with the job description of “out of pocket maximum”. We hope to never use that account, but it’s there just in case. We also set aside $5,800 per year to cover our healthcare deductible.
At a glance, that seems like plenty of money to cover medical expenses. But, the truth is that we worry about medical costs more than anything else. It’s a huge part of our annual budget and it seems like every time we think we’ve gotten ahead we have a random medical issue pop up that ends up costing several thousand dollars.
We can cover this emergency, but if we have another big medical expense this year, we’re going to have to rethink the way we budget for medical expenses.
Include dental expenses in your budget. Starting in 2021, we’ll have a separate budget for dental expenses. We’ll budget for the dental discount plan, preventive care, and unknowns.
Don’t crack a tooth in the middle of a global pandemic. Because most dentists had limited office hours, Carter had to live with a cracked tooth for 5 days. Ugh. Thankfully, once he got in to see his new dentist, he was able to get everything done the same day.
Wear your nightguard. Carter isn’t usually an anxious guy. But, I think he’s been a little more anxious than normal and unable to work his anxiety out in his normal ways. Well, anxiety + clenching teeth -tennis – nightguard = cracked tooth = $5,000!