Should freelancers get dental insurance or pay out of pocket?

By: Renee Sylvestre-Williams on January 3, 2020
Article image

My dentist takes a look at my bottom right front teeth that he’s going to fill and comments, 

“Oh, we should fill the one next to it.” 

“I’m not budgeted for that,” I immediately say. He says he’ll fill it anyway, since he was already there. I say that he could roll it to my next cleaning and I’ll pay for it. “Consider it a Christmas present,” he tells me. 

I’ve been with this guy for more than a decade and I think I love him, mostly because he does things like this. 

As a freelancer I don’t have dental insurance but I still need my biannual cleaning, the occasional rebuilding of teeth and the replacement of my mouthguard every few years because I grind on that thing like I’m in the club: hard with the intent of wearing it down to the ground. That means I have to budget or consider getting dental insurance. 

Dental services are expensive. The bill for my tooth rebuild was $156. Combine that with my annual cleaning and x-rays, I pay about $400 out of pocket each year for my teeth. I’m fortunate that I’ve got good teeth but what about people who don’t get dental insurance through their company and need a lot of dental work? When does it make sense to get dental insurance? 

Get covered or pay out of pocket? 

Liz Schieck, a certified financial planner with the New School of Finance, says it’s knowing and managing your risk which can be difficult to predict. 

“Generally, if all that's going to be needed over the course of a year is routine dental cleanings and x-rays, you're likely to spend less paying out of pocket rather than paying for insurance, particularly if you're only paying for yourself,” she says. 

The advantage to paying out of pocket is you might end up paying less if you don't need a lot of dental work done in a year, says Schieck. “But with that potential savings comes the risk that you could end up spending much more than what you would have had you paid for insurance.” 

Hence, the risk mitigation. 

Where dental insurance may make sense, she says, is when you have more people in your family that need coverage. “Paying out of pocket for two adults and two kids to have dental cleanings, for example, might make the insurance premiums worth it alone.” Or, as she says, you may have to have a root canal, which could cost anywhere between $300 to $2,000; or other ongoing dental work that could cost thousands of dollars. .

Some prefer not to address risk mitigation. E.K. Johnston, a Canadian author, has dental insurance. “I chose dental insurance because it was part of my healthcare insurance plan which my financial planner found for me. I grew up with dental coverage, so I suppose I got used to yearly cleanings and checkups. Also, I have unerupted wisdom teeth.” 

Her coverage, which she pays $105 per month for, covers the basics: x-rays, cleaning, any work she needs done except for braces and emergencies. She tested it when she chipped her tooth a few years ago. Since she also has uninterrupted wisdom teeth, she’s got peace of mind when they do come out, one way or another. 

Make sure you know what’s covered

Dental insurance could be useful if you think you’re going to spend more than you could pay out of pocket. But as with all contracts, Schieck says you have to read the fine print because not every service will be included. 

“An important thing it to look at is whether there are limitations to the insurance and what it covers — if it's only going to cover certain kinds of emergency procedures, or if there's going to be a dollar limit to claims, then definitely crunch the numbers to see whether the insurance is worth it for you,” she says. 

Or you can get it for the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re covered if something happens. That alone, says Schieck, can be worth the monthly premiums.