Dental Emergency, No Insurance: What Should You Do?

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Just like any other type of medical emergency, a dental emergency is something that requires immediate treatment. Trying to put off care can make things even worse. But just like hospital bills, fees at the dentist can add up quickly. So what should you do if you don’t have insurance? Benzinga walks you through your options.

What Is a Dental Emergency?

The American Dental Association says a dental emergency is a situation that requires immediate treatment of things like severe dental pain or an infection, major tissue bleeding or trauma to your facial bones. In some cases, these conditions can be life-threatening.

Types of Dental Emergencies

There are all sorts of things that might constitute a dental emergency. Here are some examples.

  • Cellulitis: A bacterial infection of the skin that causes pain and swelling. If untreated, it can spread and lead to even more serious health problems.
  • Abscess: A collection of pus that happens when the body’s immune system tries to fight off an infection in your tissue.
  • Tooth avulsion: When a tooth is completely dislodged from its socket.
  • Tooth luxation: A tooth that is loose or moved out of the socket, usually because something damages the tissues, ligaments or bones that support your tooth. This can also damage the tooth’s nerve and blood supply, so intervention is necessary to save the tooth.
  • Tooth fracture: Cracks in your teeth might be minor, or could be a major issue that leads the tooth to split or break. The sooner you get treatment, the better the chances are that the tooth can be repaired.
  • Pericoronitis: Swelling of the gum tissue around your wisdom teeth can cause pain, swelling, fever and worse.
  • Soft tissue injuries: Soft tissues in your mouth include the gums, tongue, cheeks and lips. An untreated soft tissue injury can lead to infection and major complications.  
  • Swelling or trauma to the jaw: Jaw injuries like fractures and dislocations need immediate intervention so they don’t worsen. If you have swelling and pain but don’t know why, it could be because of dental issues like abscesses and infections.
  • Persistent oral bleeding: A number of things can cause mouth bleeds. It could be a dislodged tooth or a symptom of a severe illness. It’s something you should get examined as quickly as possible.

What Is Not Considered a Dental Emergency?

Not all dental issues are things that require immediate emergency care. Some may be fairly urgent but will be okay if you wait a day or two to address. 

  • Small chip or crack: This might be a tough one to make a call on. If the chip is tiny and isn’t causing you any pain, it can wait. If it’s a major crack, you should seek emergency care. 
  • Dislodged crown or bridge: This is probably uncomfortable, and you should make an appointment to address it as soon as possible. However, you don’t need to rush in for emergency care.
  • Light toothache: If the pain is something that’s bothering you but isn’t unbearable, floss your teeth and rinse with warm salt water, then make an appointment during regular business hours. 
  • Broken braces: If the wire is poking you, bend it or cover it with wax. As long as you aren’t bleeding, this isn’t an emergency.
  • Food stuck between teeth: Even if this is uncomfortable, it’s not something you need to rush to the dentist to fix. 
  • Cavities: This is likely painful, but you can make an appointment for the next availability to address it. 

How Much Does a Dental Emergency Visit Without Insurance Typically Cost?

Just like with any medical procedure, you may experience some major sticker shock if you get your bill back from your emergency dental visit. That’s especially true if you’re one of the nearly 70 million American adults who don’t have dental insurance. Plus, dental costs have risen dramatically in recent years. 

The bill you’ll face depends on the procedure you need. The typical visit can range between $400 and $1,500. An emergency root canal might run you around $700-$900 unless it’s a molar, which shoots the cost up closer to $1,200. Non-surgical extraction can be between $75 and $300. Getting a new crown might be between $1,000 and $1400, depending on the material used.

Low-Cost Dental Care Options if You Have No Insurance Coverage

You don’t need to panic just because you don’t have dental insurance. You can save money in a variety of ways.

Dental Schools

Letting a dental student handle your procedure with the oversight of a licensed dentist is a great option for certain visits since the schools offer services at major discounts. Keep in mind, though, that because the students are still learning and will have to communicate with the dentist monitoring them, the appointment may take a bit longer than normal. 

Dental Savings Plan

Getting a year-long membership where you pay a monthly or annual fee and then get a discount on services can be a great alternative to insurance. Regular check-ups and more major procedures alike come with discounts because you’re paying monthly dues that go toward funding the procedures. This method allows you to find a plan based on your needs. 

Dental Payment Plans

Dentists will usually offer a financing plan so you can split your bill into multiple payments. These can usually be tailored to your individual needs. For instance, some people may be able to put some money down upfront and then split the costs, while others may need to divide the payments up more evenly over a longer time. There are also dental credit card options that create payment plans. 

Government Dental Clinics

Just like the government has medical clinics for doctor’s visits, a government dental clinic can help those in need by providing discounted services. Normally, there’s a fairly long waiting list at dental clinics, but you can likely get expedited care for emergency services. 

Occasionally, charities will host events where dentists donate their time and skill. That means you can get examinations and minor procedures done for free.

Emergency Room Visits

Depending on what ER you visit, there may be a dentist on hand. Regular doctors will also be able to help with certain injuries, like a damaged jaw. This might be a good option for people who have health insurance but not dental insurance. Keep in mind, though, that most emergency rooms do not have dentists, so while they may be able to give you antibiotics and pain medications, you may wind up having to go to a dentist separately anyway. An ER might be a good option if you can’t get to a dentist for a few days but need something to tide you over until then.

Tips for Injury and Accident Prevention

When it comes to your health, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Increase your chances of staying out of the emergency dental room with these tips.

  • Brush and floss: Healthy teeth are less prone to damage.
  • Regular visits: Going to bi-annual checkups is a must. It’s much cheaper to pay for preventative dental care than to deal with an emergency.
  • Wear a mouthguard: If you’re playing sports or if you grind your teeth in your sleep, a mouthguard can keep you from cracking your teeth and damaging your gums.
  • Avoid hard foods: Avoid things like chewing ice or hard candies. 

Dental Insurance Protects You Before and After an Emergency

Dental insurance is great for making checkups and minor procedures more affordable. That means you’re more likely to get preventative care. If an emergency does occur, though, dental insurance can keep you from being financially crippled just to pay for treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions 

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If you’re experiencing a dental emergency, you should seek treatment right away. Waiting can cause your condition to worsen.

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Many dentists will let you haggle if you don’t have insurance. You may also be able to sign up for a discount plan retroactively if you talk with your dentist.

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Although you probably can’t get dental insurance to cover a procedure after it’s already done, it’s a good idea to get it for any follow-up treatments. Some dentists also let you sign up for a payment plan or monthly membership even if the procedure is already completed.

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