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Visiting a US Dentist

Whether it is a cavity or a regular check-up, sooner or later a visit to the dentist becomes inevitable. After their move to the United States, expats often don’t know where to turn when they get a toothache. We tell you how to find a US dentist and how to finance the treatment.
Finding the right dentist can be a hassle.

There are over 90,000 US dentists and dental care specialists all over the country. Their work is regulated and overseen by the Board of Dentistry or Board of Dental Examiners in their respective state. They provide the licenses for US dentists in their state and thus assure a high standard of quality. Let’s take a closer look at what a visit to the US dentist entails and at the costs of it.

How to Find the Right Dentist

For those who have just moved to the United States, trying to find a US dentist can be an overwhelming task. After all, you want to be sure that the medical professional in question knows what they are doing and doesn’t have too much of a sadistic streak. Of course, a personal recommendation from your friends, family members, or co-workers is always a good place to start. Alternatively, you can browse the member directory of the American Dental Association.

Before you settle on a US dentist, it makes sense to compare different dentists and look up evaluations online. If you are still unsure, you can call or visit a few US dentist offices before you make a final decision. Before a bigger treatment or surgery is due, you should ask your dentist (even if you are visiting them for the first time) for an estimate.

Some of the criteria you should pay attention to include obvious details such as the distance from your house or your place of work, and if their office hours are convenient for you. However, the cleanliness of the office, special arrangements in cases of emergency, and specific information about fees and payment options are important as well.

What to Expect from a Visit to a US Dentist

Once you have found a US dentist you feel comfortable with, it is time for your first check-up. Your dentist should take your dental health history before proceeding. During the following examination, they will then look for signs of health problems or cavities. In addition, they almost always perform a thorough teeth cleaning. Sometimes this procedure is done by a dental hygienist.

If you have a history of certain diseases or symptoms or have reached a certain age, your US dentist might do an x-ray as well. That way, they find damages that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. These could include damage to the bones, abscesses, cysts, or tumors. If your teeth are relatively healthy, you can plan your next check-up in a year’s time. However, if you have cavities or your wisdom teeth need to be removed, you should make an appointment with your US dentist as soon as possible.

Dental Care Under the Affordable Care Act

In our article on US health insurance, we have talked about the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. This major healthcare reform which has been rolled out bit by bit over a couple of years requires everybody to have health insurance from January 2014 on. In the past, many health insurance plans did not cover dental care. Patients had to purchase an additional plan or pay the costs out of their own pocket.

For adults, the situation remains the same: a visit to a US dentist is not a so-called mandated benefit and does not have to be included in your plan. Of course, you are free to purchase additional dental plans but the costs for these can vary depending on the state or region you live in. However, you will also not be penalized for not taking out dental coverage.

Children, on the other hand, should receive dental cover according to the Affordable Care Act. This means that in the federal market place, pediatric dental coverage must be available either as part of the general health plan or as a free-standing dental plan. Still, families are not required to buy dental coverage if it’s offered as a separate plan. They should have the option of purchasing a general health plan which includes dental care.

Financing Dental Treatments

Dental treatments can be rather expensive, especially if your health insurance does not cover it. But even if you have a dental plan to cover the costs of regular check-ups at your US dentist’s office, certain procedures might not be included in this plan and can add significantly to your cost of living in the US. Fortunately, there are different ways of financing your dental treatment. One way of doing so is through CareCredit or payment plans. CareCredit offers you a loan for your dental care, which you can pay back within a year without any interest. Keep in mind though that, if it takes you longer than 12 months to pay them back, the interest is hefty. Many dentists also offer a payment plan directly to their patients. So be open about your financial situation and discuss it with your US dentist.

If you are not too choosy when it comes to the person who treats you, dental schools might be a good place to go. A dental student will treat you under close supervision for 20%-60% of the usual cost. On the downside, treatments can take a lot longer than usual and the waiting lists are very long as well. Furthermore, you should not be too shy as lots of people will be looking into your mouth.

Some communities also have low-cost health clinics or open clinics which offer dental care to people with a lower income. You can use the search engine of the Department of Health and Human Services to help you find one of these clinics. However, be prepared to wait for a long time as many people turn to open clinics for medical support. 


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