Armin Fares, a freelance photographer living in downtown Toronto, is living his dream. The 32-year-old says he has worked hard to be his own boss and set his own schedule.
But while working for oneself provides independence, it does not provide access to dental coverage.
“I don’t have access to health benefits like you would working for a company,” says Fares. “I often fear getting a dental problem, such as a cavity or a root canal, because it is so expensive to fix and can leave me financially vulnerable.”
Fares says he has an emergency fund for unexpected medical expenses, including dental procedures.
“I kind of hope there’s only one (health issue) every year because if there’s multiple things, I’ve got a problem,” he says.
If you freelance or work from contract to contract, you’ve probably shared these fears. Dental services such as tooth brushing and fillings can cost hundreds of dollars if you are not covered by a plan, which many Canadians are not.
In 2021, there were more than 2.6 million self-employed people, according to Statistics Canada, with 33 percent citing “independence, freedom, being your own boss” as the top reason for being self-employed. Meanwhile, according to StatCan, the number of agency workers — including contract roles and seasonal jobs — has increased by 50 percent over the past two decades.
If you’re one of these Canadians, experts say there are strategies to ease the financial blow of those surprising dental costs.
For fewer unexpected visits to the dreaded dental chair, the most obvious preventative strategy is to maintain good oral hygiene.
“Brush and floss,” says financial planner Janet Gray of Money Coaches Canada. “The more conscientious you are about your own prevention, the more it reduces the dental care you need and the dental costs you will incur.”
“It sounds a little crazy, but it makes a difference so that when you eventually have to go to the dentist, it’s for check-ins rather than teeth extraction,” Gray adds.
Part of prevention is also talking to your dentist about what procedures to expect later on.
If you don’t have access to dental insurance, ask your dentist how much teeth brushing or X-rays you need to schedule so you can budget for these treatments ahead of time, says Jessica Moorhouse, a financial educator and host of the More Money podcast.
“Have an honest conversation and ask: are there things I should expect?” Moorhouse says. “For example, do you need to know if you have any wisdom teeth that need to come out, if you’re not flossing enough, or if your gums are receding?”
Knowing about these issues ahead of time will help you budget for them as you would for any other expense.
Postpone dental procedures
It’s important to note that some of these procedures may not require immediate attention, both Gray and Moorhouse point out.
By having a transparent conversation about your finances and what you can afford, you and your dentist can work together to prioritize services and plan what can be done in the short and long term.
“There’s nothing wrong with saying to the dentist, ‘I have $300,’ for example. What can you do with that money now and what can wait?” says gray.
Moorhouse says it’s important to be upfront about your financial situation because it can help your dentist come up with a plan that works for you. Some dentists can even adjust to a lower rate if they find out you don’t have coverage because you pay them directly instead of going through an insurance company, she says.
For this reason, “it’s important to choose the right dentist that’s right for you,” says Moorhouse.
Some dentists may try to sell you, while others are more flexible and open about discussing a payment option that works for different income levels and households.
“So shopping around for the right dentist first is a good idea,” she says.
Pay out of pocket or be insured?
Deciding whether to get insurance or budget and pay out of pocket comes down to understanding your own risk levels, which can be challenging to foresee when it comes to dental work.
Paying out of pocket is ultimately cheaper, say Moorhouse and Gray.
“You can pay $100 a month in insurance and only use $400 a year in dentistry, which isn’t a good deal,” says Gray.
Dental plans also have dollar caps and limits on the number of services you can get in a given amount of time, which Gray says is important to research thoroughly before deciding on coverage if you choose to go this route.
“You have to get a little bit of a handle on how much you need in care versus how much you’re insured,” she says.
But for many people who can’t access benefits, insurance can provide some comfort in the event of an anticipated dental problem.
“Some people may be concerned about the idea of a surprise bill, and having dental insurance where they have those regular payments to get coverage will give them peace of mind,” says Moorhouse.
Gray says, “Know your own behavior.”
“Some people have no problem setting aside $100 a month to save for that next dentist appointment,” she says. “Others will find that the confidence of having the insurance is worth it, no matter the cost.”
And about those kids? For children under age 12 whose families earn less than $90,000 a year and who do not have access to private insurance, the temporary Canada Dental Benefit accepts applications to help with dental costs.
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