Budget friendly dental care in South Africa

For most a visit to the dentist is a painful experience. Root canals, drilling and dentures are not the only things you have to worry about because the visit itself could cost you a lot of money. But it doesn’t have to. Moneybags journalist, Danielle Van Wyk, explores cheaper alternatives to dental care.

According to South Africa’s leading cosmetic dental tourism company, dentalsafaris.com, prices listed range from R400 per consultation to R9000 for dental implants (per implant) at your regular dentist, procedure dependant.

These prices in light of the expected average South African income of R5,651 per person, according to Business Tech, means there is little to no money available for proper dental care for most people.

“Increasingly rising medical costs and insufficient medical cover, mean many South Africans are excluded from affordable, professional and quality primary health care services, which includes basic dentistry,” states Sky Insurance.

Medical aid options

Although medical aid schemes generally all have options for lower income earners, for many, the luxury of medical aid is still financially unattainable. Those who do have cover, have to contend with steep medical aid fees that barely cover the basics.

Bonitas Medical Fund, for example, ‘South Africa’s largest alternative open medical scheme’ have their rates for their basic primary option starting at R1,719 per person, per month. This, only allows for ‘conservative dentistry’ i.e. cleaning and polishing. Anything outside this range of benefits will therefore not be covered.

Bonitas offer a range of dental care options, depending on the scheme you choose. Benefits are divided into conservative dentistry, specialised dentistry and hospitalisation/anaesthetics. For more information on what Bonitas offers, click here.

Of the approximately 40 hospital plans around there are only handful of open medical schemes that offer a rich basic dentistry benefit so it’s important to do your research. Genesis Medical Scheme, for example, offers dentistry benefits on all of its benefit options, including the scheme’s two hospital plans, while Medihelp offers dentistry on some of its plans.

Genesis members get basic dentistry covered at the lower of cost or medical aid rate of up to R25,000 per beneficiary per annum. Click here for a list of what the dental benefit would cover you for or contact the scheme on 0860 10 20 10.

State care

While State care is available, dental care is offered at the ‘most basic level’ by state clinics.

The provincial government further ‘subsidises a denture service for poor adults, those receiving old age pensions and those who have been institutionalised. While there is a fee involved it is just to cover laboratory costs’ said the Western Cape Government Dental Health division.

“First-time visitors to the clinic/secondary or tertiary hospital will be asked to fill out a form and a folder will be opened for you. Bring your ID book. A referral letter from the clinic is also required when visiting a hospital. Hospitals will ask for your most recent payslip/income assessment (IRP5). Bring your hospital card if previously registered at the hospital,” stated the division.

Further, those with orthodontic needs are referred to primary healthcare facilities or alternatively dental schools such as the ones at the University of the Western Cape and Tygerberg Hospital.

Budget care options

The University of Western Cape dental faculty has a number of outreach programmes where students have an opportunity to provide services in the various surrounding communities after hours. This is in addition to the two-week rotation that a select number of students spend on the Phelophepa health train. It’s an initiative that operates out of two trains acting as mobile healthcare hospitals in impoverished rural areas around South Africa.

The Phelophepa Train consists of six on board operational clinics including: a health clinic, the Roche Pharmacy Clinic, The Educational Clinic, The Dental Clinic, The Eye Clinic and the Psychology Clinic.

In addition, there is an outreach to Scottsdene, which takes place every Tuesday and Thursday evening during term time. This evening clinic provides an extraction service to this community using the mobile clinic, the University of the Western Cape Dental faculty explained.

Weekend outreaches are also scheduled to take place three times per year, to towns that wouldn’t usually have access to sufficient dental care.

The University of Pretoria similarly has various ongoing projects in place that see students gaining experience and servicing the needs of impoverished communities at the same time. Although many of these projects are focussed on preventative health and oral care, a few also service the communities’ various complex dental needs.

Two such projects are the Primary Oral Health Care Project that sees ‘final year Oral Hygiene students who are part of Public Oral Health Elective, visit the clinic once a week to provide the preventative service.’ The other is the Preventive Clinics for Special Patients, and this involves the Oral Hygiene students catering to all patients with facial cleft deformities and performing other specialised treatments.

Programmes like these are also run at other university dental faculties like the University of Kwa Zulu Natal and the University of Witwatersrand.

Another option to budget care is found in the surgical chair of Cure Day Clinics. “Owned and operated by specialists. The day hospital has set a goal of providing more affordable, and therefore more accessible, healthcare to patients.”

Dental care is a necessity and unfortunately, the neglect thereof can see one potentially having to undergo more treatments and subsequently pay more. It is therefore wise to do your research before taking out a medical insurance product or alternatively looking to have work done at either a state clinic or a dental student facility.

To read more about dental care click here: