Cheaper dental care options to smile about

For some people a visit to the dentist usually results in a painful mouth and an empty wallet. But there are things you can do to cut your dental bill, says Nicolette Dirk.

According to Dental Safaris.com the average price of a consultation can cost you R400, which excludes the extra R50 for a cleaning procedure. Veneers will set you back R5, 000 and crowns can cost you R5, 500. To whiten your teeth you would need R4,000 and root canals will drill an R800 hole in your pocket.

Even though South African dental care prices are reasonable compared to Europe and the Unites States, the average South African’s income does not facilitate dental health, which is not seen as a primary need. But there are ways to reduce your dental bill.

Cheaper dental care through medical aid

For patients able to afford private medical aid, schemes like Bonitas, Medihelp and Genesis offer a dental plan within their schemes which, according to medical aid advisor Nelda Celliers of Medical Benefit Advisors, is more financially viable than opting for a medical aid offering a savings component.

“A medical aid that offers a separate dental plan will allow you to utilise your funds to the full capacity. Schemes like Genesis, which offer a hospital plan, can fund you up to R25 000 a year for dental care which is separate from your other medical expenses and you can get the most out of your dental plan. Medical aids that only offer a savings option can be exhausted sooner if you require expensive dental care,” said Celliers.

She adds that a medical aid like Momentum Health can offer a further alternative cost-effective option within the scheme that includes one visit to the dentist.

Budget care for low income earners

For those who can’t afford private medical cover basic dental care is available and is funded through provincial subsidies. This basic dental care is also available for poor adults, people on old age pensions and people who are institutionalised for a small fee, which covers laboratory costs. The fee is calculated based on the person’s income.

Patients with more complicated orthodontic problems are referred to dental schools at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and Tygerberg Hospital, for example.

As part of their training UWC dentistry students provide dental care to 120 000 people at clinics at Groote Schuur, Tygerberg and Red Cross Children’s hospitals as well as Gugulethu and Mitchell’s Plain clinics every year. “These students are entrusted to deliver a first-class service to so many people. This dental facility is a basis for skills and service where 45% of the country’s dentists are trained,” said UWC dentistry faculty head, Professor Yusuf Osman.

In September 2012 a team of eight 5th year, six 4th year and two 3rd year students along with six lecturers spent time in Tulbagh where they provided free dental care to 328 children and adults. A total of 477 teeth were extracted, 18 fillings replaced, 36 patients had their teeth scaled and polished and 33 other patients received various dental treatments.

The University of Witwatersrand funds a Community Oral Health Outreach Program (COHOP) that also provides dental care to disadvantaged communities in Gauteng, Limpopo and North Western Provinces. With the use of a mobile dental unit COHOP staff render oral care in areas that lack government facilities.

The University of Pretoria’s Department of Community Dentistry is also involved in a number of community service projects for disadvantaged communities. For six weeks students travel to remote rural areas across South Africa and provide basic oral health care to rural communities on the Transnet Phelophepa Health Care Train.

At the University of KwaZulu-Natal dental therapy and oral hygiene undergraduate students do their clinical training at the Oral and Dental Training Centre (ODTC) at King Dinuzulu Hospital. In addition, students are involved in community projects at schools, crèches, old age homes. Final year students also spend two weeks on the Transnet Phelophepha Train. “The (ODTC) training site is a Department of Health clinic and therefore the fee structure for service-rendering is determined by the department. However, there is no cost to patients when they are managed by students,” said university spokesperson MaryAnn Francis.

Moneybags’ top tip
If your annual dental bills are going through the roof, consider changing to a medical scheme that offers dentistry within your basic benefits. Speak to your financial advisor or broker about the best option for you and your family. Alternatively, if you are a low income earner, you could benefit from making an enquiry with a dental training college. You may not get your dentistry for free but letting experienced students do your dentistry could work out cheaper than if you were to seek care from an established, private dentist.

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