Dentistry is a highly specialized profession that requires years of training. It is also a career susceptible to disabling conditions.
The day-to-day work of dentists can put tremendous strain on their shoulders, arms, necks, and backs. Over time, this can lead to constant pain that may make it difficult to continue practicing. Plus, any serious injury to a dentist’s hands would likely render them unable to work at all.
Studies have also shown that when compared to the general population, dentists have higher incidences of cardiovascular conditions and mental illnesses, which can limit or prevent them from practicing for a long period.
So what would happen if you couldn’t practice because of an injury or illness? What would become of your dental practice if you were no longer able to treat patients or work in your field? How would the resulting loss of income affect your finances, your lifestyle, and your ability to provide for yourself and/or your family?
Here lies the importance of disability insurance.
If you’ve chosen dentistry as a career, it’s doubly important to be protected by disability insurance — particularly an individual policy.
First, you have more to lose in income than the average worker. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for dentists is about $159,000. In some markets, dentists can earn well over $250,000. Specialists like surgeons and orthodontists make significantly more. How would you replace that income if you can’t practice dentistry — whether temporarily or permanently — due to an accident or illness?
Second, you have more financial obligations than the average worker, namely student loan debt. According to the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), the average student loan debt for 2019 dental school graduates was over $292,000, and nearly 40 percent graduated with debt over $300,000. Student loan debt doesn’t go away if you become disabled and can’t work in the dental field.
An individual disability insurance policy designed specifically for the needs of dental professionals can protect you from the loss of income due to accident or illness.
The average cost of disability insurance is typically between 1 percent and 4 percent of your annual income. Another rule of thumb is that you should expect to pay between 2 percent and 6 percent of your policy’s monthly benefit amount in premium.
One recent survey of the top disability insurance companies for dentists showed the following ranges for monthly premium rates.
- 30 years old: $145 - $200 per month
- 40 years old: $220 - $320 per month
- 50 years old: $320 - $530 per month
Rates shown are for male non-smokers in New York purchasing a $5,000 per month benefit. The elimination period is 90 days and the benefit period is to age 65. The policy depicted is a non-cancelable own-occupation policy with partial benefits, a future purchase option, and an automatic increase option.
Dentists may pay less for coverage if they live in certain states where disability insurance rates are more affordable than in New York. Rates could also be higher if you have certain health conditions. You will also pay more if you add optional features.
Student loan rider
Chances are, your student loans won’t be forgiven if you become disabled and can’t work. To help dentists pay for some or all of their student loan debt if they can’t practice, some carriers offer this rider.
It’s a relatively inexpensive option to add, however it’s only recommended for people who have heavily invested in their education. It can help increase your coverage if:
- Your maximum disability benefit falls short of covering monthly expenses.
- You have a monthly student loan payment of at least $250.
- Your payments will last 10 to 15 years.
Catastrophic disability rider
This rider can help pay for care needed due to a catastrophic injury or illness. Disability insurance policies define catastrophic injuries as one in which:
- You suffer a complete loss of at least one of these senses: speech; hearing in both ears; sight in both eyes; or use of both hands, both feet, or one hand and one foot.
- Your condition prevents you from performing at least two of the six activities of daily living (ADL) without assistance: bathing, dressing, eating, using the restroom, continence, and transferring.
- You have severe cognitive impairment as measured by accepted medical tests.
A Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) Rider will increase your benefit amount each year you are disabled. The idea behind this rider is that your expenses — i.e., your cost of living — increase each year with inflation.
A COLA rider only increases your benefit amount once you’ve started collecting benefits due to a disability.
The younger you are, the more you should consider a COLA rider. Without the rider, your benefit amount will remain the same during your benefit period.
Learn More: Disability Insurance Riders
One of the major determining factors of the risk involved with providing disability coverage is the occupation of the insured. To determine the pricing and benefits of policies, insurance companies group jobs into specific occupational classes.
These classes take into account the hazards of the job and the difficulty in returning to work following a disability. Another factor is the claim experience associated with certain professions.
Insurance companies generally classify occupations on a scale of 1 to 5 or 6. Many use the letter M to designate medical professionals. Typically, the higher the numerical value of the classification the lower the rate available from the insurance company.
Some carriers list general dentists in the third-highest of five or six classes. Another carrier rated the occupation in the third-highest of fourth classes. Dental specialists are sometimes rated in a class higher than general dentists.
In addition to understanding occupation classes, dentists should also know how insurers define disability before they buy a policy.
Dentists should buy a policy that includes an own-occupation provision. This provision states that the policy will pay benefits if an injury prevents you from working in your medical specialty, even if you’re well enough to earn income doing other types of work.
For dentists, your specialty is considered your own occupation and you’ll be paid benefits if you are unable to work in that specialty due to an accident or illness.
Joel Palmer is a freelance writer and personal finance expert who focuses on the mortgage, insurance, financial services, and technology industries. He spent the first 10 years of his career as a business and financial reporter.
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