Best Disability Insurance Options for Dentists

Factors to consider when choosing disability insurance for dentists: benefit limits, coverage, and cost.

Key Terms

  • Disability insurance replaces a portion of your income if you are unable to work due to illness, not just injury.
  • Dentists and dental professionals need disability insurance because of their high salaries and student loan debts.
  • You can get better rates by shopping around and buying when you’re young, since rates increase with age.

As a dentist, you know the importance of maintaining good oral health. But have you thought about protecting your income in the event of a disabling injury or illness? 

Disability insurance is an essential form of protection for dentists and dental professionals, as it can provide a source of income if you’re unable to work due to a covered disability. The American Dental Association (ADA) notes that the average length of a period of disability for a dentist is about 2.5 years. That could mean a loss of $417,900 in income, based on the average annual salary for general dentists. When you have a long-term disability policy in place, you can focus on your recovery and return to work, rather than worrying about financial stress.

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Why do dentists need disability insurance? 

Dentists, like all professionals, face the risk of becoming disabled. In fact, over a third of dentists will experience a disability during their career, according to a survey conducted by the ADA, and without a long-term disability policy, you may have to rely on savings or other financial resources to get by during this time. This can be a significant burden, especially considering the high cost of medical treatment, paired with the fact that many dentists have significant student loan debt. The class of 2021 graduated with an average debt of $301,583.

Group coverage isn’t enough

As a dentist, your workplace or a professional dental association may offer disability coverage, like workers’ compensation or a long-term policy as part of your employee benefits. 

However, these benefits may be capped or you may not be able to claim them except in narrow circumstances. (In the case of workers’ comp, you can only claim benefits if you’re injured on the job, and they’re temporary.) You also have the option to apply for Social Security disability insurance, so long as you’ve paid payroll or self-employment taxes, but it’s difficult to qualify, since you’ll have to prove you have a total disability that renders you unable to work any job. SSDI benefit payments are also much smaller than what you would receive under a private disability policy. That’s why dentists should consider buying their own individual insurance plan. 

Long-term disability policies, also called disability income insurance, are more expensive than group policies, which are cost-subsidized, but they can replace your income for a longer period of time — even until you retire. This type of coverage stays with you even if you move or change your job (unlike coverage you receive through your workplace, which expires when you leave), and with the right type of policy you can even receive a disability payout when you cannot perform the material responsibilities of your profession. 

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How much does disability insurance cost for dentists?

When shopping for disability insurance, it’s important to choose a policy that is specifically designed for dentists. These policies have higher benefit limits (which means larger monthly payments) to match dentists’ salaries, and more comprehensive coverage, as they are tailored to their unique needs. 

These are only guidelines, so make sure to speak with a licensed insurance broker who can get you the personalized rates, including any discounts you may qualify for. 

What affects the cost of disability insurance

Benefit period: The benefit period is the length of time that you will receive disability payments for. Consider how long you would need income, in the event of a disability, and choose a policy accordingly.

Benefit amount: The benefit amount is the amount of income the policy will provide. It’s important to choose a policy that will provide enough in each payment to cover your expenses in the event of a disability.

Elimination period: Disability insurance doesn’t pay out immediately — there’s a waiting period (90 days is typical), and the shorter it is, the more your policy will cost.

Riders: Riders are add-ons to your base policy. They can allow you more benefits and coverage, usually for a cost, though some are included for free. Some disability insurance riders might cover your student loans during disability, while others can allow you to increase your benefit amount in the future without undergoing a medical exam. 

3  things dentists should know about buying disability insurance 

With the high risk of disability in the profession and the significant financial burden of a disability, disability insurance can provide much-needed financial security in the event of an injury or illness. When shopping for a policy, be sure to consider the definition of disability, your location, and your timeline.

The definition of disability matters

It’s important to choose a policy that defines disability in a way that meets your needs. Some policies only provide benefits if you are unable to perform the duties of your specific occupation (“own occupation”) as a dentist, while others may provide benefits if you are unable to work in any occupation. That means you can still claim disability benefits if you decide teach after a workplace injury renders you unable to work as a dentist — if you have an own-occupation policy.

Be sure to read the exclusions section of the policy carefully. This will outline any situations in which the policy will not pay out benefits.

So does your location

If you graduate in one state, but plan to move to another for your job, when should you buy your disability insurance? The cost of disability insurance and other insurance can vary across the country. That means premiums in one state may be higher or lower than another — something to consider before buying. An experienced insurance broker can help you navigate buying the best policy for your needs. 

Buy as early as possible 

Disability insurance gets more expensive as you get older (because as you age, it becomes more likely that you’ll suffer an injury or illness that puts you out of work). To get the best rates, you should buy your policy when you’re young, and the insurance company sees you as less of a risk.

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Joshua Holt is a licensed insurance agent (License #2785989) and founder of Biglaw Investor and Sidebar Insurance LLC, an insurance agency created by lawyers, for lawyers. His insurance expertise lies in the areas of life and disability insurance, particularly covering lawyers, doctors and other high-income professionals. Prior to Biglaw Investor, Josh practiced private equity mergers & acquisition law for one of the largest law firms in the country.

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