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What Every New Dentist Should Know About Disability Insurance

August 30, 2021
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You’re thinking, you have years ahead of you to practice. But, it's important to plan ahead and be practical while running your dental office. Obtaining disability insurance is a smart move to help protect your future in case of injury or illness. Take it from retired Dentist Scott Upright. 

 

Scott practiced for 26 years in a small town in Michigan. It was always his dream to be a dentist, and he did it. But then, he started to notice neck and back trouble. He’s not alone; when you’re a practicing dentist, there’s a strong likelihood that you’ll file a disability claim1 during the course of your career.  

It’s currently estimated that 3 in 4 dentists suffer2 from the types of musculoskeletal disorders and chronic pain as Dr. Upright did. This pain from doing something you love can impact your ability to practice dentistry. 

 

A Real-Life Story from a Retired Dentist 

 

“About 15 years into practicing, I started noticing numbness in my fingers and my left arm. My left arm would ache. I'd started having trouble with my legs, same thing. I had radicular pain, which is when your arm or your leg hurts, not necessarily your back or your neck.  

So I started getting MRIs, x-rays, and then started getting injections [that] helped me stay out of surgery for probably 10 years. Then, I had to get undergo a neck fusion, two levels, and also a lower back fusion, one level. I continued to practice for five years after that, thankfully. And then I had to have complete reconstruction on my lower back two years ago.”  

-Scott Upright 

 

It was debilitating and ended his career. 

This is not surprising or uncommon, given the unique demands of dentistry including sitting in prolonged static postures, forward bending, holding your head and neck at odd angles, etc.  

Over years of practicing, this can make your body more susceptible to degenerative, disabling conditions3 such as:  

  • Arthritis 
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome 
  • Degenerative disc disease and other chronic back issues 
  • Radiculopathy 
  • Stenosis 

 

What does this mean for you as a new dentist? 

You need to be prepared financially as soon as possible in your career.  

Scott first shared his story with me years ago when we first met. And obviously, with what I do for a living, it stood out. It’s not just about understanding of how to build a practice, but also how to make sure that you're doing what is right for you financially so that you can be like Scott, retire early, whether it's medically necessary or not. Scott’s story isn’t a sad one. He and his wife prepared and are still able to open up businesses and do other things they love to be able to take care of their family appropriately.  

And you can too. Following these steps can help: 

 

Save 20% of Your Income: Cash isn't King, Cash Flow is King! 

Cash flow is where your financial confidence lies.  

What we call ‘Profit 1st’ This is the fundamental step you should consider taking to help put yourself in the position that Scott did. Being able to retire early, being able to open up businesses and take advantage of opportunities, comes from discipline and great saving habits.    

Saving 20% of your gross income is ideal. I recommend keeping the vast majority of that liquid that way it’s assessable to you to take advantage of new opportunities. Life will also throw curveballs and you need to have emergency funds available. 

This isn’t about budgeting; budgeting isn’t a last habit, it promotes negative emotions like guilt and stress, it’s like a fad diet.  We create a spending plan; identify how much money our clients can spend every month.  Enjoy the fruits of your labor. It’s a simple process of identifying your most important priorities.  

First, protect your income and assets. If your income is lost, nothing else matters. Then save 20% of Gross income. The rest of the money will go in two directions: bills and fun. 

Remember: whatever your income is, try to save 20% of it every month. Now, just because you didn't do it in your 20s and 30s doesn't mean that you can't start in your 40s, 50s, 60s even. I believe it's never too late to start anything, especially a great habit. 

 

Invest in Disability Insurance 

Fortunately, Scott purchased disability from the dental association and an individual contract with more specialty language early in his career.  Unfortunately, after years of building a successful practice, he dropped his individual coverage.   

 

“I had limited time, and I tried to back off my patient load, we had a very big, busy practice. I had a hard time getting associates to come out to rural Michigan to help me. I could never get people to travel out, dentists to come out and work for me. We had some, but I was pretty much the main dentist there. I tired my back out. 

Luckily, I saved early. So, I had the ability to take some time off.  I took a year off to really decide what my next thing was because I just had to just let my back rest.” 

- Scott Upright 

 

For many young dental students, you pay so much money to go to dental school. It's a massive commitment, and a lot of work, therefore you must protect your future. You never know if/when chronic and possibly debilitating pain will start to occur. As a healthcare professional, it’s a smart investment in your future to have quality disability insurance. 

When you're looking at the priorities of your financial life, protecting your income should be the first priority, because if your income goes away, nothing else really matters.  

When seeking disability insurance, the language of the contract is paramount. Work with a financial professional that understands the difference between the contract language of the own occupation disability carriers.  I suggest a contract that would pay claims under the widest array of situations and has the financial stability to potentially pay claims for decades.  

 

Work with a Reputable Professional 

When you invest in disability insurance, you’ll want to have an experienced professional on your side to help you find the plan that is best for you.  

Unfortunately, some of group policies may have a lot of exclusions in them that will not pay if you have any pre-existing conditions and may have other stipulations. You have to know what you're actually paying for. Working with a financial professional that also specializes in disability insurance for dentists will help as they will understand your unique needs.  

Here are three things to know before shopping for disability insurance:  

 

  1. Choose from established insurers with strong financial ratingswho offer own occupation disability coverage for medical professionals. Ask for the ComdexScore4, which is a composite of all ratings that a company has received from the major rating agencies.  Another good question to ask; how many claims did the company pay last year?  

 

  1. Compare more than the costs.Companies are different in the ways they structure their policies. Some insurers include own-occupation while others may require the purchase of an additional rider. You may be interested in numerous other important riders.   

 

Availability and policy features vary by insurer and state. Each company has different options and language within the riders that is important to understand.  Always remember that a lower cost may not always equate to a better value.  

 

  1. Think about what features are essential.Your ‘must-haves’ will be different from another dentist. You have to consider your situation. Non-cancelable, benefits guaranteed to age 65, residual/partial disability benefits, supplemental riders that help with student loans, etc. For many dentists in the market for disability insurance coverage, you’ll want toconsider including riders in your policy. 

 

“You really have to take care of yourself because it's not like life insurance. Disability can happen in a car accident, it can happen doing yard work, you can break your arm skiing, it can be short-term disability, can be long-term.  

You can't bend over anymore, you can't see, maybe you lose an eye or you have a brain injury. There's a lot of things that can happen to you. So, if you're committed to that, you just say that's part of the budget, that's taken care of. God forbid, if anything happens to me, that's there to keep my mortgage going, maybe my car payment, and to help us keep moving as a family.”  

-Scott Upright 

 

Prepare for Your Future 

Choosing the disability insurance policy that is right for you as a dentist requires considerable research and guidance. Lean on reputable financial professionals like myself to help steer you in the right direction and give appropriate advice for your needs.  

Don’t be left in a lurch due to not having a practical plan in place; think about your financial future and retirement goals. As you can see disability insurance is a key part of the plan for your dental career. 

 

Remember, if you are failing to plan, you are planning to fail. 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

Dave Duquette is the President of Impact Medical Advisors, a part of Westshore Financial Group. Based in Tampa, Florida, Dave joined the financial services industry with one mission in mind: to help people gain control of their finances.  Dave specializes working with medical professionals across the country.  

 

DISCLAIMER 

David has permission from Scott to use his story and share it publicly via this article.  

Material discussed is meant for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as tax, legal, or investment advice. Although the information has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, please note that individual situations can vary. Therefore, the information should be relied upon only when coordinated with individual professional advice. This material contains the opinions of the author but not necessarily those of PAS or Guardian. Individual disability income products underwritten and issued by Berkshire Life Insurance Company of America (BLICOA), Pittsfield, MA or provided by Guardian. BLICOA is a wholly owned stock subsidiary of and administrator for the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Product provisions and availability may vary by state. Optional riders are available for an additional premium.  

Registered Representative and Financial Advisor of Park Avenue Securities LLC (PAS). Securities products and advisory services offered through PAS, member FINRA, SIPC. Financial Representative of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America® (Guardian), New York, NY. PAS is a wholly owned subsidiary of Guardian. Impact Medical Advisors is not an affiliate or subsidiary of PAS or Guardian. CA Insurance License #0N14650.  2021-122189 (Exp. 6/23) 

  

 

 

1 According to the ADA’s statistics, one in four dentists will become disabled long enough to collect benefits before retirement. ADA, Disability Income Protection Insurance Planhttps://www.insurance.ada.org/ada-insurance-plans/disability-insurance.aspx  

2 H.S. Bedi, Ninad Joshirao Moon, et al., Evaluation of Musculoskeletal Disorders in Dentists and Application of DMAIC Technique to Improve the Ergonomics at Dental Clinics and Meta-Analysis of Literature, J. Clin. Diagn. Res., Jun 1, 2015, at 1. 

Derek Funk, Esq.Peter Brown, What Every Dentist Needs to Know About Disability Insurance, https://www.dentalproductsreport.com/view/dentist-disability-insurance-guide, August 28, 2018 

4 Comdex is not a rating, but a composite of all ratings that a company has received from the major rating agencies (A.M. Best, Standard & Poor's, Moody's, and Fitch). Comdex percentile ranks the companies, on a scale of 1 to 100 (with 100 being the best).