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Are dental costs deductible?

Dear Tax Talk,
I have had $32,000 worth of dental work done on my teeth this year, partly to save all of my teeth after many years of neglect, and also cosmetic work. Is any or all of it deductible as a medical expense?
-- Carolyn

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Dear Carolyn,
Hang on to your dentures, because it looks like you have a nice deductible medical expense. Medical expenses are the costs of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease and the costs for treatments affecting any part or function of the body.

They also include dental expenses. Medical expenses are an itemized deduction on Schedule A of Form 1040. You must reduce your total medical expenses for the year by 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income. For example, if your income for the year is $100,000 and your other medical expenses (such as health insurance, co-pays and prescriptions) are $5,500, you can claim $30,000 as an itemized deduction ($32,000 + $5,500) - (0.075 x $100,000). It would be a good idea to have any other expensive procedures done and paid for before the end of the year, including anything for your spouse and dependents.

Publication 502 states:

Generally, you cannot include in medical expenses the amount you pay for unnecessary cosmetic surgery. This includes any procedure that is directed at improving the patient's appearance and does not meaningfully promote the proper function of the body or prevent or treat illness or disease. You generally cannot include in medical expenses the amount you pay for procedures such as face lifts, hair transplants, hair removal (electrolysis), teeth whitening and liposuction.

You can include in medical expenses the amount you pay for cosmetic surgery if it is necessary to improve a deformity arising from, or directly related to, a congenital abnormality, a personal injury resulting from an accident or trauma or a disfiguring disease.

Example. An individual undergoes surgery that removes a breast as part of treatment for cancer. She pays a surgeon to reconstruct the breast. The surgery to reconstruct the breast corrects a deformity directly related to the disease. The cost of the surgery is includible in her medical expenses.

Therefore, if the cosmetic portion of the dental procedure was an inseparable part of the dental work to save your teeth, you could claim the full amount paid as a medical expense. You have to pay your expenses before the end of the year in order to claim the deduction in 2005. Payment includes payment by credit card but would not include payment arrangements with the dentist. If you have expenditures that extend into the next year, you can prepay those and claim the deduction in 2005.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy-- Posted: Oct. 14, 2005
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