4 Ways to Save at the Dentist

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The recession has hurt dentists' bottom line and our dental health. A recent survey shows 43 percent of us have delayed dental care due to the cost. Here's how to cut your dental costs whether you have insurance or not.

Few of us enjoy opening wide for the rubber-coated hands and cold tools of the dentist. You may have even dreaded an appointment enough to postpone it.

But it turns out that dread of dental bills rather than dental care is the biggest reason we delay dentist visits – whether we have insurance or not.

In a recent Consumer Reports survey, 43 percent of subscribers reported putting off dental care due to the cost, even though the publications’ subscribers tend to have better insurance than the average American.

“Consumers worry about pain when it comes to the dentist,” says Nancy Metcalf, a Consumer Reports editor, “but the financial burden of yet another medical expense is the greatest concern of all.”

Last month the L.A. Times reported that the recession has affected dentistry enough to force dentists to cut hours, pay, and staff.

“Dentistry, once thought recession-proof, has become a casualty of the tough economy,” the article reports. “Americans increasingly see dental care as a luxury, even though neglecting their teeth can lead to serious health hazards, including heart disease.”

If you’re among those of us who’ve postponed the dentist because of the price – or if you’d just like to pay less than you currently do – this is Consumer Reports’ advice. It applies to both the insured and the uninsured…

  • Shop around and bargain. Look up typical insurance-paid rates in your area at FairHealthConsumer.org and HealthCareBlueBook.com, then ask providers to accept that amount, or less, as a cash payment.
  • Consider free and low-cost clinics and health centers. Some community health centers offer dental care with fees based on the ability to pay. Consumers should call their local health department to find one nearby. But they should expect to encounter waiting lists in some locations.
  • Look into dental and dental-hygienist schools. Consumers who are willing to be treated by supervised students can avail themselves of schools that offer free or discounted care to the public. A list of schools is available here.
  • Investigate dental discount plans. For an annual membership fee of around $50 to $100, one can get access to a network of dentists who have agreed to discounted rates. But Consumer Reports recommends that consumers watch out for pricey add-ons and extra procedures they don’t need.

And don’t forget to brush and floss regularly. That may sound obvious, but a third of the people polled by Consumer Reports admitted that they don’t.

If it’s braces you’re putting off, check out 5 Tips to Save on Braces.

Stacy Johnson

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