5 Ways to Cut the Cost of Dental Care in Half

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Have you visited the dentist lately? If so, you are well aware of the hefty price tag that can accompany many services, both routine and non-routine.

A cleaning, full set of X-rays and exam generally costs anywhere from $175 to $300. And if you’re among the millions of Americans who don’t have dental insurance, you’re paying the full amount yourself.

But there are ways to receive high-quality care without spending a lot of money. In the video below, Money Talks News finance expert Stacy Johnson offers a tip to save up to 50 percent on your dental bills. Take a look, then meet me on the other side for more.

1. Dental schools

The lowest-cost option for those who don’t carry dental coverage is a dental school.

Skeptical about the level of care you’ll receive? Don’t be. Although the procedures may be done by students, they are well-supervised by seasoned instructors. And the equipment and tools are high-caliber.

But bear in mind that you’ll likely spend more time at the dental school receiving routine care because instructors have to check the work of their students before you are released. The upside to the extra time is that your teeth and gums will receive the thorough treatment they deserve.

Interested in giving a dental school a shot? Visit the American Dental Association’s website for a comprehensive listing of locations nationwide.

Also, look for dental hygienist schools for low-cost routine cleanings. You can find them here.

Here’s another possibility: The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research says you may be able to sign up for a clinical trial dealing with your particular dental needs and get free or low-cost care. Go to the institute’s website and click on “Clinical Trials” near the top.

2. Low-cost clinics

No dental school nearby? If you have limited income, look for a dental clinic associated with a federally funded community health center in your town or county. They charge for services on a sliding scale based on income. You can find them here.

3. Ask questions and be firm

If a dental school or community clinic is not an option, inquire about pricing and payment policies upfront before you visit a local provider. For instance, the dental office may give you a discount if you immediately pay the full bill. Ask about other discounts as well.

Compare prices between offices, which can vary widely. Talk to friends and read reviews to evaluate service if you’re looking for a new dentist. You want a dentist with fair prices and dependable care.

Check to see if the dentist has been disciplined by your state’s dental board. The ADA provides contact information for state boards here.

Also, be careful about accepting costly niche cosmetic services or extras you may not need, like a deep cleaning if you don’t have gum disease. A good dentist won’t try to talk you into a crown when a regular filling will do. Unfortunately there are dentists who try to upsell patients.

Once you’ve received treatment, keep adequate records in case you receive a hefty bill after the fact for services you didn’t authorize.

4. Know what your plan covers

If you’re fortunate enough to have dental insurance through your workplace, be aware of what the coverage limits are. The plan may cover the entire cost of one or two basic cleanings a year, but you’ll often end up having to pay half the cost of expensive procedures out-of-pocket. Also, insurance usually doesn’t pay for cosmetic procedures.

Since you’re going to be paying for all or a big chunk of many services, that’s another reason why it’s important to be sure the procedure is truly needed.

No insurance? You may want to look into dental discount plans, where participating dentists offer lower prices to plan members, who pay a fee every year. But be careful to choose a reputable company.

5. Preventive maintenance

A simple way to keep the costs of dental care under control is by taking care of your teeth, both at home and with regular cleanings at the dentist office.

That means brushing twice a day and flossing daily. It’s essential for the health of both your teeth and gums.

According to the ADA, 100 million Americans skip dental visits each year, “even though regular dental examinations and good oral hygiene can prevent most dental disease.”

So, do yourself a favor and pay a visit to the dentist. And while in the dental chair, it’s also a good idea to inquire about any additional tips that will help you maintain an optimal level of care at home.

Do you have any additional tips to help cut dental costs? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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Comments & discussion

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  • marysue15

    I live in Tucson and have yet to find a dentist or dental office willing to discount for cash. The low-income clinics will only treat you if you have a tooth about to fall out; good luck if you need a crown. As a result, my husband and I travel to Nogales, Arizona, walk across the border to Mexico and see dentists there. The best Mexican dentists charge about 1/3 to 1/2 of what American dentists charge, and so far, we have been happy with our decision.

  • Gars

    Why is prevention number 5? It should be number one!

    An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

    • Sean Cammack

      I agree completely! Also they should have pointed out that most people brush their teeth wrong by brushing side to side which means gums are being worn down (destroyed), and plaque and tarter are being missed between the teeth. To protect our gums from damage, and to remove plaque and tarter effectively we really need to use a SOFT toothbrush up and down on a 45 degree angle (the base of brush next to/parrellel with gums).

      It is a little more difficult and it takes time to develop new habits, but it is so worth it.

      Only properly brush and flose the teeth you want to keep!

      • Gars

        It’s also important to floss properly. By that I mean you nave to curve the floss around the teeth. Remember, between each teeth you have to floss the front of the back tooth and the back of the front tooth. Your goal is to clean the gum pocket as well as the tooth.

        Brushing does little to clean between the teeth so guess where gum disease usually starts?

  • Phillip McMurran

    #1 Preventive maintenance #2 Know what your plan covers #3 Have a good relationship with dentist

    • Gars

      It’s almost impossible to know what your plan covers. The difference between twice a year and once every 6 months is specifically designed to save one of the companies money, but can you tell which one? There are dozens of tricks like this that companies use.

      As a general rule, you will not game the dental insurance because the insurance company have pretty much seen every trick in the book and will quickly adapt their contract or policies to thwart your efforts.

      As a general rule, cheap insurance rate translate into poor payments.

  • bethanymclean

    If I’m not 100% sure it’s a dental problem I go see my MD. Even if they suspect it’s a dental problem they can prescribe you an antibiotic and give you the chance of not having a root canal done.

    • Gars

      Giving you an antibiotic does not give you an option of not having a root canal done. If you have an abcess at the root of your tooth, you have the real possibility of a big problem. Not doing anything leaves you open to some serious complications including death. Your option on such a tooth are to do a root canal to it or have it extracted. Choosing to treat it with antibotics to calm it down is simply a short term fix. While the pain may subside, the problem is still there and you’ve now killed off the bacteria that are susceptible to that antibotic. Future exacerbations may not respond to that antibotic and lead to much more sever problems.

      The wise physician will usually give you an antibiotic and pain medication and then tell you to see a dentist ASAP.

      With a really nasty abcess you’ll be back in the hospital’s ICU for IV antibiotics and placement of a drain by and oral surgeon.

      • bethanymclean

        I agree that there are times for root canals, but I have also personally met some overzealous dentists and had a second opinion to contradict. It seems that the dental field is too subjective. If you have gum disease, a root canal may not be necessary although an overzealous dentist may lead you to believe that it is. You should watch the reports, if you haven’t already.

        • Gars

          Root canals treat dead or severely diseased nerves of teeth. Gum disease causes pain by bacterial abcesses within the deeper gum pockets associated with advanced gum disease. In either case, proper diagnosis is the key. Treatment for the two are vastly different: Root canal/extraction for the first while deep cleaning, hygiene, and perhaps surgery for the latter.

          In either case, antibiotics only control the acute exacerbations rather than speak to the problem itself.

          And in every profession there are dishonest individuals.

  • Butte

    twice a day is good as long as it’s NOT immediately after eating; acid foods,
    juices and soft drinks soften tooth enamel. Wait at least one-half hour after
    eating for the enamel to reharden before brushing. Once tooth enamel is gone,
    it’s gone.