4 Ways to Get Free or Low-Cost Dental Care

Keeping your teeth and gums healthy can be expensive. A twice-annual cleaning and exam is an ounce of prevention that will help save you from far more costly work. But even a cleaning can run up a bill of several hundred dollars.

So, the question is, how to stay on top of it without breaking the bank? Here are four ways to save on dental care:

1. Look for special deals

Dentists often advertise some super deals through social buying sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial, local “shopper” newspapers, and even the ubiquitous blue envelope from Valpak. Let me bear witness to deals that do exist: While living in Seattle, I redeemed a Valpak coupon that helped me pay just $29 for cleaning, X-rays and a free teeth-whitening kit custom-made for me in the office.

Read such deals carefully, though, and take note of expiration dates. If a voucher expires, you can still redeem it for the amount paid, but you won’t get the same price on the deal. Suppose you spent $29 on a Groupon deal for cleaning and X-rays but forgot to book the appointment in time. You can still apply the $29 toward those services, but it’ll cost a lot more than $29.

Remember, too, that deep discounts — whether through social buying networks or a coupon in a local paper — are generally for new customers. You won’t get nearly as good a price on future visits.

Also keep in mind that the office on the coupon might not be the most cost-effective place in town for later work. If the exam turns up a problem, write down the specific treatment recommended and the total cost, then say you’ll get back to them regarding future appointments.

Next, ask friends and co-workers which dentists they use and call to compare fees for the same service.

2. Beware costly extra procedures

Teeth whitening is just one of the unnecessary treatments offered at many offices. On average, in-office whitening will cost, about $650, according to the Consumer Guide to Dentistry. If you’re concerned about stains on your teeth, purchase whitening strips or bleaching kits over-the-counter for a fraction of the cost.

Among the procedures that could be unnecessary are teeth whitening, amalgam filling replacement, X-rays, precautionary removal of wisdom teeth and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder surgery.

3. Consider a second opinion

Suppose the dentist says you need deep treatment for serious gum disease plus a crown to fix serious upper-molar decay. You’ll probably reject the idea, wondering just how your teeth could have gotten that bad even though it’s been just a year since your last checkup.

It could be you’re rationalizing. But it could also be that you need a second opinion.

My daughter got that “Serious gum disease! Ghastly cavity!” diagnosis once. The second dentist she visited said, “Nope, you just need a good cleaning and to learn to stay on top of the flossing.” Not a word about gum scaling or even a decayed tooth.

Although most dentists aren’t out to rob you, consider a second opinion if things just don’t feel right. Doing so saved my daughter $1,000 out-of-pocket and a whole lot of unnecessary work.

4. Seek out free or low-cost options

Don’t have dental insurance? Look for discount dental plans such as New Dental Choice and DentalPlans.com. An annual membership fee qualifies you for discounts of up to 60 percent from a group of dentists who have agreed to lower rates.

A few more possibilities:

  • Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP): Designed for families who don’t qualify for Medicaid assistance but can’t afford private insurance, CHIP dental coverage is good for children up to age 19. Coverage varies from state to state. To find out more, visit the CHIP website.
  • Clinical trials: According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, you may qualify for studies that include your specific dental situation. This means free or low-cost care. To learn more, visit the NIDCR website and click on “Clinical Trials.”
  • Dental schools: The American Dental Association has a list of such schools; maybe you’re lucky enough to live near one. Don’t worry, dental students’ work is supervised.
  • Dental hygiene schools: You may be able to get low-cost cleanings at some dental hygiene schools. Check the American Dental Hygienists’ Association website to find the nearest school.
  • Federally funded health centers: These operate on a sliding-scale basis. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website has a health care finder tool.
  • Medicaid: Another state-run program that may cover dental benefits for low-income residents. Visit the website to learn about benefits in your state.

What is your experience dealing with dentists and dental bills? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Kari Huus contributed to this post.

Find the right financial adviser

Finding a financial adviser you can trust doesn't have to be hard. A great place to start is with SmartAsset's free financial adviser matching tool, which connects you with up to three qualified financial advisers in five minutes. Each adviser is vetted by SmartAsset and is legally required to act in your best interests.

If you're ready to be matched with local advisers who will help you reach your financial goals, get started now.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
5 Medicare Mistakes to Avoid for a Healthy Retirement
5 Medicare Mistakes to Avoid for a Healthy Retirement

Medicare can be confusing. Beware these missteps — which can hike your costs.

7 Things That Prove Cheaper Isn’t Always Better
7 Things That Prove Cheaper Isn’t Always Better

These items can end up costing you more if you try to go the cheap route.

6 Things That Are ‘Free’ With Medicare
6 Things That Are ‘Free’ With Medicare

These services could save you money and help prevent costly health problems.

5 Ways to Put an End to Junk Mail
5 Ways to Put an End to Junk Mail

Here’s how to keep unwanted mail from clogging your mailbox and trash can.

5 Memberships That Offer Car Insurance Discounts
5 Memberships That Offer Car Insurance Discounts

These discounts may save you hundreds — even thousands — of dollars a year.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
Will I Get My Ex-Husband’s Social Security When He Dies?
Will I Get My Ex-Husband’s Social Security When He Dies?

Two factors determine how much money is coming to you.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

21 Things You Should Always Buy at a Dollar Store
21 Things You Should Always Buy at a Dollar Store

Dollar stores have great bargains on these familiar purchases. Yes, even pregnancy tests.

13 Brilliant Bulk-Buy Items on Amazon
13 Brilliant Bulk-Buy Items on Amazon

Every household should have these products on hand. Buying them in bulk on Amazon saves you cash.

6 Reasons I Will Never Trust Suze Orman
6 Reasons I Will Never Trust Suze Orman

Beware: The self-proclaimed personal finance expert has a track record that suggests more sizzle than steak.

5 Household Disinfectants That Can Destroy the Coronavirus
5 Household Disinfectants That Can Destroy the Coronavirus

You likely already have some of these products at home.

This Type of Social Security Benefit Is Often Overlooked
This Type of Social Security Benefit Is Often Overlooked

The Social Security Administration is not helping certain people get money to which they are entitled, a report says.

Getting These 2 Shots Could Reduce Your Risk of Dementia
Getting These 2 Shots Could Reduce Your Risk of Dementia

These vaccines may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 40%.

America’s Most Reliable Appliance Brand Is a Surprise
America’s Most Reliable Appliance Brand Is a Surprise

Have you heard of this appliance manufacturer?

9 Everyday Problems You Can Solve With Vaseline
9 Everyday Problems You Can Solve With Vaseline

Forget expensive specialty products. Good ol’ petroleum jelly can address many common annoyances.

16 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now
16 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

19 Purchases That Buyers Almost Always Regret
19 Purchases That Buyers Almost Always Regret

Think twice before buying these things.

7 Tips for Building an Emergency Stockpile
7 Tips for Building an Emergency Stockpile

A pandemic or natural disaster could leave you reliant on your existing food supply. Is your pantry prepared?

8 of the Worst Things to Buy at a Dollar Store
8 of the Worst Things to Buy at a Dollar Store

Not everything sold at dollar stores is a great bargain or a safe purchase. Here’s our list of products to avoid.

Homeowners Say These 2 Kitchen Appliance Brands Are Best
Homeowners Say These 2 Kitchen Appliance Brands Are Best

One brand takes five of the top honors, while another ranks highest in three categories.

41 Things You Should Never Buy
41 Things You Should Never Buy

Some purchases are just plain dumb. Give yourself — and your budget — a break. Don’t spend money on this stuff.

9 Indestructible Products That Are Worth the Price
9 Indestructible Products That Are Worth the Price

If you’re willing to pay a little more for these products, you may never have to shop for another again.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.