5 Tips to Take the Bite Out of Dental Bills

Photo (cc) by d i l l w e e d

A trip to the dentist has become symbolic of things we hate to do, for good reason. If having a stranger’s hands in your mouth isn’t bad enough, odds are good you’re also swallowing the cost. According to the National Association of Dental plans, about half of Americans don’t have a dental insurance plan, but if you’re one of them, you don’t have to just grin and bear it. There are ways to get dental work for less.

Let’s start with the following news story I shot at a local dental college. Check it out, then meet me on the other side for more ideas.

Tip 1: Go to School

As you saw in the story above, a local dental school is a place where you can get almost any kind of dental work done cheap; often for half price. As with many discounts in life, however, there’s no free lunch. The first potential problem is the scarcity of schools. Check this list of dental schools from the American Dental Association and see if there’s one near you.

The second potential problem with going to a dental school is the quality of care. After all, these are students. But according to the professor we interviewed for our story, this really shouldn’t be a concern because students are overseen every step of the way by extremely qualified and experienced faculty.

But there’s a price to pay for faculty supervision, and that’s the third potential drawback of dental schools: time. What costs half as much at dental schools can often take twice the time. You may be in that chair with your mouth open for a long time as the faculty supervisor discusses your teeth with the student performing the work and/or other students.

So if you can find a nearby dental school and don’t mind giving up some time to save some money, that’s one solution for lower dental bills. Let’s “Scope” out a few more.

Tip 2: Leave the Country

Americans flock to Mexico’s border towns to save money on everything from cigarettes to dishes, but Mexico is also a place to save big on dental care. Example? In the U.S., a porcelain crown can easily set you back $1,000. But in a Mexican border town like Juarez (across from El Paso, TX), Tijuana (near San Diego) or Nogales (close to Tucson, AZ), you might have the same thing done for $250.

Worried about a poorly trained dentist in your mouth? Pick the right place and you won’t be. For example, Denticenter is a six-office (soon to be 14) chain of dentists in the border cities listed above. It was formed solely to service American clients, who make up 97% of their practice. Founder Juan Eng is a USC-trained dentist and American citizen who wanted to establish a practice that mirrors the appearance and expertise of American dental offices. He even accepts some American insurance plans.

The savings are substantial – typically one third the price of the same procedures in the U.S. Braces, for example, typically run around $5,600 in the U.S. At DentiCenter, $1,500.

How can Mexican dentists charge one third of what their American counterparts charge? Simple: The typical Mexican dentist gets paid one third of the $200,000 average annual pay of their American peers.

If you opt for foreign dentistry, you won’t be alone. According to The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions Research Group, medical tourism has been growing at about 20% per year, with up to six million Americans expected to travel world-wide this year alone in search of cheaper health care.

Tip 3: Negotiate

If going to a dental school or leaving the country sounds a little extreme for a dental procedure, you can always try to save the old fashioned way: ask for a discount.

One national survey found that only 10 percent of patients had attempted to negotiate a lower dental bill – but of those that did, 64 percent had been successful.

It’s not something you need to be embarrassed about. After all, your dentist probably already negotiates discounts with insurance companies and dental discount plans (see below). Why shouldn’t they cut a deal with you?

The best way to negotiate is to be direct and honest. Tell your dentist how important proper dental care is to you, but that you’re having trouble making ends meet. Ask if there’s a way you might save.

Use your imagination. For example, you might try a quid pro quo. Ask for a discount in exchange for bringing in new patients.

Tip 4: Get a discount plan

If you don’t have insurance offered through your employer, you can still try for a discount plan. A discount plan will charge an annual membership fee – typically around $80 to $160 a year for singles, $130 to $200 for families – in exchange for discounted treatment from participating dentists.

Typical discounts range from 30% – 50%. These plans might also net you discounts on procedures not typically covered by insurance, such as cosmetic procedures, or orthodontic procedures, which are usually only partially covered.

Just make sure the plan you choose is on the up-and-up. There’s been a great deal of fraud associated with these plans in the past. Check with major providers like Careington, Aetna or Cigna. You can also check comparison sites like DentalPlans.com to see more than one plan at a time.

Before you sign on the dotted line, check with your state insurance commissioner to make sure the company is registered in your state. Find your state’s department of insurance at this page of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners website.

And then there’s the obvious: Make sure your dentist accepts the discount plan you’re considering, and make sure you read the fine print and understand exactly what discounts to expect for various services.

Tip 5: Get insurance

If you don’t have dental insurance coverage at work, you can try to get a dental policy on your own, but it may not be cost effective. Premiums can be $400/yr for an individual plan and $1,200/yr or more for a family. That’s a lot to pay if you’re just getting periodic checkups and cleanings.

And even if you do need expensive procedures like a root canal, insurance won’t pay immediately. You’ll have to wait three to 18 months after signing up before your coverage kicks in, and then you’ll still have to pay a large chunk of the bill: commonly 20% to 50%.

Another option is a dental HMO. Fewer choices of dentists, but less expensive: about $200/yr.

To look for dental insurance, check out comparison sites like Insure.com. And if you don’t like what you see, try convincing your employer to get a group plan. They’re normally a lot cheaper than individual policies and typically cover more.

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

Read Next
17 Unusual Things You Can Clean in a Dishwasher
17 Unusual Things You Can Clean in a Dishwasher

Many everyday items do not require meticulous hand washing.

9 Things You Should Never Pay For With a Debit Card
9 Things You Should Never Pay For With a Debit Card

Use your debit card for one of these expenses, and you could risk your bank account balance, your credit score or even identity fraud.

10 Things That Really Are Free on Amazon
10 Things That Really Are Free on Amazon

These freebies are available to anyone — no Prime membership necessary.

8 Surefire Ways to Get Rid of Debt ASAP
8 Surefire Ways to Get Rid of Debt ASAP

Here’s how to painlessly speed up your debt-reduction efforts.

5 Awesome Places You Can Retire Overseas on $2,000 a Month or Less
5 Awesome Places You Can Retire Overseas on $2,000 a Month or Less

In this week’s podcast: tips on retiring overseas — from someone who’s been helping American expats for decades.

View this page without ads

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

Get Started

Most Popular
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines
Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines

Fall is the time to schedule vaccines that can keep you healthy — and even save your life.

11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous
11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous

When you get the impulse to stockpile these everyday items, pay close attention to their expiration dates.

8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies
8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies

In this age of higher-priced drugs and complex health care systems, a trip to the pharmacy can spark worry. Freebies sure do help.

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.

11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older
11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older

There is no need to wait until you’re 65 to take advantage of so-called “senior” discounts.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America
The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America

A new model parks atop the list of vehicles that thieves love to pilfer.

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.

9 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday
9 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday

These items are all steeply discounted — but the deals won’t last long.

The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020
The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020

Based on dozens of metrics tied to affordability, quality of life and health care, these are not ideal places to spend retirement.

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.

26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income
26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income

These states won’t tax any of your Social Security income — and in some cases, other types of retirement income.

10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62
10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62

If you can, here are several good reasons to retire earlier than we’re told to.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value
7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value

You can add value to your home without hiring a contractor to do expensive renovations.

5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles
5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles

Pushing your car to 200,000 miles — and beyond — can save you piles of cash. Here’s how to get there.

5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees
5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees

Retirees agree: These are the things that give them purpose and fulfillment in their golden years.

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.