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How to Save on Going to the Dentist

My biggest fears are dying alone, dropping my keys down the sewer grate, free falling elevators, and last but not least—going to the dentist. Let me walk you through my fear:

A searing pain shoots through my bottom left incisor. I can’t eat; I can’t sleep; I’ve been through two tubes of numbing Orajel. With no other choice besides pulling the problem molar myself, I make an appointment with the dentist. Then my fear takes over. Despite the insurmountable pain, I reschedule and postpone my appointment so many times that the receptionist threatens me that I must keep my most recent appointment or I’ll have to find another dentist. Finally, I show up, pale-faced with worry, to my dental appointment. There are all sorts of drilling, needles, foreign objects in my mouth, and a splattering of blood and drool on my bib. But that’s not even the scary part. The scary part happens after my procedure when I take the walk of financial doom to the front desk and see my staggering bill. “Is that a comma I see in the number next to the Total Amount Due?” I ask myself. Yep, that’s a comma. My dental bill officially exceeds my monthly rent and car payment. Eek!

Sound familiar? After all, a recent survey found that 43% of us have delayed dental care due to the cost. Fortunately, you will not have to resort to pulling out your own teeth (like a stranded Tom Hanks did in the movie Castaway) to save money on dental care. Here are some ways you can reduce the cost of dental care:

Research the “Fair Price” for Dental Procedures and Services

Find out what insurance companies pay dentists for dental procedures on patients with dental insurance—an amount known as the “fair price.” You can look up the “fair price” for dental procedures at FairHealthConsumer.org and HealthCareBlueBook.com. For example, the Health Care Blue Book says that $88.00 is the fair price for a one-surface cavity filling. This “fair price” is based on the typical fee that providers in your area accept as payment from insurance companies. This is the price you should have to pay, even if your provider charges more. If you don’t have dental insurance, you can use this “fair price” to negotiate with your current dentist (you should negotiate to pay either the fair price or less) or find another dentist in your area who charges at or below this “fair price.” However, keep in mind that oftentimes when you switch dentists your new dentist will require you take new x-rays (regardless of how recent your x-rays are from your prior dentist) before treating you. If switching dentists, find a new dentist who doesn’t require new x-rays for new patients or one who is willing to use your former dentist’s x-rays.

Find a Low-Cost Clinic

Some community health services centers offer low-cost dental services. To see if your community has one, contact your local health department. Keep in mind that there may be a long waiting list for such clinics. As such, if you have a dental issue that cannot wait, you may need to find immediate dental care elsewhere.

Find a Free Clinic—Dental Schools

Dental schools often have free dental services clinics. Dental procedures at such clinics are usually performed by dental students, but don’t worry—they will be performing procedures under the watchful eye of their teachers who are licensed dentists. For a list of accredited U.S. dental schools, click here. Dental school clinics do not perform all procedures. Also, dental school clinics often are only looking for patients with a specific dental problem.

Find a Free Clinic—Dental Hygienist Schools

Some dental hygienist schools offer low-cost or free teeth cleaning services. Look up dental hygiene schools in your area in the Yellow Pages.

Preventive Care

This should go without saying, but brush your teeth twice a day and after eating sticky or sugary foods. You also have to floss—there’s no getting around it! Also, get your teeth cleaned and examined by the dentist every six months. Remember, not seeking immediate dental care for critical issues can create a bigger (and even more expensive) dental problem—a cavity can quickly turn into a root canal or an abscessed tooth can quickly cause a massive infection.

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23 thoughts on “How to Save on Going to the Dentist”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’d like to add that the insurance companies “fair market value” aka usual/customary rates are typically ridiculously low and may not be an accurate representation of what a dentist should be charging or what is really fair. Its always helpful to have that info, but just understand that those fees are notoriously on the low end of the spectrum. My advice: cash is king and you’d be amazed the discounts you can get paying cash. They don’t have to bill you or pay 5% to the credit card processing company. Also it may be helpful to get a second opinion but all dentists are not created equal. Sometimes it’s worth paying more to a good dentist that is highly recommended than going to the cheapest dr in town. I have to laugh when people call and ask how much do charge for x procedure because they’re calling everyone in town and whoever is cheapest wins. Yipes. (I have worked in dental for 14 years)

  2. Anonymous says:

    Wow. Have you considered counseling?

  3. This is fairly good information if you live in a large city or near one but in most small towns, there are no dental schools.  We have a dental hygienist school here but there charges are almost the same as going to the dentist.  We do not have any low-cost clinics here so we are stuck with going to a full price dentist. 

    Since I was forced to medically retire 6 years ago I have had no dental insurance coverage so I do all I can to prevent problems, however, when I broke a front crown I had no choice but to go to it replaced.  I tried to get a discount from the dentist that I had been using all the years I had coverage especially since I was paying cash (which I had to borrow), he didn’t even bother to answer me.

    You would think that Medicare would have a policy that we could buy just like the drug policy so that we could have insurance coverage.  Also, lacking in the Medicare arena is eye care, except for paying for cateract surgery, there is not eye care.  Dental and eye care are needed more as we age than when we are young.

    I do appreciate what Medicare does cover and I pay for all of my coverage along with a secondary policy to help with the difference in what is charged and what Medicare pays.  That policy along cost me $125.00 per month and it goes up each year along with my age!

    • Anonymous says:

      During the yearly open enrollment, i saw commercials that looked like some of the Medicare A/B supplement plans include a dental discount plan or offer an add on to purchase. Specifically AARP offers dental plans and already includes vision discounts when you are a member. It would be nice if these were included with the basic government coverage.

  4. Caryn Mills says:

    Sorry but that’s one thing that I’m willing to pay for!

    • I agree with you Caryn…  Once you trust a dentist it’s difficult to change and, believe me, there are LOTS of crooked and money driven dentists out there (won’t deny it-been in the field for a lot of years and seen and heard EVERYTHING)…  And if you start negotiating the fees, the doctor you trust might get offended because you are also paying for his expertise, training, quality of the materials he/she uses, etc…  You could end up being “flushed” from that office and then you might find one that has lower fees but does a terrible job with low quality materials, etc…  Health is a serious thing where you can’t be negotiating too much…  You can ask for a discount if you’ve been a patient there for years, but without offending the knowledge of the doctor…   

  5. Nancy Hill says:

    We go to an awsome dental school, Midwestern University, and have had excellent care. 1/3 of our old dentist and our dental insurance pays a portion of that too! I can highly recomment them.

  6. Ty says:

    Well you know some people do their own dental work…moon shine, flat head screw driver, hammer and a pair of pliers.  Couple shots of moon shine.  Tap the flat head screw driver with the hammer into the affected tool.  Once loose grip tooth or teeth with pliers and pull up and out.  Avoid hitting other teeth.  If tooth chips while doing this…wash, rinse, repeat as needed! 

    DISCLAIMER: Comical purposes only, NOT RECOMMENDED, please seek medical attention for any type of medical/dental problems, not responsible for ignorance…lol

  7. does anyone know of any free places in MI or schools that do it in MI?

  8. Ty says:

    I guess I’m lucky to get free dental work…my dad is a dentist.  My worst fears are (in this order)
    1. Overflowing toilets
    2. Tornados
    3. Home invasion 

    If this would happen in this order…consider me dead!  

    • Anonymous says:

      That’s why I try to always keep my house clean.  I would die of embarrassment if the Home Invaders saw my house messy!…lol :)

      • Anonymous says:

        Would it be tempting fate if I were to say my house always looks like a tornado hit it…. (since I live in extreme NE Oklahoma)?

        But, yes, I have a cracked molar right now. I go to an income qualify dental clinic so prices are very reasonable. But still……  crown @ $500+, versus extraction {ewww & cringe…} for $115.  That darn Indiana Popcorn coupon and sale at Walgreens!

        •  I have this same problem, HOWEVER… to get my tooth pulled I need a deep cleaning. So that 100$ turns to 1000+ because of the cleaning. I can’t just get a tooth pulled because it is now infected from waiting so long to see a dentist! Horrible.

        • Anonymous says:

          Thanks to all the $ we save with coupons, we can afford dentists to some degree! :)

  9. Anonymous says:

    The article stated, “My biggest fears are dying alone, dropping my keys down the sewer grate, free falling elevators, and last but not least—going to the dentist.”
    My biggest fear is being cryogenically frozen and feeling ice cold and conscious for all eternity without the ability to communicate.  My other fear is being stuck in a crowded elevator for hours with diarrhea.  

  10. Anonymous says:

    I came from a large family and we never had dental insurance.  My entire family had all our work done at Temple University Dental School in Philadelphia.  The only thing you pay for are the materials.  The work is outstanding, because the student doing the work is being graded.  Because the professors have to ‘grade” everything, it is time-consuming.  When I got out in the workforce and finally had dental insurance, every dentist always told me the work done on my teeth was beautiful, outstanding, excellent, etc.  

  11. Anonymous says:

    I work at a dental office and when someone comes in and is willing to pay in cash for a procedure, my dentist will give that person a discount. My dentist usually does not charge for visits if he cannot do anything even if xrays are taken. On a side note, for the paranoid people who are afraid of getting exposure to radiation due to taking xrays.. it is taken at a low setting, It is compared to standing outside in the sun for a few minutes, which could probably do more harm than taking xrays. You are also wearing a apron shield which gives you even more protection. The only way you an be exposed to toxic levels of radiation is if no apron was worn and you get your xrays taken several times each day for a long time. I have been working at a dental office for 7 years alaready. I take tons of xrays everyday. I would be dead by now or be really sick if xrays were that harmful.

    • Anonymous says:

      Do you glow in the dark by any chance? ;)

    • Don’t you hate the posts on fb or the articles on yahoo in regards of xrays exposure?  I’m a foreign trained dentist who’s worked as a dental assistant for 7 years and I simply get annoyed when I read things about it that mislead people… 

  12. Anonymous says:

    Colorado Mission of Mercy (COMOM) has a huge free dental event every year (this year it’s in Pueblo, CO on Sept. 28-29, 2012) and is completely free! I went last year and got a cleaning, whilst my sister got a tooth extraction and my mom got a root canal..all FREE! Definately check to see if your state offers such a thing.