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.
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.