Many people say that the worst part of going to the dentist is the anticipation. I disagree—the worst part is definitely when you see the bill! Common dental procedures can set you back hundreds—if not thousands—of dollars.

If you’re having a dental issue, the worst thing you can do (for both your health and your wallet) is ignore the issue or keep putting it off. Before you know it, plaque and tartar buildup turns into a cavity that then turns into a root canal that then turns into an extraction and dental implant. If you’re putting off going to the dentist because you don’t think you can afford it, check out these five tips for saving money at the dentist!

1. Visit the student clinic at a dental school

The majority of accredited U.S. dental schools offer free or reduced-cost dental services performed by dental students under the supervision of faculty. Depending on the school, eligibility for these services may be determined based on financial need, medical necessity, lottery, first-come-first-served basis, and/or whether you have a specific dental problem. For a list of accredited U.S. dental schools, click here.

2. Visit the student clinic at a dental hygiene school

Many schools with dental hygiene programs have student clinics where dental hygiene students will perform free or low-cost teeth cleanings under the supervision of school faculty. Search for a CODA-accredited dental hygiene program in your state using this search tool.

3. Find local dentists who provide free, low-cost, or sliding-scale dental services

Some dentists may provide free, low-cost, and/or sliding-scale (rates depend on your income and family size) dental services for low-income patients. To find local dentists and dental clinics that provide such services, try contacting your state’s dental association, your local United Way, and your local health department.

You can also search the databases found at FreeDentalCare.us and DentalClinics.org. Also make sure to check out non-profit organizations such as Dentistry from the Heart, Aspen Dental, and Mission of Mercy, which provide free dental services to eligible patients in need.

4. Search daily deal/coupon websites for dental services deals

Deal websites such as Groupon, Living Social, and other similar sites often offer deals on dental services, typically for things such as teeth cleaning and teeth whitening. Keep in mind that these deals are usually just for new patients.

Also, for services such as teeth cleaning, the dentist may require a new patient to get x-rays, which can be expensive and may not be included in the teeth cleaning deal package. Be sure to ask about this prior to purchasing the deal and scheduling your appointment.

5. Practice vigilant preventive care

While it’s much easier said than done, the most effective way to avoid costly dental procedures is through practicing exemplary dental hygiene habits.

Here are some tips and tricks for a healthy mouth:

  • The American Dental Association recommends flossing at least once a day to achieve optimal oral health. When it comes to the best time of day to floss, the ADA says that the most important thing is not specifically when you floss but just that you do it. If you have difficulty using traditional dental floss, try using another kind of interdental cleaner such as a wooden plaque remover, dental pick, or a pre-threaded flosser.
  • The ADA recommends brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste. If you’re guesstimating this two-minute time period, you’re most likely underestimating. To make sure you get your full two minutes of brushing in, use a timer that you keep in your bathroom drawer, set the timer on your phone, or try using a free smart phone app.  Some of my favorites include: Brush DJToothbrush Timer, and Toothsavers Brushing Game.
  • Test yourself! Is your tooth brushing and flossing technique removing all the harmful plaque from your teeth?  Since plaque can often be invisible to the untrained eye, I like to use plaque disclosing tablets as a visual aid. After brushing and flossing your teeth, chew on one of these tablets, which releases a harmless dye that mixes with saliva over the teeth and gums. The red dye will color plaque that was not removed when you cleaned your teeth. After you rinse your mouth with water, check your teeth to identify pink-stained areas (un-removed plaque). Brush and floss these areas until the dye is completely removed. Using these tablets once in a while will help you double-check that you’re cleaning your teeth thoroughly—my kids love these!