Going to the dentist is no fun. Not only can it be painful to the mouth, but to the pocketbook as well. Even if you have insurance, cavity fillings and other dental procedures can add up to thousands of dollars in bills quickly. Luckily, there are ways to save money while keeping your smile healthy and beautiful.
Cleanings should be scheduled every six months or at least once a year. Most insurance plans pay all or most of the costs. If you have a dental problem, it can be evaluated and treated early on before it gets too severe (and expensive!).
Do your part
Just a few minutes of daily dental care will prevent costly procedures down the road. Teeth should be brushed after every meal (or rinsed if brushing is not possible) and flossed at least once a day. Avoid sugary foods, which can cause cavities. Citrus fruits and other acidic foods can ruin the enamel on teeth, so they should be consumed with care. Exercise regularly and avoid stress. Exercise improves immunity and circulation throughout the body. Stress can lead to dry mouth, teeth grinding and jaw problems.
You should also switch to an electric or battery-operated toothbrush, as they offer more thorough cleanings. Use fluoride toothpaste (as well as an anti-bacterial fluoride rinse afterwards) and be sure to replace toothbrushes or heads when the bristles become worn – every several months or so. Practice good brushing skills by taking your time and brushing gently. Brushing too hard can damage gums.
Nutrition and lifestyle
Stop smoking as it restricts blood flow to the gums in addition discoloring teeth. As calcium is essential for healthy teeth, consume spinach, milk and other foods rich in calcium.
Visit a dental school
A dental school can perform teeth cleanings and basic dental procedures for much less than a regular dentist. Although students are the ones who perform the procedures, they are under supervision from instructors and other professionals in the dental field. Don’t know where to look? About and the ADA offer lists of schools by state.
Look into a dental plan
If your employer does not offer dental insurance, purchasing it on your own can be costly, especially for a family with children. Forego the insurance and purchase a dental plan instead. A dental plan offers discounts up of to 50 percent on cleanings, X-rays, orthodontics and other procedures by simply paying a modest annual fee. DentalPlans.com and New Dental Choice allow you to search for plans available in your area.
Look for daily deals
Groupon and other daily deal sites offer discounts on area services, including dental work. You may be able to score an inexpensive cleaning or free X-rays or receive 50 percent or more off of braces and other orthodontic work.
Pay in cash
Many dentists will give discounts of 5% or more for paying upfront, as this ensures they will get their money and reduces administrative costs.
Ask for a payment plan
If you can’t afford to pay in cash, ask to set up a payment plan. You’ll still save on credit card interest and pay a monthly installment based on what you can afford. Many dental offices use Care Credit, which is a financing plan that mimics a credit card but with lower interest rates. In fact, you may qualify for zero interest if you pay the balance in full within a certain period of time (such as six months or one year).
Negotiate the payment
If it is impossible to pay the full price, negotiate with the dentist. Insurance companies do it all the time. However, do not wait until months after the procedure has been performed. Start before the work has been done. Be honest and explain your situation to the dentist. If you have been recently laid off or are living on a fixed income, the dentist should know that. Start by asking for a discount. Look at what you can afford to pay and stick with your budget. If you receive a bill you cannot afford, politely inform the billing department before the bill becomes delinquent.
Just as with doctors, sometimes a second opinion is necessary. Make sure you understand exactly what you are paying for. Your dentist does not know your financial situation, so if you cannot afford everything that your dentist suggests, ask what procedures should be done now and which ones can wait. For example, can the X-rays wait until the next visit? If your child already uses fluoride every day, do they need the fluoride treatment at the dentist? Are there cheaper options for the procedure? Make sure to differentiate between the procedures that are medically necessary and cosmetic only.
Gain with pain
Not all forms of dental anesthesia cost the same. Sometimes putting up with a little more discomfort can prevent real financial pain. Learn about the different types of anesthesia and their costs here.
Health insurance savings plans
Those with health insurance savings plans shouldn’t forget to plan ahead set aside money for qualifying expenses.
For those really in need
Different programs make dental care affordable for low-income families, especially those with children. The following organizations provide donated care for free or at minimal cost for those really in need: