9 Ways to Save Money on Expensive Dental Care

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Going to the dentist can be expensive.

Each patient pays about $430 a year in dental costs, estimates the American Dental Association. Think how quickly that adds up for a family of four!

Whether you’re just addicted to discounts or feeling hopeless when it comes to paying for care, here are nine insider strategies to help you keep your money without sacrificing that dazzling smile.

  1. Ask for a discount
  2. Subscribe to a dental savings plan
  3. Discover the free clinics
  4. Review your dental insurance
  5. Compare the prices
  6. Finding a student volunteer at a dental school
  7. Consult a specialist only when necessary
  8. Get a second opinion
  9. Practice prevention

1. Ask for a discount

Love your dentist, but wish you could pay less to see her? Ask for a discount or try to negotiate your bill.

Or put the plastic away: Some dental practices will give you a small discount (around 5%) if you pay in cash.

Are you facing real financial difficulties? Contrary to the cold, impersonal stereotype of the drill-wielding dentist often depicted on television, most dentists are compassionate human beings.

If you’ve lost your job or have a serious medical condition, talk to your dentist and the billing department. They could reduce their fees accordingly. Or you may be able to work out a payment plan with the office.

However, if payment is due at the time of service, pulling out the good old credit card may be your best bet.

You could use a Care creditwhich works like a regular credit card for medical and dental expenses, but with 0% annual interest rate options based on your credit score.

Finally, ask if you can get a discount for referring a friend. Or, see if it’s possible to earn a few dollars for an online exam.

2. Join a dental savings plan

Dental savings plans are not dental insurance, but they can still save you money.

Here’s how it works.

First, you pay an annual fee for the dental savings plan of your choice. Then you get 10% to 60% off most dental services – yes, even that unexpected root canal.

Dental discount plans, like those sold at DentalPlans.comload one annual subscription which ranges from $80 to $200. The average cost of plans in Orlando, Florida, for example, was $135 to $170 per year.

The plan contracts with dentists who agree to lower their fees, then you pay the participating dentist directly using your discount.

You will still pay out of pocket for these services, but the idea is that you will not pay as much as you would without insurance.

Analyze the numbers and see if it makes sense to try a dental plan, or if it’s better to find other discounts that make your office visit cheaper.

3. Check out free clinics

Federally funded community health clinics provide discounted or free dental care services to low-income people.

Many operate on a sliding scale system while others offer flexible payment plans.

Services are available to people whose income is 200% or below the federal poverty level.

Waiting lists can be long, so it is important to contact your local clinic quickly.

Follow this link to find the community health clinic nearest you.

4. Reconsider your dental insurance

If you work for a medium to large company, you can probably get dental insurance at a very affordable monthly rate from your employer.

But if you have to buy coverage on your own — or if you work for a company with poor benefits — dental insurance can be expensive.

You may be able to get a dental plan tax credit on HealthCare.gov. People who earn between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level may qualify, and this tax credit could save you hundreds of dollars a year on monthly premiums.

In 2022, this represents approximately $13,590 to $54,360 per year for a single person or $27,750 to $111,000 for a family of four.

Pro tip

Use this online tool with HealthCare.gov to see if you qualify for a federal health care premium tax credit.

However, you can only receive the credit if you purchase an insurance plan through the HealthCare.gov marketplace.

Without employer insurance or a federal tax credit on premiums, buying dental insurance on your own can be expensive.

It may even be a good idea to forgo your dental insurance altogether.

We know that sounds crazy, but consider this: you could end up spending more on dental insurance premiums than the cost of your dentist visits.

Ask your dentist about the rates and frequency of services you have received, including teeth cleanings, x-rays and exams. You may find that paying out of pocket is cheaper.

If so, deposit that same amount into a health savings account or regular bank account over time to save for your next dental visit.

Just be aware that the no dental insurance route works best if you don’t have a significant dental history.

5. Shop around

Many communities are flooded with dentists competing for your business. To attract new patients, dentists may offer deep discounts or services ranging from free teeth whitening and exams to free x-rays.

Where can you find these killer deals? Try sites like:

Keep your eyes open for advertisements on billboards or in city community flyers to find other local discounts.

Pro tip

It never hurts to see if a dentist will match the price of any offer you find.

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6. Find a dental school student volunteer

Dental schools across the country offer quality dental care for a fraction of the price.

You can save big by having your teeth cleaned by a dental hygiene student. Students love volunteers, and the cleaning you receive during the exam is probably free.

Each patient volunteer typically receives teeth cleaning, x-rays, oral cancer screening, fluoride treatment, examination by a licensed dentist and more for the same price as a valuable meal.

Consult this directory for your local dental hygiene program or check out this list of dental schools.

Students are generally eager to provide quality care. Plus, licensed dental instructors help them every step of the way, so you’re in safe hands.

Be aware that learning takes time, so your appointment will be a little longer than usual.

Pro tip

Beauty schools also offer inexpensive haircuts done by students and supervised by instructors.

7. Visit a specialist only when necessary

You might need dental specialists for their advanced knowledge and skills…but they come at a steep price.

Many people make the (expensive) mistake of choosing a specialist when a more affordable general dentist will suffice.

If you’re a parent always taking your teen to a pedodontist for a filling, or a patient opting to have your wisdom teeth removed by an oral surgeon, compare the costs. It could save you a bundle.

If you need an extraction or other dental surgery, it may be worth finding a dentist who can perform the procedure you need in-house – at a cheaper rate than a specialist.

8. Get a second opinion

So you showed up to your appointment with a toothache and came away with a proposed treatment plan that is going to cost thousands of dollars – what do you do?

There are often several ways to solve dental problems. Call another dentist for a second opinion.

When you schedule an appointment, request a free consultation to avoid the cost of another exam. Also bring recent x-rays to avoid paying twice.

9. Practice prevention

Not getting a cavity is always cheaper than the cheapest filling.

Not only do these toppings come at a price, but time is money. Americans miss an average of 321 million hours of work and school for dental care each year, report finds Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention.

Missing work alone can be a significant expense!

Prevent tooth decay and other damage to your teeth today. While brushing and flossing might come to mind, there are a few other options as well.

Have a dental sealant applied (especially on children) is a great way to prevent 60% of cavities at one-third the cost of filling a cavity.

Xylitol gums and candies are a tasty approach to stopping cavity-causing bacteria in its tracks. Plus, a night guard can help prevent wear and tear on your chompers from squeaking and squeezing.

Take care of your oral health and help keep your hard-earned money in your pocket.

Rachel Christian is a Certified Personal Finance Educator and Senior Writer for The Penny Hoarder. Kristen Brady, a licensed dental hygienist, contributed to this story.




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