How to save money at the dentist
As we are self-employed, we have elected to forgo dental insurance and pay out-of-pocket for all our dental procedures. (Our kids are required by law to be on a dental insurance plan, but it still costs a fortune so we employ these techniques on them as well.)
We have had to be fairly shrewd when it comes to our dental health. Here are some things we do to drastically lower our dental costs:
We brush and floss regularly.
A no-brainer, but I am surprised how many people skip basic recommended dental maintenance. After a much-too expensive dental procedure, my dentist said to me, “You know, you could save a lot of money by just flossing every day.” For some reason, it took that statement and the huge bill for it to click for me. Since then, I’ve flossed every single day and SURPRISE! I haven’t had a cavity since.
Our kids got the cavity genes from me, so we are also diligent to keep our children flossing every day. In fact, my husband brushes and flosses our kids teeth until they are well into elementary school. I heard from a pediatric dentist that until a child can comfortably and confidently write cursive, they should have someone else brush their teeth.
There are no automatic maintenance procedures done.
Dentists love to x-ray the crap out of their patients, but when I’m paying out-of-pocket for them, I ask if it can wait. Oftentimes the dentist does x-rays and exams based on what insurance will pay, not what is necessary. I was able to talk my dentist out of x-rays for myself for a couple of visits.
When we can’t afford a procedure or service, we simply tell them, “it’s not in our budget.”
The dental staff gets this, especially when they know we are paying cash (be sure to ask for a discount for paying for cash for your appointment in-full). My daughter’s dentist even gave us a free x-ray at one point when our budget was really tight.
We take advantage of promo deals.
A few years back, I tried the “can I skip the x-rays” bit but my dentist denied me (it had been a number of years). I told the receptionist that the $250 wasn’t in our budget. Wouldn’t you know that they were running a special — dentist exam, full x-rays and a cleaning for under $100? I would have spent an additional $150 if I hadn’t asked.
My current provider (a dental chain) also has a “membership club” which is a pseudo-dental insurance program. I pay less than $100 a year (just for me — I don’t have dental insurance) and get a discount on cleanings plus free x-rays and dentist exams and a discounted price on procedures.
This is the advantage of going with a dental chain, like Gentle Dental. They typically have alternative ways to save money on procedures for the uninsured, like a membership plan, cash discounts, and billing options.
Take advantage of Groupon and other local daily deal site offers.
You can usually get an exam, cleaning, and a full set of x-rays for well under $100 on Groupon. If you don’t like the new dentist or want to stick with your current one, you can have the x-rays transferred.
Disclaimer: I am not a dental care expert nor am I telling you how to provide dental care for your family. Just sharing what my family does to save money and how we have learned to be proactive consumers in the marketplace. We question every procedure (politely, of course) and have the right to refuse procedures. And I am thrilled that dental practices are starting to pay attention to those of us who pay cash by offering cash discounts (usually 10%), special promotions and flexibility when it comes to services offered.
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Sarah Packer says
My kids are getting a little older, so I want to start taking them to the dentist and need some tips! I didn’t know there were membership plans and cash discounts for procedures at the dentist! I’ll have to look around for dentist offices that offer good prices and discounts for their procedures when it’s convenient for me, thanks to this post!
Portland Braces says
Very informative article. Thanks a lot for sharing.
Do not mess around with your family’s dental health. Chronic inflammation in the body has systemic effects. If I do not have dental insurance or money I get my checkups and x-ray anyway. You can always make payments, but to skip an exam because you can’t afford it, really? Suck it up and make payments.
Meagan BS says
I didn’t read all the comments but here are some things i have done to save money. when i didnt have insurance i would get cleanings at the local college for less than $20. Some major universities will pull rotted teeth for next to nothing, which could cost several hundred dollars at a dentist. and even though i now have insurance, I opted to have my two non-impacted wisdom teeth pulled while awake with only local anesthetic, which will save me nearly $1000 out of pocket costs. And I’m putting off having the impacted one pulled because it doesn’t bother me. And something I wish I had done a long time ago is just taking the time for daily teeth care, i have had bad habits since childhood. I think this saves the most money at the dentist. I am now teaching my daughter to take care of her teeth so maybe she won’t have the issues i have.
My husband had not gotten dental work for over 10 years as soon as I found this out I did research. I found carrington college located in Lloyd center mall they accept walk ins and they will do X-rays and cleanings for free. It is dental students but they have an instructor check their work. The best part is they will Send your X-rays wherever you need to send them for free as well. They also fix cavities for $25 each and I believe that is tuesday nights. I have no complaints I have been going there for a year now. For me it’s over an hour drive to get there but I’d rather pay for gas than pay the price it would be for dental cleanings in an office.
Have you looked into Insurance through the National Association for the Self-Employed? (nase.org) If you join their organization you qualify for group insurance rates, like at a company!
” I don’t think anyone is thinking they have a degree in dental science, nor or they trying to give out treatment plans! ”
I agree with you , too – no one is saying they have a degree in dental science.
…and, what we are saying is that if you do not have the extra money to pay for regular dental care – then, what are your options? what can you do to have the best dental health, on a very limited budget?
I don’t think anyone is thinking they have a degree in dental science, nor or they trying to give out treatment plans! I think everyone here is merely speaking from there own experiences and sharing what they know. Isn’t that what this is all about?? Whether it be couponing or experiences at the dental office?? You seemed to have done the same thing in your statement that you have accused everyone else of doing.
Kerry D. says
If there is a local dental hygiene program, such as the one at our local community college–they do cleanings for free or almost free by students who need to work with real patients before they graduate… Also, my husband as a student at USC would go to the dental school for dental work to be done, free at that time. (That was a long time ago, maybe they charge now…) But, as with schools of cosmetology (very cheap haircuts from students nearing graduation) all work is closely supervised by experienced faculty.
I’m afraid a number of people here are giving themselves honorary degrees in dental science. Couponers might be able to locate a good deal; they cannot diagnose medical conditions or prescribe treatment plans.
For all the variety of reasons people have given for how cavities develop, no one has mentioned that cavities are caused by bacteria (which, by the way, can be passed from adults to children, such as when sharing utensils or cups). That would explain why some one can go 20+ years without a cavity and others develop them regularly. Cavities don’t go away because of good brushing or no sugar bowl; they go away because harmful acid-producing bacteria is not present in the month. Good brushing and hiding the sugar bowl help this, but they’re merely a means to an end.
I do agree that seeking discounts, etc., is a helpful way to reduce dental expenses, but the idea “I know more than my doctor about this” is dangerous. In the last couple of decades, research has demonstrated the effect of periodontal health on overall health and well-being; accordingly, the cost of preventative dental health procedures could actually reduce other long-term health expenses.
One last statement: Correct, you can string out dental x-rays to every five years. It’s nothing different than driving your car past 3,000 miles for an oil change, wearing your tires a little more thin, flying that old Boeing jet for “just one more year,” or going several years without getting a cancer screening (most tests do, in fact, come back clean! — so why get them?!) … but, as some posts have smartly noted, you do –like these other examples– assume a risk for potentially greater costs in the long-term.
My parents raised 6 of us and none of us ever had a cavity until adulthood. No joke. When we were little, they were part of a twins club that had a pediatric dentist come and talk to the group one night. I think the tips he gave (that my parents used) made the difference:
1. No bottles/sippy cups of apple juice in bed. If they are drinking apple juice during the day, dillute it (half juice, half water). He said apple juice was the biggest thing keeping him in business.
2. No candy dish in the home. At Halloween or Easter, let the kids go crazy eating all the candy they want for 3-4 days and then throw the rest away. Splurging for a few days will not cause cavities the way a few pieces a day all year round would.
3. No soda or sugary/junky cereals except on vacation or special occasions. Cookies, ice cream, or cake without frosting as a dessert on a regular basis won’t hurt, as long as the kids’ teeth are brushed daily (I still remember Dad finding us in bed and making us get back up to go brush our teeth if we forgot).
4. No gum unless it’s sugarless. We still didn’t have it that often since it didn’t always land in the garbage can (FYI peanut butter will get gum out of your child’s hair if needed).
Also, we went through a period of time without insurance and got our cleanings at PCC Sylvania for just $15 (I’m not sure if that is still the price). The students were very friendly and gentle and the instructors checked all of their work. This did cause it to take about 3 hours but we got out of school a little longer for the appointment so we didn’t mind.
Hope this helps!
Lisa Packard says
lots of times you can find on CraigsList people who will do dental things for free as they are students. Also there is the Free Clinic of SW Washington 313-1390 that offers free dental care to people with no dental insurance. 3 colleges that offer low fees for people w/o insurance: Here are the numbers: 992-2158, 604-1057 and 503-494-8867.
Your dental health is genetic to a huge degree. I met my husband when he was 22 and he had NEVER been to the dentist, he did not know what I was talking about when I said I went every 6 months. I made him go and he did not have one cavity! My mother brushed my teeth regularly and at 3 years old I had eleven cavities! Then I had at least 2-3 every 6 months until age 16 when I clearly remember my FIRST time with no cavities (my dad had dentures at age 20 due to his mom not taking him ever). Just so you know. Angela, it sounds like your kids have good teeth. My situation might be rare, but I highlyrecommend dental checkups if you don’t know for sure if your kids are cavity prone or not. I have great teeth now!!! One out of my three boys got my teeth… I guess that was pretty good odds!
Same thing with our family. My husband has never really had cavities and I brush way more than he does and I always have problems. I agree that it has tons to do with genetics!
I am NOT trying to be negative regarding the way you lower your dental costs. Just be careful about how long you choose to go without xrays. There are things that the DR cannot see with the naked eye, and may only show up on a xray. I know many patients that decided to wait until something hurt or chose not to have xrays taken. In the end, it cost them SO much more money OOP. Where the DR could have done a filling in the beginning, the tooth had now turned into a crown or root canal (very expensive)! Some of them also ended up paying emergency care services because the DR had to come in on a day off to see them-since they were in so much pain!
Have you guys heard of Careington Dental? You buy it for about $150/family, and you get savings for a whole year. We are desperately in need of cleanings and the like, so I’m going to sign up for this soon. You want to make sure that you don’t buy it until right before your appointment. Also, there are only certain dentists who accept it. My mom has done this and has save a TON of moolah!
Another tip for preventing decay and other problems: Use the PURPLE Listerine at least 1x/day. It has fluoride in it and will help prevent decay & gum disease! HUGE SAVINGS just by preventing! If you don’t want the fluoride, try another flavor; it still has great benefits for the rest of your mouth. There are a ton of deals for it too!
My husband is self employed in the construction industry and we do not have dental insurance. With 2 young children our dental costs were getting out of control. I did some research and dental insurance was not an option, just too much monthly for what you are receiving in benefits. I found an inexpensive option with dental discount plans. You are limited to a list of participating providers, but the savings in my opinion are worth it. I used Dentalplans.com and the cost for our family of 4 was about $150 for 10 months of coverage. Check them out and see if it would work for your family. I do have a referral code and I would get credit for a referral. Please remove my comment if this is not appropriate. code : 64h75s92
Be wary of “chain offices” like Gentle Dental, Comfort Dental, and the likes…especially when it come to orthodontics. I am not leaving negative comments, just realize that sometimes you get what you pay for and then have to pay more to get it all fixed. (I worked in the dental field for more than 10 years)
I’ve never used them for orthodontics, just dental and have been happy.
I have no dental insurance either (by choice). I figured that it would cost us over $100 per month for insurance and then that would only cover a portion of any procedures. It is cheaper for us to fly to CA (where we can get free dental work from a family member) than having dental insurance at this time.
Not exactly dental related – but we often have large medical bills (even with insurance coverage – a 20% copay is expensive when you have $5000 bills) – but wanted to let everyone know to ASK about discounts for paying your bill in full with any medical provider, regardless of the level of your coverage. I have been getting 10-15% discounts on the amount we owe, after insurance pays, if we pay the bill in full. It even worked on a $120 medical bill (hey, $12 is $12 – right?)! Just ask – the worst they will say is no.
You won’t get a negative comment from me either. We are blessed to have great dental insurance but I forwarded this deal on to a single mom with 2 kids who could really use this. Thank you so much.
Great insurance can be a curse. If your dentist is unethical they can prescribe procedures that are not necessary just to get the money. Hope and pray they are not so “unethical” that they will actually harm (root canals, filings) just to pad the bill. Heard of it, seen it happen to others and if not for my skeptical nature would have been done to me. Medicine is no different. People getting into these professions for the wrong reasons.
Oh, you’re only going to get postive comments from me! I just went to the dentist for the first time in 7 or so years (no cavaties, thank you!). I was shocked to learn that this initial appointment at Gentle Dentle was *only* for xrays and an “exam”. I inquired about cleaning and they gave me some shpeal about how they need to do an exam first to determine “what kind” of cleaning I would need. I dunno, I’m no dummy and I’ve always just had one kind of cleaning. I opted out. My xrays and exam ended up costing $165–yeah. I almost cried when she first gave me the quote of $178, but whatever. I needed the fancy xray because I’m having a wisdom tooth pulled in a few weeks. Again, yeah.
My son–lucky dog–has insurance through his father and his appointment cost me $0.
Other ideas, too, for at home dental care:
1. if you can afford it, buy and use a Sonicare electric toothbrush everyday. This really keeps your teeth clean.
2. use those little bristle brushes “go-betweens” (made by Gum) to clean between your teeth and around your gum line (these help prevent plaque build up and get into small spaces between your teeth). Use these daily – each lasts for about 2 weeks or more.
3. buy one of those dental aids (made by Gum), that is a small metal pick – use this to remove any tar build up at the base of your teeth. (When you have a professional cleaning at the dentist – most of it is the dental assistant, who uses metal picks to clean and scrape the base of your tooth – to get off that hard plaque and tar build up). But be careful! when you do this – you do not want to injure your gums; also if your teeth enamel is ‘fragile’ be careful how your scrape. You want to remove this tar and plaque, so that the tooth surface is smooth – but you do not want to wear down the enamel. So be careful, but still be thorough. Do this about once a week or so.
4. you can also use those wooden “Stim-u-Dents” (toothpick-like), to clean between your teeth to stimulate the gum line to be healthy. Use a slight pressure with the wood – (wood will not damage the gum).