As a dental hygienist, I’ve seen the downright ugly. And I’m not talking about teeth — I’m referring to the huge cost of dental care and the financial hardships of the patients I’ve treated.
I’ve witnessed loving parents forgo their own dental needs to pay for their children’s. I’ve welcomed many people who have hesitantly stepped into the dental office, having spent many years away after losing insurance.
And I’ve seen patients simply disappear after realizing they could no longer afford needed dental treatment.
Each patient pays $666 annually in dental expenses, estimates The American Dental Association. Think how quickly that adds up for a family of four!
Whether you’re just addicted to discounts (like me!) or feel hopeless when it comes to affording care, here are my top 10 insider strategies to help you keep your cash without sacrificing that dazzling smile.
1. Cancel Your Dental Insurance
Sounds crazy, but hear me out: I’ve watched patients crunch numbers only to find they were spending more on dental insurance premiums than the cost of their dental visits.
Ask your dentist for the fees and frequency of services you’ve received, namely teeth cleanings, x-rays and exams. You may find paying out of pocket is cheaper.
If that’s the case, deposit that same amount into an account monthly to save for your next dental visit.
Worried about needing a root canal without insurance? There’s a good chance the occasional unexpected expense is still cheaper than continually paying for insurance.
Just know the no-dental-insurance-route works best if you don’t have a history of extensive dental work.
2. Sign Up for a Dental Savings Plan
Not quite ready to give up the comfy-cozy safe feeling insurance provides? I’ve got a money-saving tip to make the breakup much easier.
Your new love is a dental savings plan. It will be there for you for better or for worse, in dental sickness and in dental health.
First, you pay a small annual fee for the dental savings plan of your choice. Then, you get a 10-60% discount on most dental services — yes, even on that unexpected root canal you were fretting about!
Learn more about Betsy’s jaw-dropping savings while familiarizing yourself with the ins and outs of these glorious plans.
3. Ask for a Discount
Do you love your dentist, but wish you could pay less to see him? Ask for a discount.
Or, put away the plastic: You could get a 5% (or more) discount for paying in cash.
Have a true financial hardship come your way? Contrary to the cold, impersonal drill-wielding dentist stereotype often portrayed on TV, the dentists I’ve worked for are compassionate human beings. I’ve seen them sympathize with patients who’ve lost a job or been battling a serious health condition, and reduce their fees accordingly.
Lastly, ask if you can receive a discount for referring a friend. Or, see if it’s possible to knock off a few bucks for a stellar (and truthful!) online review.
4. Choose Your Credit Card Wisely
If you can’t pay upfront, you might be able to work out a payment plan. However, if payment is due at the time of service, bustin’ out the good old credit card may be your best option.
For example, Care Credit works like a regular credit card for medical, dental and vet expenses. The best part is the interest-free payment plan.
5. Shop Around
Right now, many communities are flooded with dentists competing for your business. To attract new patients, I’ve seen offers for anything from free teeth whitening to free exams to free X-rays.
Where can you find these killer deals?
- To save on his dental care, Steve discovered the magic of local coupons at Valpak.com.
- Take a look at Groupon and Living Social. Both websites offer services at deeply discounted prices.
Dental schools across the country offer quality dental work for a fraction of the price.
Or, save big by having a dental hygiene student clean your teeth. While attending hygiene school, we gave each patient a teeth cleaning, X-rays, oral cancer screening, fluoride treatment, exam by a licensed dentist and more for the same price as a value meal.
Check this directory for your local dental hygiene program. The students are generally eager to give quality care. Plus, licensed dental instructors help them every step of the way, so you’re in good hands.
Be aware that learning takes time, so your appointment will be a bit longer than usual.
7. Volunteer to be a Dental Hygiene Board Patient
If it’s been years, especially decades, since you’ve last had your teeth professionally cleaned, there’s a good chance you would be an ideal boards patient.
Students love volunteers, and the cleaning you receive during the exam is likely free. Call your local dental hygiene school to see if you can help.
8. Go to a Specialist Only When Necessary
You might need dental specialists for their advanced knowledge and skills… but they come with a high price tag.
Oddly, I’ve often seen patients choose a specialist when a more affordable general dentist would suffice.
If you’re a parent still taking your teen to a pedodontist for a filling, or a patient opting to have your wisdom teeth removed by an oral surgeon, compare costs — reconsidering could save you a bundle.
9. Get a Second Opinion
So you showed up to your appointment with a toothache and left with a proposed treatment plan that’s going to cost thousands — what do you do?
Did you know there’s often more than one way to fix dental issues? Call another dentist for a second opinion.
When you schedule an appointment, ask for a free consult to dodge the cost of another exam. Also, bring current X-rays to avoid paying for them twice.
10. Practice Prevention
Not getting a cavity is always cheaper than the lowest priced filling.
Not only does said filling have a price tag, but time is money. Every year, employed Americans miss more than 164 million hours of work due to dental disease or visits. Missing work alone can be a significant expense!
Prevent tooth decay and other harm to your teeth today. While brushing and flossing may come to mind (as they should!), there are a few other options as well.
Having a dental sealant placed (especially on kids) is a great way to prevent 60% of decay at one-third the cost of filling a cavity.
Take care of your oral health and help keep your hard-earned cash in your pockets!
Your Turn: Would you use any of these suggestions to save on dental care?
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. We would have shared them with you anyway, but a true Penny Hoarder would be a fool not to take the company’s money.
Kristen Brady is a registered dental hygienist, domestic goddess, new mom and budding freelance writer. A few of her favorite joys are family, Fridays and sprinkled donuts.