As featured in The Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, and more!

Reducing the Cost of Dentist Care

How often do you visit the dentist for preventive care? Since graduating college, I’ve been getting regular check-ups and cleanings twice each year. I’ve seen the results of neglect, and I have no desire to lose my teeth any time soon. I’ve also seen results of bad dental work, so it’s imperative not only to visit a dentist but to find one who comes recommended.

I have no training in dentistry, so I am left to trust the recommendations of the professional. Dentists are businesspeople, so part of their motivation should be to ensure patients are happy with their treatment and return. Just like any other business, there are some who make recommendations based not on what is necessary but on what will result in bigger spending for the customer.

1. Get a second opinion for any major expenditure. If your dentist is suggesting a root canal as a treatment for a cavity, you might want to shop around by visiting other recommended dentists.

2. Find a dentist that accepts your insurance. My dentist’s office is not a participant in any insurance plan. That means they are free to charge more than the negotiated rate a plan dentist might charge. While they submit my charges to the insurance company, I am responsible for any amount not covered. I could save some money by finding a dentist who accepts my insurance, but I prefer to stay with the same dentist I’ve been visiting for about ten years, and my insurance usually covers almost all of the cost.

3. Consider whether you need every recommended service. Insurance companies generally don’t pay for fluoride treatments for adults, for example. If your teeth and gums are in great condition, fluoride may be an unnecessary expense. Some dentists are more aggressive than others and are willing to suggest treatments at the first sign of a problem. Don’t be quick to dismiss treatment, but don’t be afraid to ask about other options.

In addition to improving your health, taking care of your teeth also improves your appearance. In today’s economy, your appearance could be the difference between getting a job after an interview and not getting called back in. It’s unfortunate, but appearance plays a role both in conscious and subconscious impressions.

With a quick search, it’s easy to find horror stories about dentists who suggest unnecessary treatments. One study by Readers’ Digest in Canada shows how 16 different dentists offered the same individual 16 different interpretations of a patient’s situation. Patients without a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree don’t have the training to analyze problems and must rely on the professional.

At least with auto mechanics, customers can have more than a basic knowledge of their own vehicle and with some focus can determine when professionals might be attempting to take advantage of their situations.

Updated February 10, 2011 and originally published July 26, 2010.

About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of shizennougyou. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

Since my Mom is a dentist, I consider myself lucky in getting care from a family member, but it also gives me a unique insight into the world of dentistry, since I see the back-end of things. I have the following tips for people trying to save some $ on their dental care:

– Flexo is absolutely right in that some dentists will recommend things just to make a quick buck. Find the ones that don’t.
– On the other hand, not every “expensive” treatment is bad advice, even when there’s a cheaper alternative available. Dentists have to weigh the risks of a particular treatment failing. Case in point: you have a bad cavity. You can get a large filling placed for $300 (just making up a number here), or a root canal for $1000. But your dentist can see if the filling has a high percentage change of failing, which would result in a root canal anyway. Sometimes, it’s a tough call.
– Always ask for discounts. Dentists prefer to get paid in cash because dealing with insurance companies is a pain. Ask for a few bucks off if you don’t have insurance.
– I haven’t met a dental insurance plan I’ve liked yet (or that would pay off). But people still carry them, so that must mean they’re out there! Does anyone have a favorite?
– Word of mouth is much better than online. Most people will only go online to complain–it’s a sucky way to evaluate a medical professional. Ask friends, family, neighbors instead–you’re likely to get the positive news and directions to the best dentist.
– Prevention is the best way to save. Care at home, in my opinion, it the #1 way to stay out of the dental chair (even dentists agree! lol). I’ve made my share of mistakes before, and it’s definitely worth the extra 5 minutes in the bathroom every day to make sure you do it right.

Reply to this comment

avatar 2 Anonymous

“My dentist’s office is not a participant in any insurance plan. That means they are free to charge more than the negotiated rate a plan dentist might charge. While they submit my charges to the insurance company, I am responsible for any amount not covered.”

You need to negotiate with your dentist so they never send you a bill for the amount that isn’t covered. Most dentists are happy to do this. If yours isn’t, you should be looking for a new one.


Reply to this comment

avatar 3 Luke Landes

Negotiation is a good idea and I intend on revising the article to include more information on that. But would I switch dentists to save the $20 to $40 a year I *may* pay over the negotiated rate? Absolutely not. If they were charging outrageous fees I would. If you can save an amount on preventive care that dents your budget then shop around.

Reply to this comment

avatar 4 Anonymous

Also, discounts for recommendations are nice. Some dentists offer this for friends and family to sign up after you refer them.

Reply to this comment

avatar 5 Anonymous

The two times I’ve had dental insurance, the dentists that took it stunk. Paying full freight beats paying nothing and getting shoddy service that has to get fixed eventually anyway.

Reply to this comment

avatar 6 Anonymous

While saving money on dental care would be nice, the monster expense in this category is orthodontic care. I’m not aware of any insurance that can help much, is anyone? With four kids, I could be looking at as much as $20,000 or more in fees if all of them need braces. What can be done to reduce those costs?

Reply to this comment

avatar 7 Anonymous

Well, since you asked. :) I’m with Aflac and we DO have an orthodontic ryder with our dental plans. You do need to get it through a work plan though – you can’t just buy it on your own. And there is a 2 year waiting period before you can utilize it…however with four kids you’d MORE than get your money back. We generally tell folks with one kid that it isn’t really worth it but more than two and you’ll come out ahead. Good luck!

Reply to this comment

avatar 8 Anonymous

Check w/your employer and see if you can sign up for a Health FSA…get 2 or 3 orthodontits’ consults for braces and when you’ve nailed down your choice and have figured out what the cost will be, sign up during the open enrollment period for the FSA. A specified amount will be taken out of your pay pre-tax to be placed in an account for health care expenses. So you will save money at tax time by decreasing your taxable income.

You are reimbursed once you have incurred expenses and have sent in the claim. Make sure to be conservative in your estimation of the projected annual expenses since you may have to forfeit any monies that go ‘unused’ (left in the account).

Reply to this comment

avatar 9 Anonymous

Wow, the idea of asking for a discount at the dentist just wouldn’t occur to a British person like me. I’d be uncomfortable if the guy thought I was getting too good a deal — what would he do once his hands were in my mouth?! ;)

My boring tip is to floss. I only properly started a few years ago, and do it every morning reading the blogs. (I work from a home office!) It’s boring but the reading helps, and after a while your gums stop bleeding. It really cuts down the plaque, and also has been shown to reduce heart disease.

Prevention rules ok! :)

Reply to this comment

avatar 10 Anonymous

I’ve been very lucky to have a great dentist for many years. When I didn’t have dental insurance for a few years, my dentist would not charge for certain procedures and charge minimally for others. Now that I have insurance again, he will always tell me my options and the estimated costs for each.

The way we found him was a recommendation from a friend. Then before choosing him, my wife actually interviewed him to get a feel for whether she liked him or not. Not sure what she asked, but it turned out well for my family.

Reply to this comment

avatar 11 Anonymous

You have a good dentist and a smart wife! Don’t ever get rid of either. I think that the fact that your wife interviewed your dentist before hiring him was an extremely smart thing to do. And obviously it worked out for the best. happy brushing joe.

Reply to this comment

avatar 12 Anonymous

Thanks for the great article, Flexo!

With every dental problem, there are usually various solutions. Ask your dentist about ALL of the treatment options that exist for the problem you have.

There are also a few promising websites springing up that allow you to search within your city for the cheapest price that a dentist is willing to offer. These may be good for helping you find a cheap dentist, but it is important to remember that cheap dentistry doesn’t always equal good dentistry.

As a current dental student, my comment wouldn’t be complete without a recommendation to go to a dental school for treatment. The school I go to charges about 60-70% of what you would pay in a private practice. I think we do a pretty good job, too. The major disadvantage is the amount of time each procedure takes. An appointment for a filling could easily take a couple of hours, where it would only take 1/2 hour in private practice.

Reply to this comment

avatar 13 Anonymous

I’m paying for my own health insurance and it doesn’t include dental. Fortunately for me, my sister is a dental hygienist and the dentist for whom she works lets her give me cleanings twice a year and X-rays once a year for free.
“Oral care becomes 10 times as important” if you don’t have dental insurance, my sister says. Every day she sees the results of poor oral hygiene: sore and bleeding gums, bad breath, eventual tooth loss.
If it’s kosher to post URLs, here’s a Smart Spending post on the subject:
It includes a link to the American Dental Association’s “Cleaning your teeth and gums.”

Reply to this comment

avatar 14 Anonymous

I’d also recommend…..ask what their cash rate is! MANY dentists will offer a discount if you pay cash.

And…*gratuitous plug alert* Aflac dental insurance has NO networks. So you can find a dentist you like, negotiate a cash rate, and still have some coverage. You can even get a supplemental plan that will work with your current dental insurance.

My dentist is EXPENSIVE … so I definitely agree that shopping around is a good idea. His cash break is only 5% but I’ve heard of some that will do upward of 25% off.

Reply to this comment

avatar 15 Anonymous

this is very basic advice. I feel like this could be given to anybody in almost any business situation. This could be for finding a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, a lawn man, a hairstylist, and so on. So thank you, for your generic advice. I am sure it still works though.

Reply to this comment

avatar 16 Anonymous

I tend to only go to the dentist about half as often as they recommend. My experience is that they tend to “over treat” us when we are there every 6 months. I think I may be blessed with good teeth too though because my first cavity was at age 38 and frankly, it was just a tiny blip that he decided he wanted to treat but it really wasn’t needed yet.

Reply to this comment

avatar 17 Anonymous

These are great suggestions. If you’re looking for reviews and recommendations there are now tons of review sites where you can see what your neighbors think about all the local dentists. Google’s local search is one of the best.

Reply to this comment

avatar 18 Anonymous

Well if one have been taking care of their teeth properly then there’s no need for them to a dentist. But sometimes situation arises in which some other disease causes problems to the gums. For such case I have been lucky to have my dentist in Austin for so many years now. He always go for a procedure through which the teeth can be saved without spending to much of money.

Reply to this comment

Leave a Comment

Note: Use your name or a unique handle, not the name of a website or business. No deep links or business URLs are allowed. Spam, including promotional linking to a company website, will be deleted. By submitting your comment you are agreeing to these