Save money on dental care

Tips to save money on dental care

If, like me, you buy an individual health plan, most likely it doesn’t cover dental (or vision) care.

I have priced buying separate dental coverage, but over an average year the premiums exceed any savings, so I have always chosen not to buy it.

Also, like me, if you are going to be faced with a steep rate hike for your medical insurance next year, you will not want to spend the extra money on a separate plan.

Pediatric dental care must be covered per Obamacare rules, but not adult dental, and the American Dental Association (ADA) fears that many people who currently have dental insurance will drop it–because a family’s budget can only stretch so far, can’t it?

But having healthy teeth is important to overall health, and there are a few things you can do to make dental care a little more budget friendly.

  • Find a dentist who will give you a cash discount. Call the office and ask if the dentist would be willing to give you a discounted cash price if you pay at the time of service. Most dental prices are based on what an insurance company pays, so they are slightly inflated. Because they won’t have to wait for reimbursement or be charged a credit card fee, many dentists actually prefer cash up front.
  • Ask about the necessity of frequent exams. Our dentist is fine with yearly cleanings, rather than twice a year. He is comfortable knowing we take good care of our teeth, and that we will call him if we have a problem.
  • Question the necessity of yearly x-rays. After years of paying for annual x-rays, I discovered that the ADA released new guidelines last year that recommend adults with healthy teeth only have x-rays (bitewings) every 2 to 3 years! Most dentists also want to take a “panoramic” x-ray of your mouth every few years. These are more expensive (and use more radiation) and you should question whether they are really necessary.
  • Question the necessity of treating small cavities. I also found out recently that “microcavities”, tiny areas of decay usually only seen on x-ray, don’t need fillings. It is perfectly OK to watch and wait as they often don’t progress any further.
  • Question the necessity of any recommended treatment. Is it purely cosmetic? Is there a cheaper alternative? Can the treatment wait? Know your options and get a second opinion if you need more information.
  • Call a local dental school or dental hygienist program to see if you qualify for reduced-cost care. If you live near a large university, chances are there is a dental school with dental students needing patients! Most these programs, however, require that you be Medicaid eligible, but it would still be worth calling and asking.
  • Consider dental tourism. I’ve talked with several people who have chosen to have expensive dental work (usually cosmetic or restorative) done in Mexico. It costs a fraction of what it does in the US, and you get a sunny vacation thrown in! It’s not for everyone, I know, but as US care gets more expensive, I think more people will opt for dental and medical tourism.

Dental x-rays and radiation exposure

There have been several news stories in the last few years linking radiation exposure from dental x-rays to thyroid cancer or brain tumors.

The amount of radiation from a dental x-ray is really small–only a fraction of a chest x-ray. But any amount of unnecessary radiation is too much, especially in children.

For any x-ray or CT scan, always question the doctor about risk vs. benefit. (Consider the financial risk as well.)

If an x-ray is necessary, the ADA recommends using a lead thyroid “collar” as well as the usual lead apron. Our dentist never gave us this option, and we didn’t know it existed, until my husband was diagnosed with thyroid cancer about three years ago.  Now we always ask for the thyroid collar (we have to ask because they don’t just offer it).

I shudder a bit when I think of all the dental x-rays my son had as a child undergoing orthodontics! Now I make sure he protects his thyroid, too. (Poor thing, he was always the kid wearing the most protective gear during sports.)

Taking care of your teeth

Good oral health can help you avoid or delay expensive dental procedures–and your smile will be brighter, too 🙂

  • Brush twice a day with a good toothbrush (replaced every 6 months or so) and an ADA-approved fluoride toothpaste. Brush for a full two minutes! Use a timer if you don’t use a Sonicare-type brush with a built-in timer. Dentists generally agree that the length of brushing time is more important than the brand of toothbrush you use. Expensive electronic toothbrushes that require crazy-expensive replacement heads aren’t necessary.
  • Don’t brush immediately after eating–wait an hour. The acids in food soften your teeth’s enamel, and brushing too soon will damage the enamel. And once the enamel is gone, it’s gone.
  • Floss at least once a day.
  • Use a fluoride rinse (cheapest store brand) after brushing, as well. The mechanical action of swishing helps further clean your teeth, especially in between. The extra fluoride helps, too, but you have to swish for at least one minute and then not eat or drink for at least half an hour after.
  • Drink more water, especially after meals and snacks. Water helps dilute the sugars that want to cling to your teeth.
  • Snack on apples, carrots and celery. These hard snacks help clean your teeth and strengthen your gums.
  • Chew sugarless gum with xylitol. Gum, especially after meals, helps clean your teeth (and freshen your breath!). And xylitol, a sugar substitute, might actually prevent dental decay. I keep gum in my purse and on my desk, and put it in my son’s stocking at Christmas  😉

If you have other tips for saving money on dental care, I’d love to hear about them, so please take time to comment. We all want healthy teeth!


Frugal Nurse



Save money on dental care — 2 Comments

  1. Great article! I agree that keeping oral maintenance up will help to lower your costs, such as money, time, and stress, later on. Plus, it can help prevent further issues by keeping you and your smile healthy. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Caryl Anne, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Good oral health seems to be the one area of health care in which we, the patients, still have some control over cost and prevention of disease. I can’t imagine going for a single day without brushing and flossing! Cheers, FN