Whether you’re one of those people who hates going to the dentist, or you feel super accomplished after your annual cleaning, regular trips to the dentist are a necessary part of your overall health care. However, even if you’re blessed with perfect, healthy teeth, family dental care costs can add up—especially if you have little ones.
The average cost of a visit to the dentist’s office can cost anywhere between $50 to $350 or more, according to health care cost comparison site Cost Helper. A standard cleaning can cost between $70 to $200, with a root canal costing up to $1,500. While dental insurance can help with these costs, many plans have an annual maximum of $2,000.
Though you might not reach this maximum every year (only 2.8 percent do according to the American Dental Association), there are ways to reduce costs, especially if you find yourself making frequent dental visits or if you have kids. Here are ways to keep your dental costs down and still keep your teeth healthy.
1. Get treated at a local dental school.
Visiting your local dental school for treatment can help you save money, and they’re open to everyone—so it’s a great option if you don’t have dental insurance. Dental schools have much lower costs on services, and “their rates are significantly less than private practices,” says Wesley C. Jacobs, founder of medical tourism company Apollo Medical Travel. The services are provided by dental students, under the supervision of a dentist.
You can also check out a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), suggests Donna Tang, budgeting expert at Credit Donkey. These clinics provide medical and dental care on a sliding scale fee for those with incomes that are 200 percent or lower than the federal poverty level. Check out FQHCs in your area here.
2. Reduce your number of yearly visits.
While you should definitely not skimp on dentist visits, keeping your routine cleaning to once a year instead of twice can help you save about $200, says Jordan Weber, DDS.
“This is an idea that may be considered by people with good oral hygiene and a low history of cavities,” says Dr. Weber. While this can help you save if you can’t afford to visit the dentist twice a year, it’s important to base this off of your dental history and hygiene. Skipping a dentist appointment could lead to more expensive procedures if you are unaware of a more serious issue or ignore any pain.
“It may end up being more expensive to skip a checkup if a $100 filling turns into a $1,000 root canal,” says Dr. Weber.
3. Get a second opinion or reevaluate seeing a specialist.
If your dentist refers you to a specialist, think about how necessary this might be—especially if they refer you to a specialist more often than not. Your out-of-pocket costs will likely be a lot higher going to a specialist such as an oral surgeon or endodontist, and while this might be inevitable in some cases, you could find a dentist who provides some of these services.
“It may be worthwhile to find a dentist that is able to perform more procedures in-house, at a cheaper fee than a specialist,” says Dr. Weber. If you have kids or teens, consider taking them to a general dental office over a pediatric dentist to save more.
4. Look for a dentist that offers discount or in-house dental plans.
Ask your dentist office if they offer any discount plans—most offices offer them, says Tom Nathaniel Tessin, owner of personal finance website Lush Dollar. “My son needed almost $1500 in dental work,” Tessin explains, “but if I paid $99 for the year, they took 30% off as well as included two cleanings for the year.”
If you don’t have insurance, finding a dentist office that offers in-house dental plans is a great way to get care at discounted rates. These plans can offer coverage for things like cleanings and x-rays, and discounts on implants, crowns, and other procedures.
“These are a great option for patients without insurance, as they function as a hassle-free insurance alternative, but without the insurance company skimming off half of your money,” says Dr. Weber.
Money-saving expert Andrea Woroch even suggests looking for coupons—look up your dentist office or others in the area to see if any of them offer coupons for their services.
5. Reconsider dental insurance—it might actually save you more money.
Speaking of dental insurance, you might want to reconsider whether you have it at all. If you currently don’t have dental insurance though your employer, it could actually save you money to skip dental insurance entirely.
“Many dental insurance plans that can be purchased will have high premiums, long waiting periods, limited in-network options, and limitations on services,” says Dr. Weber. Make sure you read all the fine print and policies before signing up for a dental plan, whether they cover the services you will need the most, and if it will actually help you save. If not, you may be better off finding a discounted or in-house dental plan.
6. Set up a payment plan with your dentist.
Be open with your dentist regarding your financial situation and see if you can set up a payment plan, or find a provider that offers flexible payment options.
“This will ensure you don’t pay more for interest if you use a credit card,” says Woroch. She recommends using a no-interest card to make payments, such as the CareCredit card from Synchrony Bank, which allows you to finance dental expenses with 0 percent APR options based on your credit score. Check out CardRates’ list of the best credit cards for dental expenses here.
A sparkling smile and healthy teeth don’t have to cost an arm and a leg (although sometimes they feel like they do). As a good preventative and money-saving option, make sure you maintain good oral hygiene, so you can do your best to maintain a healthy mouth and a happy wallet.