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7 Ways to Avoid a Painful Dentist Bill


A trip to the dentist can result in a big bill you hadn’t budgeted for. Or maybe things have been so tight that after you’ve paid other bills, dental care doesn’t even make the list. While cleanings, check-ups and X-rays have fairly predictable costs, any problems detected may result in significant bills.

We did a bit of research and spoke with dentist Grant Sadler, CEO of GMS Dental Centers of Excellence in Houston, for some tips on making dental care less expensive.

1. Brush Your Teeth & Floss

This is the best — and cheapest — way to minimize your expenses. “It’s amazing how many people don’t brush and floss,” he said. “Dentists like to say, ‘Only floss the teeth you want to keep.’” Bonus: You’ll have better breath.

2. Make Checkups & X-Rays a Priority

Twice a year is a good rule of thumb, and that’s probably what insurance will pay for, if your insurance covers dental health. But you may need more or less. People who may need more include those who have a weakened immune system or gum disease, according to the Cleveland Clinic. And detection and treatment of a problem early can save you hundreds (or thousands) over waiting until it is much worse.

3. Shop Around for Braces — & Financing for Them

If your child needs braces, you have some time to check to see what your options are. Ask around about treatment plans, costs and payment plans. Practitioners may not agree on the kind of treatment or how long it will take. Be sure you understand what your choices are. Sadler said sometimes patients can get a discount by paying for the whole treatment upfront. Ask. (And if you have dental insurance, see what it covers. You may have at least some coverage.) This is also a great time to check on your credit — you may find getting a new low-interest card or using a credit card with an interest-free period to finance the braces can give you both a discount for paying upfront and allow you to repay over time. Before you apply, make sure you can qualify for a credit card by checking your credit scores. You can see two of your credit scores for free on

4. Uninsured? Consider a Discount Plan

A discount health care plan is not dental insurance, but it can reduce what you pay out of pocket. You’ll pay an annual premium (typically less than $100 for an individual). Discounts can be up to 60% off the sticker price, so it may be worth considering.

5. Look Into Dental Tourism

An expensive procedure (or cosmetic dentistry) may be done elsewhere for less. Mexico and Costa Rica are becoming major hubs for dental tourism, according to Patients Beyond Borders, which also offers tips on choosing a dentist and cautions on who should NOT go that route.

6. Go to a Dental School or Look for a Free Clinic Day

Dental schools have dental students do the work, under the supervision of their instructors. Procedures are likely to take longer than they would at your dentist’s office, but they will typically be a lot less expensive. The American Dental Association has a list of dental schools you can use to help find a clinic. Free clinics are generally restricted to people who have low incomes. If you qualify, they are worth investigating. Sadler said that in addition, some organizations or cities sponsor a day or weekend of free dental cleanings and exams. The treatment doesn’t go beyond cleaning, fillings and extractions (because there are no follow-up visits) but can be a useful step in protecting dental health.

7. Get a Second Opinion

The procedure your dentist is recommending may not be your only option. As with other types of medicine, there is sometimes disagreement on the best way to proceed. Other times, the optimal way may not be the one you choose, if you let your savings account have a vote.  Ask your dentist if there are healthy, more economical alternatives to the “best” way.

The bottom line is, tempting as it may be to skimp on dental care (if nothing hurts, it may always seem safe to put it off one more month), it is part of medical care. A dental checkup can reveal other health issues, and catching a problem early almost always results in a simpler and cheaper solution. As frustrating as it can be to go in with no known problem and to leave with the news that you need a root canal or bridge, it’s better to know sooner than later. And knowing you have options can make it just a little less painful.

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