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Save Money on Dental Care

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Maintain a healthy smile without blowing your budget. Here are several ways to save money on dental care:

Schedule Regular Cleanings

Close up of dental instruments
Adam Gault/ Caiaimage/ Getty Images

Have your teeth professionally cleaned every six months (or at least once a year) to avoid future problems and to catch existing problems before they become really expensive to fix. Still tempted to skip out on cleanings? Just remember: the bill for filling a cavity is much easier to swallow than the bill for a root canal, a crown or an extraction.

Triage

If you need more dental work than you can afford, ask your dentist which procedures need to be done right away and which can be put off for a little while. Then, work together to determine which procedure will be tackled first, second, third and so on. If you dentist knows you're tight on funds, he may also be able to recommend temporary fixes to hold you over until the work can be done.

Purchase a Dental Discount Plan

If your employer doesn't offer dental insurance, or the premiums are more than you're willing to pay, consider purchasing a dental discount plan instead. Just pay a small, one-time fee each year (around $100); choose one of the dentists in the network; and all of your dental work will be discounted.

For a list of all of the dental plans available in your state, refer to ineeddentalbenefits.com, a site maintained by the National Association of Dental Plans.

Ask for a Cash Discount

Flying without dental insurance or a dental plan? Ask your dentist, if he'd be willing to give you a discount for paying in cash. Since you'll be saving him credit card fees and billing hassles, he's likely to say yes. Emphasize that you're willing to pay in full at the time of service. Prompt payments are hard to resist.

Set Up a Payment Plan

Need work now – even though you can't afford it? Forgo the credit card (and all the interest that goes with it), and ask your dentist if you can set up some sort of payment plan.

Ask Lots of Questions

Dentists are highly trained, but that doesn't mean everything your dentist suggests is going to be right for you. Ask her to explain the purpose of any procedure that you don't understand, and don't be afraid to question the necessity of anything that seems over the top to you.

Here are examples of the kinds of questions you might want to ask:

  • Would it be okay to put off X-rays until your next cleaning?
  • Do you kids still need fluoride treatments, if they live in an area with fluoridated water?
  • Is that procedure medically necessary or purely cosmetic?
  • Is there a cheaper option, that would work just as well?

Remember: You have the right to know how your money is being spent, and you also have the right to get a second-opinion when you don't trust the first one:

Tap Your FSA

Stick enough money in your FSA to cover both your medical and dental expenses, and you can pay your bills with pre-tax dollars. It's an easy way to squeeze more dental dollars out of your paycheck.

Go to a Dental School

Want to super-size your dental care savings? Consider having all of your cleanings and dental work done at a dental school. The work will be performed by students (under the supervision of instructors) or by the instructors themselves, and you'll pay a fraction of what you would pay anywhere else.

Find a Dental School Near You:

Brush and Floss Regularly

Regular trips to the dentist will cut down on your dental costs, but if you really want to save money, you need to stay on top of the day-to-day care of your teeth too. Brush at least twice a day; floss; switch out your toothbrush as often as you're supposed to; and cut down on sugary foods and drinks. All of those good habits will add up to less time in your dentist's chair.

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