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How To Save Money At The Dentist’s Office

By David Bakke

I recently had a dentist’s appointment to have my teeth cleaned. For the most part, I am terrible with keeping up with regular dentist appointments. This was the first time I had been in a few years. Regardless, this latest trip helped me to realize that, yes, you can save money at the dentist’s office. Of course, the first line of defense against saving money on dental visits is to take great care of your teeth. But beyond that, here are 5 more great tips:

1. Choose the Right One

If you don’t already have a regular dentist, I would not just pick one out of the phone book. I actually picked out three that accepted my insurance carrier, and called their offices. I requested price lists from them. Surprisingly, the prices at all three had some differences. I also found out that you can request a “usual, customary and reasonable” list (USR) from your insurance provider. Policies with a USR clause will not pay more than what is on their sheet. So it’s a great idea to compare the USR list with the dentist’s pricing list.

2. Go!

The first thing that I realized is that I am wasting money by not going to the dentist at least once per year. Wasting money? How could that be? Well, I think I pay roughly $12 per month for my dental insurance. Cleanings are free. Therefore I am leaving money on the table by not going to the dentist at least once a year to get my “free” cleanings. I am spending about $150 on dental insurance whether I go or not. This motivated me to schedule at the very least, annual visits. Even if you don’t have insurance, I’d still suggest at least going for at least 1 visit per year (if not two) to maintain your teeth. The last thing you want is decaying teeth and gums once you get a bit older. I promise you you’ll regret it!

3. Know Your Policy

Second, I would get a pretty firm grip on what my policy does and does not cover before going. It didn’t happen with me, but last year, my wife went to the dentist and had about $1000 worth of work done. As it turned out, over $700 of it was uncovered. Know your policy.

4. Beware of the Sales Pitch

The point of my dentist appointment was to have my teeth cleaned and nothing more. Of course, having not gone in the past few years, it would not have surprised me to hear about a cavity or two. I do take good care of my teeth, but not great care.

While I did not hear about any cavities, I did hear about a host of other things that I supposedly “needed” done. This guy came back into the office like someone who had just done a diagnostic on a car. He started in about things like caps and crowns. He then talked about whitening procedures and something called a “veneer’ which I still never really understood except for that it sound like a paint job for your teeth.

He even mentioned something about having my teeth straightened. I’ve had my same teeth my whole life and they’ve always looked pretty straight to me!

5. Tread Lightly, but Stand Your Ground

I want to be very careful before I say what I am about to say. I am by no means suggesting that you should second guess your dentist. However, had I agreed to all of the procedures that he recommended, it would have cost me over $2000. One thing we did talk about before I left was how much of this stuff was strictly cosmetic and how much would have a direct effect on my long-term dental health. After a little fast-talking, it seemed to me that most if not all of it was cosmetic in nature even though he tried to present the procedures as being fully necessary.

If your dentist tells you that you need to have something done and you are unsure, get a second opinion.  As I said, I wouldn’t just blow off your dentists’ recommendations, but at least take the time to question them.

Maybe I just had the luck of visiting a dentist who was out to sell me stuff I didn’t need. I am by no means saying that this is the norm. What I am saying is that by doing a little research on the front end and being cautious during your visit, you could potentially save yourself a significant amount of money.

Anybody have a good or bad experience at the dentist office recently? I’d love to hear some stories!

(photo credit: emrank)

David Bakke
David started his own personal finance blog, YourFinances101, in June of 2009 and published his first book on ways to save more and spend less called "Don't Be A Mule..." Since then he has been a regular contributor for Money Crashers. He lives just outside Atlanta, GA and most all of his free time is taken up by his amazing three year old son, Nicholas.

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Comments

  • Melissa

    I have an excellent dentist. He’s located four blocks from my workplace and he consistently takes 20 minutes from walking in the door to walking out. The only “up-selling” he has done was mention that if I was interested in having my chipped tooth repaired, just let him know and he can take care of it. I go in for two cleanings a year and after three years with him, I have yet to pay a penny out of pocket.

    • David

      Melissa

      That’s awesome.

      What I am hoping to do is to tart going to the dentistmore on a regular basis (to the same one), and establish that “regular customer” kind of relationship, so then maybe some sort of trust can be built and I can get a set up somewhat like what you have.

      Thanks for commenting

  • http://mysavingplace.com Candee

    I have never had dental insurance, so I have always been aware of how much a visit to the dentist can cost. When I had more time, I used to go to the dental college at a local university. The price was cheap and cleanings were extremely thorough, but it could take hours out of my day. When I had more money than time, I began going to a local dentist who understood that I did not want any extraneous procedures, only what was necessary. Mostly, I just need my teeth cleaned. When he changed hygienists and the new ones weren’t as competent (IMO), I was unwilling to pay the $125 to have my teeth cleaned. I found another facility where the hygienists were just as competent but the cost was only $98. And yes, the upsell is always there. “You need xrays; you need this; you need that.” I’ve had my teeth for over 60 years and they’re still in pretty good shape. It’s easy for me to say no to all the extras because I can’t afford to pay for them, many of which are totally unnecessary. The best advice I can give is to get your teeth cleaned regularly especially if you’re prone to eating a lot of sugary foods (really bad for the teeth). Twice a year is not too often in that case. Because of large plaque buildup, I used to have my teeth cleaned 4 times a year. Now it’s down to once a year, maybe twice if I feel the need. The idea is to stop problems before they become more expensive. Thorough cleaning, which should take almost an hour, is the key. Anything less and you’re not getting really clean teeth.

    • David

      Candee

      A lot of great stuff here. I think you sum it all up when you say you’ve had your teeth for over 60 years and they’re still in pretty good shape.

      And of course, taking care of your teeth will certainly help in the long run.

      Thanks for weighing in!

  • http://www.bucksomeboomer.com Kay Lynn @ Bucksome Boomer

    Of course the older you get the more dental work that may be required. Having said that it seems common with the dental profession for them to attempt upselling.

    The best tip I have for finding a good dentist is to ask your friends and coworkers. That’s how I found the dentist we use 10 years ago. We switched to the dental HMO at work one year to save money and had to go to a different dentist and had similar experiences to you.

    The next year we went back to the PPO and our previous dentist.

    • David

      Kay

      Personal referrals seem to work out best in just about any situation regarding any service.

      Glad you found that better deal!

      Thanks for commenting

  • susan macfarlane

    Let me start by saying that I am a Dental Hygientist for 20 years And I am embarrased to hear that this Dentist had such a high pressure sales pitch He obviously was out for a buck. But I just wanted to say that most and I mean the majority of Dental Professionals are not like that. We are there to provide a service, Once he told you that you didnt have any cavities or periodontal disease That should of been it. But we do offer other services that he could of suggested .And he should of told you that they were for cosmetic purposes only Im sorry you had such a horrible visit . But sometimes it takes a few visits to find the right fit. But please dont let this keep you from going to your appt every six months And dont forget to Brush twice a day and FLOSS!!! : )

    • David

      Susan

      Thanks for the good words and the good advice.

      I guess there are just a few bad apples in every bunch.

      I am sure that for the most part, dentists are not like that.

      Just wanted to let our readers know to be wary when needed.

      Thanks for commenting!

  • Lisa B

    Well one thing I found especially with pediatric dentists is that some will make you believe that you are not allowed to go in with you child. Or that they “usually behave better without their parents”.
    It is one of our RIGHTS as parents to be with them and especially a child that is afraid or can’t speak yet! They should never try to force your child to go in alone if they truly feel uncomfortable. and I hope that people listen to their children and trust them.
    I have had places even want me to sign a paper giving them permission to hold the child down or tie their legs and arms down… if THEY feel necessary this was also one of the places that kept trying to discourage me from going in with her. But I stood firm that I was going in, and refused to sign their paper which we also have the right to do.
    This was a pediatric dentist. They are suppose to be great with kids and not make them afraid of the dentist.

    I had explained to them (before the appt when scheduling that she was very afraid, and i wanted to make sure they would spend time explaining things to her, then reminded the girl at the desk when signing in AND then the girl that took us back) but alas the girl was not good with children, was in a huge rush and did not explain ANYTHING to her just shoved a tool in her mouth from the side (where she didn’t know it was coming) and scared the heck outta her, then acted really annoyed by her reaction.
    They seemed to be one of those offices that was more worried about how many kids they could pack in and rush through than whether or not they were helping children.

    I guess my point is when you dont go in with your child, how do you know whats going on, and if they are in the best of care. So just be careful and listen to your children.

    • David Bakke

      Lisa

      Thanks for the excellent commentary.

      I have a three year old who is about ready to start going, and I was unaware of any of that crap they were trying to pull.

      I feel much more safe now that I am armed with your pertinent info….thanks so much for joining the conversation

  • Grannylebouef36

    I’m looking for a Dentis that goes by my income it will cost me 5000 dollars to fix my front teeth I broke it and I’m a singal parent

  • http://www.becomedentist.com/ Dentist

    My dentist advice is – regular visits 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!

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