dental cost can add up quickly. Thankfully, there are ways to make care more affordable.
Consider dental insurance. Similar to health insurance, marketplace dental plans offer a premium for coverage. Look at deductibles, co-insurance and annual maximums when choosing a plan.
Ask your dentist and friends for recommendations. Find out the cost of routine check-ups and semi-annual cleanings.
1. Dental Insurance
If your employer offers it or you purchase individual dental insurance on the marketplace, this can be a great way to save money. While dental insurance premiums are a significant expense (and they may be taken out of your paycheck, depending on the type of plan you have), they’re often significantly lower than the hundreds of dollars per month people pay for regular health insurance plans.
Many types of dental insurance also have annual maximums, which are caps on how much a dental insurer will pay out-of-pocket in a year. This cap can range from $1,000 to $2,000. When you reach the yearly maximum, you’re responsible for covering 100% of any additional treatment costs. Many insurers roll over some portion of the unused maximum to the next year, though.
Having dental insurance can also encourage you to visit the dentist regularly, which is important because it prevents some issues and helps catch others when they’re small and less costly to treat. Plus, routine visits to the dentist for teeth cleanings and exams can help keep more expensive procedures like fillings and crowns at bay.
On the downside, many dental insurance plans have copays, which are predetermined flat fees you must pay for dental office visits and/or treatments. This can add up, especially if you’re in need of extensive care. And some plans, like a Dental Health Maintenance Organization (DHMO), only cover care from in-network dentists.
Dental insurance picks up the tab for many services, but not all of it. There’s usually a deductible and the coverage is limited by annual maximums, which means you have to pay out-of-pocket for expensive procedures after you hit those limits. Also, there are a number of services that aren’t covered at all (e.g., dental veneers or tooth replacement implants) due to pre-existing condition clauses in the policies.
If you’re looking for a way to save on dental care without getting insurance, consider working with dentists who offer in-house or external financing options. This can help lower your costs and allow you to use a credit card with low interest rates to pay for the treatment over time. However, the disadvantages of this approach include paying more upfront and potentially exposing you to excessive fees or charges.
Another option is to get care from a university dental school, where the cost can be 30 percent to 40 percent less than at private practices. In addition, you can often use a Health Savings Account or flexible spending account to fund the visit.
Finally, some communities offer free or low-cost dental care, with eligibility based on income. Check with local health departments or community organizations to learn more about these programs. If you can, schedule appointments for routine cleanings and non-major treatments at a time when the clinic isn’t busy. This can reduce your out-of-pocket costs and prevent the need for more extensive care in the future.
3. Comparison Shopping
Whether you have insurance or not, comparison shopping can help you keep dental costs down. Prices for services can vary by hundreds of dollars, even within the same community, so making a few phone calls and looking up online costs can help you save money.
For those who have insurance, understanding your policy can also help you cut costs. For example, dental insurance typically classifies services into preventive, basic and major categories, with preventive and basic services being covered in full by most plans and only a portion of the cost of major care (such as fillings and root canals) being paid for.
When buying a private dental insurance plan, be sure to compare premiums and other costs such as deductibles and copays. And be aware that there are different types of dental insurance, including Preferred Provider Organization (PPO), Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) and indemnity (fee-for-service). Also, make sure any dentist you’re considering is in your insurance network.
4. Low-Cost Care
Many communities have resources to help people get low-cost care for dental services. Examples include federally qualified health centers, state public insurance programs (Medicare and Medicaid), the Veterans Affairs, community clinics, or dental schools. You can find low-cost health care by searching the America’s Dentists Care network or checking with your local or state dental coalitions.
Low-cost and free dental care can be beneficial for everyone, especially those without access to affordable health care or who are uninsured. It is also an important part of a broader movement to reduce unnecessary health care costs, including low-value services. Several studies have found that a large percentage of US health care spending is associated with low-value services, such as imaging tests for nonspecific chest pain and gynecological procedures without clear clinical benefits.1-5 Reducing the use of low-value services could significantly improve overall health care spending.
In the 2021 National Health Interview Survey, about a quarter of adults reported delaying or going without prescription drugs, medical care, or mental health care because of cost. However, the NHIS did not ask about delaying or going without dental care because of cost.