Even the most financially-savvy family can be blindsided by a big dental bill. All the cost-conscious choices you make, the nice emergency fund you built up – it can all be wiped out in one trip to the dentist. And for those whose budget is tight, just finding the funds to pay for dental care can seem impossible.
But with some negotiating tricks, you can lower your dental bills or make them easier to pay. Here’s how:
Dentist’s prices for a specific treatment can vary by several hundred dollars or more. If you get a seemingly high quote for care, check the average prices in your area for that same treatment using a website like Fair Health. You can also call local dentists and see what they charge for the treatment you need.
Check prices in nearby towns/cities, and whatever other locations you might travel to – you may get a significantly lower rate on dental care elsewhere.
A porcelain crown in New York City will cost $2219.47- $2808.48, head to Miami and get the same crown for $1019.62- $1290.14, along with a seashore holiday. In Louisville, Kentucky that crown will cost just $889.98- $1126.09. You can run your own comparisons here. Obviously, dental tourism isn’t for you if you love your current dentist, but can be a viable option otherwise. But make sure that your dental insurance covers you outside of your home state or check on the dentists available elsewhere who accept your dental savings plan.
Bear in mind that the expensive dentist may charge top dollar because he or she has extensive experience, advanced skills, and works with an excellent lab. Price is not the only – or even the best – way to choose a dentist. But if you know what the average rates are in your area, you can ask the expensive dentist why his or her fees are higher. You may get a discount, or you may get useful information that helps you make the best decision for your oral health and appearance.
When your dentist gives you a treatment plan, don’t just accept it and then go home and scream about the costs of care. Ask your dentist why you need a specific treatment, and whether there is another way to address the problem. Got cash on hand? See if you can get a 10% or more discount if you pay up-front for the treatment. Insurance? Perhaps your dentist can give you a break on those out-of-pocket costs. No insurance or dental savings plan? Ask if you can get an uninsured rate. Got skills? Maybe your dentist will reduce your bill in exchange for your professional services. You never know until you ask.
And do be honest with your dentist about your financial situation. If your budget is tight, ask if there is an effective temporary fix that can be done now, allowing you a few months (or more) to save up for the more expensive treatment. If a less-expensive fix isn’t an option, see if you can work out a payment plan with your dentist. He or she is more likely to be open to a payment plan if you are a regular patient – so that’s another great reason to visit your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings!
Talk to your dentist about his or her plan to keep your teeth and gums healthy over time. Preventive care provides significant savings in your oral health and your overall health. Ask your dental hygienist for tips on taking the best care of your teeth at home. Doing the right things will save you money and grief over the long haul.
Ask your dentist how long the dental work you’re getting is likely to last. Five to seven years is the typical life span for a crown, 2-5 years for fillings in the front of your mouth, 5-10 for fillings in the back of your mouth. Bridges and dentures often require adjustments every few years.
Your dentist may offer a formal treatment guarantee that repairs or replacements within a specific period are performed at a reduced rate or at no charge. This guarantee may require that you get twice-yearly checkups and cleanings at the dentist’s office. (Note that a specialist may require you to get checkups/cleanings at the referring dentist’s office). Any guarantee will likely also be contingent on you following a treatment plan or preventive care plan. And of course, the guarantee doesn’t cover all damage. If -for example- you drop your dentures or pull out a crown when you’re chewing on a caramel candy, assume you’ll pay full price for a replacement.
Dental insurance is an excellent choice for making preventive care affordable. But if you’re uninsured and facing big dental bills now, insurance won’t help.
Dental insurance policies impose a 6-12 month waiting period before coverage for restorative care is available. Your dental insurance may also set limits on how often you can get treatment for specific issues (such as replacement crowns or dentures). And dental insurance often does not cover treatment for pre-existing conditions (e.g.: dental conditions and problems that you had prior to purchasing the policy). Plus, your coverage will be limited, dental insurance has an annual spending cap of $1000-$1500 per year (a few plans go up to $2000). That works out to about one root canal and a crown if you’re lucky. After you exceed your annual spending cap, you’ll be paying out of pocket for dental for the rest of the year – or going without dental care.If you’re facing big dental bills, consider a dental savings plans. There are no spending caps, no waiting periods, and no exclusions for pre-existing conditions. When you join a dental discount plan, you gain access to a nationwide network of thousands of dentists who offer savings of 10%-60% to plan members.