More than half of Americans (nearly 130 million) go without dental coverage. For some it’s just too expensive. Others believe dental insurance doesn’t provide a great return on investment. But that tiny cavity can turn into serious health problems if left unattended. Yours truly has had so many root canals, one endodontist offered me a frequent-filler plan — no kidding. But there are some ways to save on dental care. Here are six money-saving tips:
1. Join a discount plan: There are more than 100,000 dentists across the country participating in discount dental plans — a low-cost alternative to dental insurance. You can find a local dentist by plugging in your zip code at DentalPlans.com, along with a selection of more than 30 plans that activate within three business days, have no annual limits and offer 10% to 60% off most procedures.
2. Pro-bono dentistry: Check out FreeDentalWork.org for listings on free dental clinic events in your area. You can also look for events through nonprofit organization Dentistry From The Heart — with dentists who donate their time and equipment to provide free dental treatment.
3. Watch for daily deals: Best known for discounts on lifestyle goods, sites such as Groupon and Living Social are starting to help people fill their insurance voids. About one of every 11 deals offered online is for a health care service. If you do take this route, be sure to do a little checking online to ensure the dentist is legit by searching for his or her name plus “complaints.”
4. Go to a dental school: Some dental schools provide services for significantly less than a dental practice. To find a school in your area, visit the American Dental Association.
5. Search for price breaks: If a nearby dental school is out of the question, check out the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and click on “Finding Dental Care” for dentists and programs that offer reduced price dental care.
6. Take a vacation: Need a vacation and some dental work done? Organizations such as Companion Global Healthcare specialize in booking dental trips to places such as Costa Rica and India for cheaper dental care outside of the United States.
7. Ask your dentist for a discount: Many medical professionals will give you a break if you pay in cash at the time of service. Research average prices of dental work, and offer to pay cash at the time of services. Offering cash payment up front can often save the office time and money through billing or credit card charges. Insurance companies negotiate their fees with dentist’s offices, so ask the office if it would be willing to charge the amount it typically accepts from insurance companies.
8. Have a frank talk about money. Talk to your dentist before you have extensive work done. Let him or her know the extent of your coverage (or lack of it) or the facts about fixed income or unemployment. Your dentist may have information on programs or funds that can be activated if necessary. Be prepared to look for another dentist if your current one doesn’t want to budge on his fees.
9. Ask about a payment plan. Ask your healthcare office if it can establish a revolving payment plan with no interest, at an amount you can afford. And never, ever miss a payment. Don’t let them — or yourself — down.
10. Schedule to maximize insurance payments. If you have dental coverage, find out when the coverage year begins and ends. If you need to have major work done, ask your dentist if he can start the work during the current coverage year, and finish it in the following year. For instance, if your coverage year ends on Dec. 31, schedule the first part of work to begin during December and finish the work in January. The office can then bill a portion of the services in each year, staying within coverage limits in your dental plan and taking less from your own pocket. Be warned, though: Some dental plans have lifetime limits.
11. Keep your teeth and gums healthy. Brush at least twice a day and more if possible. Floss every time you brush. Schedule replacement times for your toothbrushes; worn out brushes do little to clean between teeth. A friend replaces hers every time she finishes a tube of toothpaste, and after she has gone through a bout of cold or flu.