How to Save Money on Dental Care

How to Save Money on Dental Care

I just want to get something out of the way before we begin – there are very few ways to save money when you need to see the dentist.

Some of the ideas you get from friends and the internet (“talk to the dentist about a discount!”, “pay upfront”, “shop around for the lowest fees”) may sound great in theory, but is not likely going to save you a lot of money in the long run.

Asking your dentist for a discount on your treatment seems reasonable, right? After all, if you don’t ask, you’ll never know. And it is certainly within your rights to ask for a discount whenever you have to pay for anything. But this is not a reliable way to save money at the dentist. I believe most dentists have given certain patients a break on their fees at some point in their careers but these are usually from extenuating circumstances; not just because a patient does not feel like paying the fee and is taking a stab in the dark by asking for a discount. There is a good chance your dentist will say no.

Paying for treatment upfront may save you money if your treatment costs are high. However, we are talking thousands of dollars high, not the cost of a cleaning and a few fillings. If you are at this point, a lot of that treatment fee is going to pay for materials and lab work so your dentist may not have a lot of room to negotiate with you. Also, you need to consider the time the dentist and the staff will be devoting to a large treatment case like this. You’re paying for their expertise in this area, which may be an area not all general dentists are experienced enough to treat.

On the topic of expertise, there are varying levels of this among dentists. In Alberta, the level of expertise of your dentist may be reflected in the treatment fees. Or it may not. It can depend on any number of reasons and it is up to patients to decide what fees are reasonable. I would caution against looking for the lowest possible fees and using that as your guideline for finding a dentist. Any self-respecting professional is going to value their time and work and set their fees accordingly. Do not take this as me saying the dentist with the lowest fee does bad dentistry! All I’m saying is just be careful.

So what can you do? Below are some ideas that may not be mind-blowing but will reliably save you money on dental care.

Your First Steps

The most effective way to save money on dental visits is for you to take care of your teeth. EVERYDAY.

Brush at least twice a day and floss (yes, I recommend this despite what certain reports suggest). If you do not believe flossing is beneficial, just inspect the floss after you use it – does it smell or look good? Probably not. So why leave that plaque on your teeth and in your mouth? It’s probably a good time to brush up on proper brushing and flossing technique as well.

There are many teeth-friendly foods you should try as well as avoiding sugar.

These good habits will help prevent cavities and tartar build up, which in turn will mean you spend less time in your dentist’s chair. (hint: Did you know your cleanings are billed based on the amount of time your hygienist needs to complete the task? And fillings are billed based on the size of the cavity?)

Go for Regular Check-Up’s and Cleanings

Have your teeth professionally cleaned every six months to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. The check up will detect existing problems before they become big problems that cost more to fix.

Just remember that it is less expensive to fill a cavity than it is to have a root canal, a crown or a dental implant. It is important to remember also that your insurance plan will likely cover a filling, but more extensive procedures like crowns and implants are not always fully covered. So not only will you pay more, you will pay more out of your own pocket!

You might be wondering why your insurance company pays less for certain procedures. And no, it is not because your insurance company is evil. But there are reasons why they cover basic procedures more than premium procedures. One of these reasons is that basic procedures are usually preventive treatments like check up’s, radiographs, cleanings, polishes, and fluoride application.

Insurance companies have been in this game forever and know a basic truth: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. They, like you, will save money if you never get to the point of needing extensive dental treatment.

Maximize Your Dental Insurance Usage

If your idea of saving money is not getting dental insurance and not going to the dentist, you are playing a game only a few can win. There are certain patients who literally have no dental issues at all and can get away with seeing the dentist once every few years. I do not have a statistic for this but I would venture it is a small percentage of the population. The rest of us muggles need a little more help from our dentists so be sure to look into getting dental insurance for you and your family.

Some people do not realize they are wasting money by not going to the dentist at least once per year. Under most insurance plans, check up’s and cleanings are almost fully covered.

So as an example, if your dental visit cost $400 and your insurance covers 90% of that cost. If you did not use that coverage, your insurance did not have to pay out the $360 you are entitled to use. Basically, you are spending money on dental insurance whether you go or not. And I bet you your insurance company did not send you a refund on your premiums just because you did not use your coverage.

The above example was just for one check up and cleaning. That is just one dental visit. Say you also needed two fillings because you had two cavities and need a night guard because you grind your teeth at night.

On average, those two fillings may cost $350 and the night guard may cost upwards of $500. You can see how not utilizing your insurance coverage is just leaving money on the table and putting you at risk for more dental problems down the road.

This brings me to my next point:

Know Your Policy

As the policyholder, you need know what your policy does and does not cover before going for your dental visit. You would never go shopping without knowing you had the funds to walk out of the store with your purchases. It is no different with dental care. In fact, it is especially important because you do not want to go ahead with hundreds of dollars worth of treatment only to find out you had no insurance coverage for that treatment.

Some dental offices can help you check with your insurance company to make sure the treatment done will be covered, but because of patient privacy and confidentiality issues, increasingly, insurance companies only want to deal with the policyholders. Bottom line is, it is your policy and your money. Do not let dental offices and insurance companies be in charge of it.

Health Spending Accounts

Ask your employer about adding a health spending account to the benefits package. These are usually used to complement your group benefit plan and allows you to choose where your insurance money is spent.

Seniors Coverage

Seniors in Alberta are eligible for dental coverage if your income level is within a certain limit. Visit this site for more information and the application forms.

You may also get dental coverage for seniors through Alberta Blue Cross.

Go to Dental Schools

If you live near a university with a dental school, chances are the students need to treat patients in order to practice their skills. You can help them gain experience by allowing them to do treatment on you at a significantly lower fee. It really is not as scary as it sounds because dental students are under strict scrutiny by the supervising clinical instructors. Dental schools also accept dental coverage as well so your out of pocket costs are lower and your insurance dollar will go a lot further.

If you know of any other ways to significant savings, I would like to hear them!

Phuong Luu, DDS