According to the American Dental Association the average 2010 annual spending on dental treatment was $653 per person. That is over $2,600 a year for a family of four.
I am not a dentist, but I have spent many uncomfortable hours in a dental chair. In the genetic lottery— I lost big time in the dental category and passed those bad genes on to my kids. This might explain why our orthodontist’s eyes lit up when we walked in for our consultations. On the bright side, we all have million dollar smiles now.
After spending thousands to create our million dollar smiles (what a bargain!) and learning some lessons the hard way, here are some of my suggestions to help others save on dental costs.
Understand your dental plan
If you have dental coverage, either through employee benefits or a private plan, it pays to understand what your plan covers.
- Does your plan have an annual or lifetime maximum?
- Can you coordinate your dental coverage with your spouse’s plan?
- Is there a deductible?
- Are there fees/services that are not insured?
- How are dental charges reimbursed?
Ask your dentist if they charge based on fee guide and if it aligns with your dental coverage. Also ask your dentist to let you know if a treatment falls outside your plan coverage, so you are aware, and can consent and budget for it.
Ask for a written quote
When considering costly treatments ask for a written quote that you can submit to your benefit plan. Your insurance provider should give you an expense estimate so you can understand how much will be covered and how much you will need to pay out of your own pocket.
Ask about less expensive alternatives
When I was a poor, starving student, without dental coverage, my wisdom teeth protested. They didn’t like their living arrangements. The dentist said they needed to be pulled, but because they were severely impacted, he insisted I see a dental surgeon. The surgeon worked with an anesthesiologist and wanted over $1,600 to pull the suckers. I asked around until I found a dentist that would pull them in his office without the use of general anesthetic. Two Percocet’s, some Diazepam, a blast of laughing gas, 15 minutes of the dentist’s time, $325 and it was done. I would do it again and not just for the pharmaceuticals.
This applies to many dental procedures. Does a crown need to be porcelain or will cast metal work out just as well? Do the braces need to be invisible? Do you need to see a specialist or can the work be performed by your dentist or a hygienist? Are those x-rays really necessary?
Ask about cash discounts
Our orthodontist adjusted his fees and we received a discount for paying upfront. All I had to do was ask. If you or your children have lovely, straight, pearly whites – rejoice. If not, cancel your trip to Disney and set that money aside for the orthodontist. Braces are a huge investment. They were worth every penny in my opinion.
Flossing (in addition to regular brushing) can help prevent gum disease and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. My dental hygienist likes to nag me about remind me about the benefits of flossing every time I see her.
Wishing you a lifetime of great oral health!