How to Save Money on Your Dental Costs

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The cost of dental care may surprise you. If you are young and are fortunate enough to have good dental health, you may not be fully aware yet of what can happen to you and the dental costs it brings. When you have taken the time to care for your teeth, you may not have to bear the surprise or shock of the cost of professional dental care. Though many dental procedures are expensive, basic dental cleaning may be surprisingly simple and it can actually save you from some of the high rates that dentists charge.

Dental costs can be steep, even out of range of your finances. Learn the different ways you can reduce your dental costs while taking care of your teeth.

Irrational fear causes most people to shy from professional dental care. More than 70% of the U.S. population skips the dentist in any given year in most states. People know they should go; they just avoid it. So the question is: “How do you save on your dental costs?” Not going to the dentist is not a very good answer. The best answer is simple: use some sort of a dental discount plan or insurance. That can save you hundreds of dollars on teeth cleaning and all other dental procedures, too.

How Much Does Dental Cleaning Really Cost?

Professional dental cleanings cost from $75-$200 per treatment and it is recommended you do that at least twice a year. The variation in pricing depends mostly on your location and the individual dentist. Getting these services through dental insurance and other ways can reduce the cost of dental care and can often take your out-of-pocket costs to $0.

New patients may also be charged an extra $50-$200 for initial consultations. You may also need X-rays ($25-$250). Expect an extra fee of $75-$150 for a full-mouth cleaning with excessive plaque and tartar buildup.

Your basic standard cleanings (also called prophylaxis or dental scaling) are often included with any regular appointments you have with your dentist. This all might seem expensive, especially done twice a year; however, neglecting your dental health will always cost more.

The Cost of Avoiding the Dentist

While at first thought it may seem safe to skip the dentist and save some money, it’s not a good idea. It’s similar to saying that you should drive without car insurance or go along without health insurance. You know that when anyone tries that, it will come right back to haunt them and wind up costing lots more and even your well-being in addition to cash. Yes, dental cleaning prices may be high but you don’t know the half of it. Many other dental procedures cost much more. Luckily, you can prevent many of them by taking proper care of your teeth and regular dental cleaning visits help you do that.

No one has more control over your dental health than you (brushing and flossing often and the right way goes a long way here). But a trustworthy dentist is your greatest ally in the battle to make your teeth last as long as possible. And that means you save money. Dental problems don’t go away by themselves, instead they get worse. Aside from the cleaning itself, regular dental appointments provide a professional examination that can lead to detection of many issues or potential issues.

These visits cost you money, but prevention is less expensive than repair.

Tooth extractions cost $50-$900 per tooth. Root canals cost $300-$2,000 per tooth. Dental crowns cost $500-$3,000 per tooth. Dental implants cost $1,000-$3,000 per tooth. And dentures cost $300-$5,000 per plate. Whoa and wow!

Medical and Dental Costs in America Are Climbing

Medicare and Medicaid are the main ways the government attempts to help people out with these ever-rising costs. As dental health is a vital component of overall wellness, the question is worth asking “Does Medicare cover my basic dental work?” Nope, it doesn’t.

Medicare only covers dental expenses related to an emergency. It doesn’t cover most dental care like cleanings, fillings, tooth extractions, dentures, dental plates, or other dental devices.

How You Can Save Money on Your Dental Costs

If you qualify for Medicare, however, you might be able to find a Medicare Advantage plan from a private insurance company that includes dental coverage. In most cases there are premiums involved, but in some there aren’t. Coverage may be limited, too.

You will find there’s a lot more flexibility with Medicaid. That is a program co-funded by the federal government and the states so the coverage and eligibility vary from state to state. Many state Medicaid programs cover cleanings and other preventative care such as examinations and sometimes fluoride applications or sealants.

There are also extended resources for children through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) benefit.

You’ll have to do your own research to see what coverages you can qualify for, and keep in mind that Medicaid often expands and contracts based on the economy of your state. Make sure any resource info you use is up to date. The best way to learn what your state offers is to call the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) at 1-800-MEDICARE.

What About Dental Insurance?

The focus of dental insurance is preventive care. Most dental insurance plans include: two exams, two cleanings, and a set of x-rays per year. If you are paying dental insurance premiums, basic cleaning should be free. One big benefit of dental insurance is that you feel obligated to go to the dentist in order to make your premiums worth it. Reputable companies include big names like Humana, Delta Dental, and United HealthCare just to name a few. While it makes sense seeing the dentist at least once a year, don’t get dental insurance for just a single appointment. There are other ways to save on a single visit.

Most dental insurance plans have annual maximum benefits. Preventative care should not reach $1,000 so dental insurance plans aren’t necessarily a great value for everyone.

Discount Dental Membership Plans

Discount dental plans can help you save money on teeth cleaning and other dental procedures. Instead of monthly insurance premiums, you pay a yearly fee and receive a reduced rate on dental care. There are no coverage limits so you don’t have to worry about balancing your usage between preventative and restorative care. The discounts can be as high as 60% depending on the plan. They also have a large number of options so you can easily find the best membership for you with different discount rates, coverages, and fees. Check out for discount plans for you and your family. Just be sure that your dentist accepts the particular discount plan before you enroll.

Free Care at a Dental School?

Yup, you can actually get a great dental cleaning at a dental school. You can offer yourself up as a test dummy for those studying to become a dentist. With other procedures this might seem more risky, but all the work done is supervised by a licensed and insured professional dentist. So if you live near a dental school, check this out!

FYI, in most in-office dental cleanings, the dental hygienist—not the actual dentist—does most or all of the work on your teeth…

If you’re really risk averse, you can find a faculty or postgraduate clinic at a dental school, but keep in mind that free isn’t usually the situation although you will find big discounts and perhaps feel more reassurance there.

More Free Dental Cleanings?

Because it is a relatively fast and easy service for dental professionals to complete, it is possible to find free professional tooth cleaning.

Lots of charitable organizations get involved with dental care. Your local United Way often has information about free clinics in your area. Other charities such as Dental Lifeline Network and America’s Toothfairy can also provide information or help directly in your community.

Lastly, you may also find other help locally if you contact your state and/or local health departments or perform a search of You never know what you may find. You could find more serious procedures that you need at discounted prices or even free.

Are There More Ways to Reduce Costs?

There are some other clever ways to lower your dental costs beyond implementing the strategies I cited already. Most of these tactics rely on you. The ability to do the research and the willingness to negotiate can save you a lot of money. When it comes to dental services, it’s often about knowing the right information and leveraging it the right way. Here’s how:

First, scour your surrounding area. Most people are surprised by just how much their location can affect dental pricing. Dentists in prime markets with great locations can charge two or three times more for their services. If you are willing to drive a little out of your way to a dentist in blue-collar neighborhoods, rural areas, or less-than-prime office locations, you can actually save big.

Look for a diamond in the rough. Once you’ve got a feel for where the least expensive dentists are in your area, shoot for a practice that is newer or perhaps struggling. The harder a dentist is to find, the more likely they will offer reduced rates trying to bring in more business.

Try negotiation. When you have a good understanding of what you should be paying and what other dentists in the area charge, you can leverage that to push prices down. Showing your knowledge and asking the right questions can go a long way. After all, dentists make good margins on their services, especially the simple ones.

Just say no. If all you want is a cleaning, say so. Don’t let your dentist add an examination or X-rays if you know you don’t need any. Don’t accept that these extras are “complimentary”. If they try to tell you that it’s all a package deal, just stand your ground. Like I said, they make great margins and don’t have to milk you dry.

Offer to pay in cash or by check. Don’t be surprised if you see your dentist’s eyes light up if you begin or end the negotiation with “I will pay with cash or write a check for a discount”. Dentist pay charges to insurance companies and credit card companies. Save them some money (and the added hassle and wait) and it becomes much easier to get your way.

Get professional cleaning while traveling? “Dental tourism” is becoming a more and more popular option. I’m not saying to travel out of the country just to save on a cleaning, but you might consider having it done while you are on a vacation (or make a special trip if it’s a major procedure). According to Dental Departures, you can find teeth cleaning for as low as $17 from a real dentist in Thailand or even $29 in Mexico!

Mix and match these strategies with insurance, membership plans, or your dental school of choice for best results. Hopefully, you’re able to find something that can help reduce the costs of professional dental care and teeth cleaning.

Final Thoughts

Finances are a terrible excuse to avoid proper dental care. In the end, you’ll wind up paying much more anyway. That includes money, but could also include your teeth. In the end, you are the only one in control of how long your teeth last.

Do you regularly visit the dentist? Are you finding the costs of dental care a challenge? In what ways are you trying to keep your dental costs under control?