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How to avoid an expensive bill at the dentist without dental insurance

Posted March 6, 2018 5:42 p.m. EST
Updated July 13, 2018 2:07 p.m. EDT

— Even with insurance, one serious dental issue can put a squeeze on the budget. Plenty of people dread the dentist, but there are ways to avoid a huge dental bill.

Provided you have insurance, it's an easy choice to go to just make sure everything is okay. But when you don't have access to dental benefits, the easy choice is putting it off.

Dr. Jennifer Pichardo said missing routine exams and regular cleanings is what causes small problems to quickly become big ones in both your mouth and your wallet.

"Every day we see this happening here. People don't have insurance, and they tend to neglect the care of the mouth," Pichardo said. “Cavities is number one. If there is a cavity, we are going to treat it when it's still small and the expenses will be less than if you need a root canal."

How to avoid an expensive bill at the dentist without dental insurance

In looking to cover or lower the costs of dental care, you may consider private dental insurance. But it can be costly and often comes with a cap.

"A lot of private insurance only covers so much, and you can still be on the hook for thousands of dollars out of pocket," Consumer Reporters Editor Donna Rosato said.

Another insurance option is a Dental HMO. It covers routine cleanings and offers discounts on other procedures. You could also join a dental savings plan, which costs about $100 a year for an individual or $250 for a family.

"A dental savings plan isn't health insurance but it does connect you to a network of dentists who have agreed to provide discounts on their services," Rosato said.

An option many people don't try, which often works, is to negotiate with your dentist for a lower price. Another option is to contact a dental school, such as the UNC School of Dentistry in Chapel Hill, and inquire about the often-discounted services.

Experts agree your best bet for keeping dental costs down is taking good care of your teeth at home, which includes using a fluoride toothpaste and mouth rinse. It’s also important to avoid sugary food and acidic drinks like soda that can erode enamel on your teeth.