10 Ways to Save at the Dentist

Dreading a trip to the dentist? While it's not the most exciting place to visit, our number one reason for skipping dental care, is actually cost - whether you're insured or not - according to the American Dental Association. For example, average out-of-pocket expenses for a simple filling, according to the Consumer Reports National Research Center, is $141 dollars for those with insurance and double for those without.

Here are ten ways you can lower your dental costs, saving hundred of dollars a year on procedures.

Bartering

Many freelancers and small business owners have scored free dental care by offering a service or product of equal or greater value to their dentist. For example, at the annual O+ Festival in Kingston, New York, artists and medical professionals exchange the art of medicine for the medicine of art.

Patients shouldn't be shy about asking a dentist to barter. In addition to artwork, you may be able to convince your dentist to swap services for big-ticket appliances, remodeling work or website development - all ways to help them with their business.

Research Clinics

Some community health centers offer dental care, charging you only what you can afford. Call your local health department to find one nearby. You may be put on a waiting list but for those in the lower income bracket, you can save an average 41% at these types of facilities.

Negotiate

If you earn more, look up the typical insurance rates in your area using FairHealthConsumer.org or HealthCareBlueBook.com. Then you can ask your provider to beat or accept that amount as a cash payment instead of going through your insurance.

Investigate Dental Discount Plans

For an annual membership of around $50-100, these sites provide you access to a network of dentists who've already agreed to discounted rates. Just watch out for pricey add-ons and extra procedures you may not need.

New Client Discounts

Sometimes the best way to save is to be a new customer, and many dental offices do offer free promotional services for first-timers. For example, I got free teeth whitening when I made my first appointment with my dentist a few years back, saving me a few hundred dollars.

Family Discounts

If your entire family can go to the same dentist, ask for a family discount. It can save you at least 10% off your visits. Just explain to the office manager or dentist that your family members are regular patients. "My practice would absolutely do it," says New York dentist Jonathan Levine. "We love loyal patients and I know the whole profession does also. All you have to do is ask."

Schedule Appointments During Off-Peak Times

The best time to visit your dentist in order to save is usually during off-peak hours, like Friday afternoons. At that point you may be able to convince your dentist to give you a moderate discount of, say, 15% off a cleaning. Or, ask to be put on a "short call list," where in exchange for a discount you agree to come in on short notice.

Straddle Procedures

Keep in mind that your insurance typically caps coverage to a certain amount every year. If you have a multi-visit procedure, it may be best to schedule the appointments over this year and next to spread out the costs.

Request Flex Payments

Work with your dentist to come up with a flexible payment plan, instead of having to pay all in one lump sum. Dr. Levine says in his practice, dentists work with the patients to place treatments over time, establishing a payment plan that makes the most sense.

Prevention

Finally, preventative care is perhaps the biggest long-term money-saver of all. For example, making the simple upgrade to an electronic toothbrush can remove 75% more plaque over a manual. "What's going to save people in the long term? The truth of the matter is how well we remove plaque off of our teeth on a daily basis," says Dr. Levine. "Power brushes are great technology improvement because they do a fantastic job, five times better a job at plaque removal than manual brushes."

He warns however the only 10% of the population flosses regularly, instead of everyday as prescribed. And those of us that rush through brushing should slow down. Dr. Levine advises brushing for at least two minutes, 30 second for each side of the mouth - top and bottom - to do it effectively.

As always, we want to hear from you. What are some ways you're saving at the dentist? Connect with me on Twitter @Farnoosh and use the hashtag #FinFit.

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