Finding Cheap Dental Care Without Insurance

A lack of dental insurance is no excuse not to take care of your teeth. If you haven’t visited the dentist in a while due to a lack of coverage, know that delaying your inevitable reconciliation with the mouth gods will only give you more severe problems to deal with once you finally go back.

Money Crashers offers ways for the uninsured to find cheap dental care. The post suggests calling up dental care offices and asking what their rates are for uninsured patients. You may find that the billing office is willing to correlate charges to your income.

Dentistry is a fiercely competitive industry, so you may find some offices are offering online discounts to troll for new customers. Another option is to hit up a dental school for free or low-cost care from dentists in training.

If you’re single, take good care of your teeth and usually only go to the dentist for routine cleanings twice a year, you may be better off ditching insurance premiums and just paying for the cleanings out of pocket.

How to Get Affordable Dental Care Without Insurance [Money Crashers] (Thanks, Andrew!)

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. MrMagoo is usually sarcastic says:

    If you’re the do-it-yourself type, Home Depot has everything you need – pliers, Dremel tools, and solder.

  2. yurei avalon says:

    Really? My dental premium is like… $4 a month. Not looking forward to going back to the dentist soon after going several years without insurance. They may claim it can be cheap while uninsured, but the $1500 I spent out of pocket to get my wisdom teeth out several years ago disagrees.

    • ChuckECheese says:

      My work premium is $12 a month, and comes with a $100 deductible and a $1000 yearly limit for care, meaning I pay $144 for a max payout of $900. There are also copays for everything except the biyearly checkups – a root canal has a $350 copay. Then the dentist bills his higher insurance rate and charges me the difference, meaning in effect he gets paid double. That’s why he can afford to own and fly his own airplane and send his kids to private school.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        That’s pretty much been my experience over the years. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a hefty employer subsidy, I’ve never seen a dental insurance plan that didn’t have a low maximum annual payout and proportionately high premiums. Some of the plans I’ve seen have made the Best Buy extended warranties look like a very good investment.

        • diagoro says:

          I had a state job, where the regular health insurance paid 100% of most costs (I underwent two surgeries and paid nothing for that and the related overnight stay). Dental was different for some reason, with hefty co-pays.

          For some odd reason, dental insurance has always included heftier co-pays than regular insurance.

          • noramine says:

            Well, even in your regular insurance, a specialist is going to have a higher copay than a general practitioner.

      • Greg Ohio says:

        You should see if the contract between your insurer and your dentist allows them to charge you the difference. Most don’t.

        • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

          If it’s an out-of-network provider, then it’s up to the customer to pay the difference.

          • Greg Ohio says:

            Good point. Only in-network providers are required to accept what they negotiated with the insurer.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      Where in the world did you find such affordable dental insurance?

      When I was working with a broker for health insurance, I got several quotes for dental and they all ran in the $40/month ballpark with very low annual maximums, as well as co-payments, and deductibles. Family coverage would have doubled that amount.

      Everything I’ve read indicated that this is the norm and unless you’re getting a work subsidy, dental insurance is generally a poor investment.

      • Jevia says:

        My work periodically changes its dental plans, but I’ve yet to buy in. It would cost me over $150 a month, plus deductibles and limits on what the insurance covers to insure my family. Instead, we found a local dentist that doesn’t overcharge us and lets us run up a balance as long as we pay $100 per month on our account. Yeah, we may be paying $100 a month for years, maybe even forever, but that’s cheaper than $150/month forever plus deductibles/20% for each treatment.

        The only time we had a big payment was for a root canal (the endodontist required full payment all at once), but considering we’d saved the cost over several years of not buying the insurance, we still end up ahead.

    • bsh0544 says:

      Yeah? Because mine is about $20 a week, for something like $1000 or $3000 lifetime maximum coverage, and only 50% coverage of corrective procedures. It quickly adds up to be cheaper to just pay out of pocket. Of course I just make sure I brush every day and haven’t been to a dentist in years, but that’s another story.

    • who? says:

      For that price, either…

      a) it doesn’t cover anything, or
      b) it’s subsidized by your employer.

      • yurei avalon says:

        Heavily subsidized by our employer I am sure. Looking at the paperwork it seems to be some sort of off branch of our Cigna healthcare and it seems to use the same insurance card. Everything preventative is 100% covered, everything else is generally an 80/20 in network or 60/40 out of network rundown it seems, and I haven’t noticed any yearly maximum like I’m used to with Delta or another company.

  3. runchadrun says:

    A friend of mine would visit her brother in Belgium for a couple of weeks every summer and get all her dental work done there. She was able to pay for her airfare with the money she saved by not having insurance and not paying American prices.

  4. Cat says:

    And then there’s this:
    http://consumerist.com/2010/07/save-money-on-dental-care-go-to-mexico.html

    Although Mexico is probably not a good idea if you would like to return alive. There’s lots of other countries who do dental work for cheap. I had some work done here: http://smilemakeoverdental.net/

    • tbax929 says:

      I live in Tucson, and quite a few of my friends routinely go down to Nogales, Mexico, for dental care. They park at the border and walk across, instead of driving into Mexico, which comes with its own set of potential problems.

      Anyway, I’ve never heard anything but good reviews about going to Mexico for dental care. Additionally, I’ve been told that the dentists all went to school here.

      • Cat says:

        My in-laws live in Vegas and carry no dental and go to Mexico for their dental. They say you should ask others who go to recommend someone.

        I wouldn’t go abroad for dental work unless it were major dental work or if I happened to be going there anyway. For me, it was both.

      • theblackdog says:

        All of this is true, and Nogales is decent. I know of a lot of folks who go there. You just don’t want to go to other border towns like Ciudad Juarez.

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        Hmm. May have to visit the bf there and get my teeth taken care of. Since I lost my job I can’t afford the stupid COBRA coverage.

    • ash says:

      If I had to do expensive dental work out of pocket, there’s no question I’d head to Mexico or another place outside of the USA with a lower cost of dental care. Had LASIK in Peru for less than a quarter of the cost in the USA, with all medications included, and I’m very happy with the results.

  5. agent 47 says:

    Bottle O’ Scotch and some pliers.

  6. sirwired says:

    If you live near a dental school, that can be a great way to go. All the work they do is under supervision of instructors, and the rates are far cheaper than private practice.

    • ChuckECheese says:

      The last 2 dental schools I checked into have very long waiting lists, and/or take only emergency cases. You have to schedule each procedure well in advance and it can take a couple years to have a lot of work done, a minimum of months for even simple care. Prices are usually 1/2 to 2/3 prevailing rates around Phoenix.

    • Bsamm09 says:

      Sometimes you can get paid to be a patient. If they haven’t had enough work done on a certain type of problem you can get paid by the students. I know one (have a lot of dentist friends) who paid $250 to a patient he met at a bar.

    • MaytagRepairman says:

      My mother went that route for an expensive procedure. She went to the dental college at the University of Iowa and seemed pleased with the cost and the results.

    • rainyday says:

      Dental schools might not be a bad place to get care. However, you will need to have alternative sources as well, particularly a dentist you can go to for sudden intense pain and you can not wait weeks for an appointment.

      In addition to a possible waiting list, the length of the procedure at a dental school will be markedly longer. The student is graded on his or her work and will take their time. Then the instructor has to come in and evaluate the work which was done.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        lucky patients. my roommate was telling me that when she has work done the student has to take her down the hall to the evaluator. there’s an instructor overseeing the work in the “schoolroom” but for the student to get the work passed, the patients have to get up and go with all the junk in their mouths to get evaluated. however, she still finds it worth the $800-$1200 saved

    • kpsi355 says:

      The routine stuff can often be handled by dental technician/hygenist schools, which are often run by community colleges. So you may be able to get the minor stuff done there, and then for the major stuff hit up a larger university.

  7. shibotu says:

    I’m a tightwad and I would still stick with a dentist I trust rather than looking for a bargain. A disreputable dentist can do a lot more harm than good and charge a fortune for it.

  8. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDave‚Ñ¢ says:

    Chuck Noland did it with just an old ice skate and stuff he had on hand, and he had health insurance through FedEx. If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.

  9. ChuckECheese says:

    (Los) Algodones Mexico is a good place to get dental work done if you do your homework. Dentists there are good about discussing things in detail and giving tours of their facilities if you show up, even providing cheap diagnostic x-rays and written quotes. I know there are online discussion and review places, but don’t know the specifics. The town is very popular with Canadian and U.S. snowbirds (thousands of visitors a day during the winter).

    Facilities are as modern and as clean as U.S. offices, and the prices are about 1/5 to 1/3 in the U.S. There are also a few plastic surgery places and GP docs. Some but not many of these docs and dentists are contracted with U.S. insurance companies. Algodones is about 11 mi SW of Yuma AZ. You park on the U.S. side and walk into the Mexican town. It’s a rather isolated part of Mexico (Mexico’s northernmost town actually), and doesn’t experience any drug or other crime.

  10. Will says:

    I have to say, sometimes waiting to get those teeth fixed isn’t always a bad thing. When I was 18 and under my parents insurance I went to some dentist my mom had me go to and he said I needed ELEVEN fillings. I got one of them taken care of at a subsequent appointment, and it was not a pleasant experience and I didn’t go back. Well, 6 or 7 years later, I went to a new dentist that a trusted friend recommended, and he said I only needed FOUR fillings, 6-7 years LATER. Not only did I need fewer fillings much later, but he did them so painlessly that he cured my fear of going to the dentist. I’d argue this article actually steers people the wrong way. A quality, trustworthy dentist with modern equipment is far more valuable than the few bucks you might save going to a dental school or one with a coupon in the pennysaver.

    • ChuckECheese says:

      Some of your claims don’t make sense. Most dentists who advertise are new ones, and they nearly always have new equipment and new offices as well as fresh training. Dentists don’t cut corners on the equipment they use to do their work the same way a mechanic doesn’t like to work with crappy tools. Dental schools are okay, but you will receive slow care from nervous trainees.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        “. Dentists don’t cut corners on the equipment they use to do their work the same way a mechanic doesn’t like to work with crappy tools.”

        On that same note, if a mechanic invests $7,500 on a forced fluid exchanger, he’s going to push that service even when a regular pan drop is good enough.

        With dentists, I’ve been to enough of them over the years to recognize that the ones with most brochures and a DVD running in a loop selling cosmetic services, are generally the worst values. A good dentist isn’t afraid to say “let’s wait and see” and a bad dentist will always jump to the most expensive procedure. It’s the same thing with mechanics — throwing parts at a problem is never a good thing.

    • shibotu says:

      I’ve heard a lot of experiences like this.

      I’d trust a dental school where there is supervision more than an individual dentist who’s stressing bargain prices or could be doing unnecessary and faulty work.

    • sirwired says:

      With diligent care, fluoride use, and saliva with plenty of calcium in it, cavities can re-mineralize. This is well-known. So, if you stepped up your dental care after the first couple of fillings, it is entirely possible that years later some of the remaining cavities disappeared.

  11. BlueHighlighterNextToACoozie says:

    Spend 60ish dollars on a real sonic toothbrush (not a 10 dollar spin brush) and cut back to a once a year cleaning. Twice a year is just dentist propaganda.

    • Cat says:

      Unless you have no insurance or issues with periodontal disease, I’d agree.

      For me, cleaning is covered 2x a year no charge, so damn right I’m going 2x.

    • Worstdaysinceyesterday says:

      Members of my family run dentist business and teach dentistry at a local university. They are very conservative with their technology approach and with what procedures are necessary to preserve teeth. They would nevah evah suggest a product just to turn a profit. But the sonic brushes are one thing they do recommend. In some cases, they give them away. So to me, that is enough evidence of their effectiveness.
      I still get a prophylaxis twice a year though, hurts less that way.

    • Cacao says:

      It’s not necessarily that your teeth need cleaning, it’s an opportunity for the dentist to check out what’s going on in your mouth. You don’t think an infection can flare up in 6 months?

  12. u1itn0w2day says:

    It depends on the area you are going to but alot of offices bill simply on what their insurance is paying for it based rates. Some like the cash or check other their robo employee clerks bill as usual.

    And make sure you go to an actual teaching dental school for free. I went to a ‘clinic’ that was touted as a satillite office for their dental school and what a joke. You still payed but you figured a ‘training’ facility would get you a much more motivated dentist. Instead got mostly newbie dentist trying to rack up procedures and time for something else. Scary part is that the head useless dentist said she taught courses at the school but needed help on screw, filling and cap because it was too tricky.

    Got to shop and take your business elsewhere if you don’t what was promised or you needed.

  13. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    my roommate uses a local college with a dental school. she struck gold for exam time – both of the major dental procedures she needs done are on the exam so she gets to spend the whole day there but all the work is being done for free

  14. SlappyWhite says:

    I just went to Costa Rica for my dental work. I replaced 6 old metal fillings, had a cleaning, a bleaching, did Zoom whitening, and then had my front two teeth bonded where they had chipped after a game of football. Every estimate I got was between 3700-4500 to do all this work.

    So I booked a ticket to Central America, where I went to a reputable dentist, and all the work cost me a grand total of….wait for it…..$495. This included them picking me up for appointments and dropping me back off after they were done. It was the best dental experience I’ve ever had.

    Even with the flight, hotel, and other expenses, I saved a ton of money and now have a perfect smile.

  15. rawrali says:

    I was without insurance for a few years, but continued to keep up my regular dental appointments. I got a discount for paying in full, and I managed to beg out of having x-rays for awhile. Unfortunately I did need a root canal (chipped a tooth as a kid which was veeery slowly dying), which ran about $1,400. I figured I might as well pay the money to continue with my dental care, or I would be paying a whole lot more in the future due to poor upkeep.

    Now my dental premiums run $11.50 / mo, and all preventative care is free/included. The plan requires that we see a dentist for preventative care at least once per year, but I figure I might as well get my two cleanings in. I think fillings and other simple work has a $50 deductible and is paid at 80%, and I think root canals and the like are paid at 50%. Our yearly max is $1,200.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      Is you employer paying for part of your premiums? With a premium that low, it seems like the insurer would be losing money on most of their customers.

  16. Overman says:

    I’ve been self pay for years.
    My dentist gives a deduction for same day pay, and pre-pay.
    My maintenance bills come out to just slightly more than insurance.
    And they go heavier on the n2o when you show up with cash.

  17. Such an Interesting Monster says:

    Another alternative are low-cost dental clinics that use a sliding scale. Not always easy to find, but if you’re currently unemployed or under-employed they can be a real boon if you need work done as you could pay as little as 1/4 normal prices.

    If you have a local free or low-cost health clinic there’s a good chance there’s also a dental clinic nearby, or they partner with a local dentist to provide low-cost services for their patients.

    Also, some state-run medical programs like Medicaid (and Family Health Plus here in NY) have some level of dental coverage, tho it’s usually restricted to basic things like x-rays, cleanings, and fillings.

  18. backinpgh says:

    I’ve gotten work done at the local university’s dental school. It was definitely affordable and they had an installment plan. The only downside was the first-come-first-served setup, so I came in at 9 and didn’t leave until 4.

    A coworker had so many cavities they used him for a student final exam or somesuch, and they actually PAID him for the work.

  19. OMG_BECKY says:

    Brush with a Sonicare and you won’t need a dentist.

    • theotherwhitemeet says:

      I’ve been brushing with a Sonicare for years and it still hasn’t fixed my broken tooth.

    • Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:

      Unless you have genetically soft teeth, like I have. Been using a Sonicare for years 2x a day, regular brush 1x/day (at work) and flossing 2x a day. So far in the last year I’ve had to have 4 fillings and an extraction. (Diet didn’t help.)

      So it’s not that simple.

  20. diagoro says:

    Best way to get free dental care…….push your kids to be a dentist, or make friends with a dentist….

  21. GirlWithGloves says:

    I wish this country would overhaul the rules on dental coverage, as much as we’re going nuts attempting to create national healthcare. Dental care should fully be part of that coverage. The teeth are so very much a part of your overall health (google teeth and heart disease, for one). I have a medical condition that has been found to have its patients be 8 times more likely to develop gingivitis and/or periodontal disease (it attacks joints and any soft tissues as main symptoms). My medical condition issues are covered by medical, yet the dental issues I have developed partly as a result of having such a medical condition are not covered. :-/ On top of that, by having a heart condition where I must avoid developing infections, I must take extra fantastic care of my teeth. But even then, that’s no guarantee that problems won’t develop (which, of course, they did). They really need to link dental and medical coverage in this country for everyone; though some states Medicaid programs do offer both. Dental infections can cause all sorts of problems with your health, even lead to death if you don’t seek help quickly enough for an infection.

  22. tml4gre says:

    While dental care outside of the US (ie Mexico) can be significantly cheaper, you’re putting yourself in a sketchy situation. The odds of the clinical dentistry itself (not how it looks, how well it is done) being up to par are low. I’m not saying all foreign dentists are that way, but to be frankly honest unless you are a dentist yourself, you’re not going to know how well it was done. Sure it might look great and the bill was cheap, but you don’t know if the materials used were subpar or if the technique wasn’t up to snuff. You could have fillings/crowns/etc in your mouth that look good to you but are actually in the long run going to fail. Just something to keep in mind…

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      If it’s a choice between having teeth pulled or left alone to rot and fall out and driving to Mexico to have restorative work done, I think most people would drive to Mexico.

      • ReverendTed says:

        …and then come back home to have the teeth rot out.

        I’ve seen some really well-performed dental work come out of Mexican dental offices, don’t get me wrong.
        I’ve also seen some really terrible, terrible dental work come out of Mexican dental offices. Not infrequently I’ve seen it lead to loss of the involved teeth.

  23. ReverendTed says:

    The most effective way to reduce the cost of dental work is to prevent the need.
    While some dental issues may not be easily preventable (accidents, etc), the vast majority of dental problems (like gum disease and cavities) can be prevented inexpensively if you’re willing to put in the effort. It comes down to diet and hygiene.

    Hygiene:
    1) Brush twice a day. Don’t brush hard; Just make sure you’re not missing any areas. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and push just enough to bend the bristles. Brush in small circles and feel it tickle the gums.
    2) Floss once a day. Yes, there’s a reason we harp on this. It’s the most effective way to clean between the teeth. Drop the floss between two teeth, curve it forward around the tooth in back and sweep up and down, then curve it back around the tooth in back and sweep up and down. Repeat for all the teeth. (And floss behind the back teeth, too!)

    If your gums bleed when you brush and floss, it’s because they’re not healthy. If you’re flossing diligently for two weeks and they still bleed, then there’s probably something in there keeping them unhealthy and a professional dental cleaning should be your next step.

    Diet:
    1) Minimize the frequency of sugar intake. Every time you put sugar in the mouth, even a little bit, the bacteria on the teeth use that sugar to make acid, which dissolves the enamel and causes cavities. This acid attack lasts about 20 minutes for each “application” of sugar. Limit sugar intake to mealtimes and minimize between-meal snacks and sugary beverages. Any kind of sugar counts: natural fruit juices, breads and starches, HFCS in sodas… The “Corn Sugar” ads are telling the truth – your body can’t tell the difference. It’s ALL bad for you, especially your teeth.
    2) Drink plenty of water. S’good in general.

    Regular dental checkups:
    - Most big, expensive dental problems were once small, less expensive dental problems, and many could have been intercepted before they needed treatment at all. Having regular dental checkups helps keep things on the “small, cheaper” end of the scale.

  24. CreditSense-CreditRecovery says:

    This is great information. I have a friend who just went in to have a couple “unneeded” molars pulled and ended up having to go under the knife with the oral surgeon because she had waited too long to get care. Even Home Depot wasn’t going to help her.

  25. catgirl4276 says:

    I was lucky enough to get a Sonicare as a high-school graduation gift, which prevented all but annual exams and cleanings while I was uninsured -which cost me $20 at my university’s dental school, then $30 after I graduated.

    A friend of mine also lucked out with travel -he was teaching English in Taiwan and wound up paying $2 a month for insurance. His wisdom teeth, which he had out while he was over there, cost less than five dollars. Mine cost $200 and change, and that was after I found a job with benefits including halfway-decent dental. It seems like tourism, either to the nearest good college town or a country with socialized medicine, is the way to go.