What are the 9 best ways to keep dental costs down?
One of the main reasons for people avoiding dental care (aside from their fears, anxiety and lack of time) is the expense. Dentistry can be expensive for many people, but there are ways to minimize these costs and still get the treatment you need and want. The following are 10 ways you can keep your dental costs down:
- Catch it early! – A small pinpoint cavity that can be cleaned out without any anesthesia and filled very conservatively and inexpensively will save a lot of money in the long run. When left untreated, that tiny cavity can become a large cavity that requires a more expensive restoration such as a multiple surface filling, an inlay/onlay (restorations usually made by a dental lab that fill in missing areas of tooth structure when an area is too large for a filling) or a crown. For example, a tiny filling would have cost only $150, could grow to need a crown and build up of the decayed area that can cost over $2,000. Additionally, if ignored further, that area of decay can extend into the nerve creating the need for root canal therapy (Which can run another $1,000–$2,000). If the decay extends beneath the gums, closer to the level of bone, a crown lengthening may be necessary to lower the gums and bone to allow the crown to grab onto some good tooth structure. This procedure is a minor surgical procedure performed by a periodontist, and can cost around $1500 in some areas. Sometimes the decay can extend far beneath the gums and bone, resulting in the need for and extraction and subsequent dental bridge or dental implant (which can cost anywhere from $3000-6,000).
- Have regular cleanings – Routine cleanings can save you many thousands in Periodontal (gum) work, dental implants and dental bridges later on. During a regular dental checkup your dentist or hygienist will examine your gums for any inflammation and measure the “pockets” between the gums and teeth. Normal, healthy gums will have pockets of 3 millimeters or less, but as plaque starts to accumulate, the gums get more inflamed and start to pull away from the teeth causing deeper pockets to form. As deeper pockets form, more plaque accumulates (which hardens into tartar over a short period of time) and the gums recede more in response to the tartar. The downward spiral continues, and eventually the bone surrounding the teeth starts to recede along with the gums. As this process continues teeth become increasingly more mobile, and eventually they can be lost. The cost of gum surgeries, dental implants, bridges, etc., can really add up. Your regular dental visits and cleanings are your best insurance policy.
- Inexpensive Smile Makeovers – So you’ve always wanted that perfect, white smile, or at least an improved version of your own, but can’t afford to spend $10,000 on up (usually way up) for Porcelain Veneers. There are other options, including Enamel Reshaping, Bonding and Teeth Whitening.Enamel reshaping is the reshaping and contouring of the enamel of the teeth to remove sharp edges and uneven characteristics of the teeth, and to give the illusion that the teeth are straighter than they really are. This reshaping of the tooth’s enamel lends to an improvement of the overall appearance of a smile, correcting the flaws that catch one’s eye, such as a tooth that is longer than the others, or an obvious overlapping or rotation of the teeth due to crowding. Enamel reshaping is a conservative process, often combined with some bonding, does not require any anesthesia, and is relatively quick and painless. Bonding uses composite resin to restore chipped or broken teeth, fill in gaps, fix cavities and reshape or recolor your smile. The same material used for bonding is used for making tooth colored fillings, which appear more natural. Your dentist applies the resin and sculpts, colors and shapes it to provide a pleasing result. A special light, operating at a specific wavelength, hardens the material, which is then adjusted and polished. Bonding differs from veneers in that bonding can be done within a single visit, while veneers require a dental lab to manufacture the restoration. Additionally, bonded restorations are much less expensive then veneering, since there are no lab costs involved. Bonded restorations are usually very conservative when it comes to reducing tooth structure, and can also be used to protect over exposed root surfaces in order to reduce tooth sensitivity. Teeth Whitening is a way to reverse the signs of age in teeth, and remove the years of cumulative stain from coffee, wine, soda, teriyaki sauce, tomato sauce, etc. These unsightly stains can be removed quickly, safely, and with minimal discomfort utilizing In-Office whitening systems, custom home trays, and over the counter products. When enamel reshaping, bonding and whitening are combined, they can create a very effective smile makeover without having to spend a fortune.
- Be a Teaching Case – Certain Cosmetic Dentists may be interested in performing your smile makeover in front of other doctors and dental students as a teaching case or so that they may document the procedure for an article they wish to publish. Many times the dentist will only charge you the lab costs, which can save you many thousands. Sometimes the dentist may offer to assume all costs for this, especially when the dental lab they use also wishes to use your photos for marketing their service.
- When a tooth is lost, maintain that space – Many people prioritize their dental health by taking care of the teeth they can see when they smile and put off care for the teeth they do not see. A number of patients will choose to spend their money whitening their front teeth, instead of putting those funds towards restoring a compromised back tooth. When that back tooth fails, and needs to be removed, the space often gets left there without a bridge or an implant to help fill in the space. Empty spaces in the back are a big deal! When you have an empty space, the adjacent teeth can drift and tilt, causing spacing, gum pockets, and loss of bone. Opposing teeth will tend to slowly erupt out of its socket in attempt to meet up with another tooth. Additionally, if multiple teeth are lost in the back of the mouth, it causes an additional stress on the other teeth, resulting in the enamel to wear faster. In the case of heavy grinders, missing teeth in the back can cause front teeth to wear, chip and break, causing their bite to collapse, and contribute to an unattractive smile. It is recommended to invest in that implant or that bridge to maintain the space, even if you need to finance the costs. The space can also be maintained temporarily with a removable appliance if the cost of an implant or bridge is too prohibitive. Either way, maintaining that space will save you many thousands later on.
- Choose the right dentist the first time – Many people choose a dentist just because their location is convenient, or because they are the least expensive. This is not the way to go about selecting a dentist. These factors may play a role in your final decision; however, if you choose right the first time you will save money and time in the long run. Conversely, a dentist who charges a large fee does not necessarily provide greater dental care. Also, you should avoid choosing a dentist based on flashy advertisements, paid for media placements, or misleading claims that promise certain results within a certain time frame. Instead, you should ask for a referral from someone you know and trust. Once you have a name, you should Google them, check their background, affiliations, dental society standings, etc. Take the time to review their before and after photos, patient testimonials and learn about their practice (is it clean, up to date, and practicing proper infection control techniques).The dentist you choose should be committed to a high standard of ethics, and you should feel that your health and care means more to them than your wallet.
- Prevention is Key – Dental Sealants, Fluorides and X-rays are some of the preventative measures that will save a lot of money for you and your family down the road. Dental Sealants have become one of the biggest breakthroughs in terms of dental prevention. They are used to protect teeth from decay and are appropriate as soon as a posterior tooth erupts. The chewing surfaces of these back teeth have many pits and grooves that can trap food debris and cause cavities. Fluoride helps to prevent against tooth decay by strengthening the tooth’s enamel and making it more resistant to acids and harmful bacteria. With fluoride, your teeth become more resistant to developing tooth decay, which can lead to fairly expensive restorations when left untreated. X-rays provide valuable information that your dentist could not detect otherwise. With the help of X-rays, your dentist can look at what is happening in areas that are not visible clinically. Dental X-rays can detect cavities between the teeth, and can depict approximately how deep a cavity extends relative to the nerve. They can also help diagnose Periodontal Disease, abscesses, cysts, tumors, developmental abnormalities and infections in the bone. Avoiding X-rays because of their cost would be a mistake, since the little problems that they can detect will become bigger ones when left undetected.
- Wear a Night guard – Whether you have all natural teeth, or have just spent a small fortune restoring or cosmetically enhancing your smile, a night guard may be the best way to look after your investment. A night guard can prevent the porcelain from your crowns and veneers from breaking, and prevent their wear if you grind your teeth. A night guard is a device most often recommended as the first line of treatment for teeth grinding and TMJ pain. It is usually worn while you sleep to prevent damaging your teeth by the clenching or grinding associated with either the psychological aspects of stress, one’s abnormal bite, a sleep disorder, or a combination of the above. Grinding can wear away the surfaces of your teeth causing them to become painful or loose. Once the enamel is lost, it could become quire costly and frustrating to have to undergo root canal therapy and the fabrication of crowns. You won’t want to look back years from now regretting how you wound up spending thousands of dollars and time on dental work that could have been prevented with a few hundred dollar night guard. Remember, we only get one set of adult teeth, so please protect your smile.
- Financing your dentistry – There are many types of payment plan options available to enable you to undergo the dental care that you have been putting off. Most of these plans have rates that are lower than what you would pay with your credit card, and many have interest free financing available for up to 2 years. For example, let’s say you are interested in getting Invisalign to straighten your teeth, but can’t afford the $4,800 it would cost, you could get financing through Chase that would allow you to pay $200 per month interest free for 2 years. Ask your dentist if they participate in any of these payment plan options.