11 Ways to Save on Dental Care
What to know about discounts, Medicare and more if you’re struggling to pay for dental work
For older Americans, the cost of visiting the dentist can be a shock. After years of having dental coverage through employer-sponsored insurance plans, people age 65 and older are often surprised to learn upon retirement that Medicare does not pay for most dental work.
Surveys show that more than half of older adults skip going to the dentist, in many cases because of the cost.
1. Pick the right Medicare Advantage plan
Though original Medicare and Medigap plans do not pay for most dental work, many Medicare Advantage plans offer some type of dental coverage. Benefits vary, but many plans pay for preventive care such as oral exams, cleanings and X-rays, and some cover a portion of the cost of expensive procedures such as crowns, bridges and root canals
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2. Share your financial constraints
If your dentist recommends a particularly expensive treatment, have a conversation with him or her about the financial challenges you face. “It is always a good idea to talk to your dentist about anything that might be a barrier,” says American Dental Association spokeswoman Ruchi Sahota, a dentist in Fremont, California. “If we know what the barriers are, then we can potentially find solutions together.”
Your dentist may suggest a less expensive treatment or a way to delay a procedure until you can pay for it. Most dentists are willing to set up payment plans. Some dentists will reduce your bill by 10 to 15 percent if you offer to pay by check upfront, says Michael Reed, a clinical dentist in Dallas and director of Mobile Dental Care.
3. Visit a dental school clinic
Dental students, supervised by a licensed dentist, get hands-on experience, and it’s significantly less expensive, says Sharona Hoffman, codirector of the Law-Medicine Center at Case Western Reserve University and author of Aging With a Plan: How a Little Thought Today Can Vastly Improve Your Tomorrow.
“It is a student doing the work, but they are supervised,” Hoffman says. “It’s pretty good care.”
The downside is that it can be time-consuming, Hoffman says.
Search for a program in your area on the American Dental Association website.
4. See a dental hygienist
At least 42 states allow dental hygienists to treat patients without the specific authorization or presence of a dentist. In many states, you can have a hygienist do your cleaning, exam, X-rays, sealant or fluoride treatment, and the cost savings can be significant. 5. Use free or low-cost dental providers Some nonprofits and government-funded health clinics provide free or reduced-cost dental services (often based on income). Their services are in high demand, so expect a wait. Many dentists offer one or two days a month of free or low-cost care. Your local health department or United Way can connect you to programs in your area.
5. Use free or low-cost dental providers
Some nonprofits and government-funded health clinics provide free or reduced-cost dental services (often based on income). Their services are in high demand, so expect a wait. Many dentists offer one or two days a month of free or low-cost care. Your local health department or United Way can connect you to programs in your area.
6. Check veteran’s benefits
If you are a veteran with a service-connected dental disability, you may be able to get dental care from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Check your eligibility and apply for the benefit at www.benefits.gov/benefit/300.
7. Investigate stand-alone dental plans
If your Medicare or private health plan doesn’t have dental benefits, you can shop for a stand-alone dental plan. Compare prices and coverage on eHealthInsurance.com, an insurance marketplace. In 2022, premiums for an individual dental plan ranged from $25 to $50 a month, with $50 to $100 deductibles and annual maximum benefits of $1,000 to $1,500.
8. Sign up for a dental savings plan
These non-insurance dental plans negotiate discounts ranging from 10 to 60 percent on dental costs. You pay a small monthly fee to join, and you get the discounts as long as you use a dentist that accepts the plan. Search for plans in your area at DentalPlans.com.
9. Join a dentist’s membership plan
A growing number of dental offices offer their own in-office plans for patients that do not otherwise have dental benefits, Sahota says. Here’s how the plans typically work: You agree to make a regular monthly payment to be part of the plan. In return, you receive preventive care at no charge and other procedures at a significant discount. “This type of dental program has recently been gaining popularity and has been successful for patients who are looking for alternative affordable dental plans,” Sahota says.
10. Shop around
Prices for dental services can vary by hundreds of dollars, even in the same community. Look up average prices in your area at FAIR Health, a national nonprofit dedicated to bringing transparency to health costs, then call a few dentists for quotes. If you live in a community with a high cost of living, driving to a less expensive area can boost your savings.
11. Practice prevention
Taking care of your teeth daily — and yes, seeing a dentist on a regular basis — is the most cost-effective way to reduce your dental care costs. “Prevention is priceless,” Sahota says. “Brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, cleaning in between your teeth, maintaining a healthy diet and visiting your dentist can help keep your body healthy and keep dental costs down.”
Editor’s Note: This story, originally published Oct. 1, 2021, has been updated to include new information.
Michelle Crouch is a contributing writer who has covered health and personal finance for some of the nation’s top consumer publications. Her work has appeared in Reader’s Digest, Real Simple, Prevention, The Washington Post and The New York Times.