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Save $1,000: Get a dental X-ray

Putting off diagnostic dental care can cost you big time. No insurance? There may be a way around that.

By Donna_Freedman May 22, 2012 6:19PM

Image: Dental insurance (© Creatas/SuperStock)Here's a cautionary tale from my sister the dental hygienist. A patient who didn't have dental insurance decided to skip the bitewing X-ray.


The woman's reasoning was threefold: No decay was visible, her mouth felt fine, and she didn't want to pay the $55 fee.

A little over a year went by and a tooth started to hurt. Uh-oh.

When she returned to the office, an X-ray revealed a cavity too deep to fix. Decay can exist where a dentist can't see it: between teeth or underneath an existing filling. That's why X-rays are recommended every so often.

Now the patient is facing at least $1,000 worth of treatment. Did I mention that she doesn't have health insurance?

Originally she thought she couldn't afford the $55 film. Now she realizes that she can't afford to have skipped it.

Neither can you.

Tooth resources

More than 130 million Americans have no dental insurance. If you're among them, check out these options:    

  • Search for pro bono care. offers listings for regional clinics and dental health events. Dentistry From the Heart is a nonprofit that puts needy patients in touch with dentists willing to donate their time.

Dental care is expensive if you don't have insurance. But X-rays aren't necessary at every visit. Depending on your age and current oral health, you may need bitewing X-rays only every two to three years.


Budget for those films. Prevention is cheaper than repair.

Don't skip cleanings either. Some dental hygiene schools provide low-cost care. The American Dental Hygienists' Association website has a state-by-state list of schools.

More on MSN Money:

May 22, 2012 11:27PM
I have to agree with this. My  mother goes faithfully for her cleanings, but refused the xrays the last couple of years. Several of her teeth recently broke, fillings fell out, and abscesses occurred. She incurred thousands in expenses getting them pulled at the oral surgeons, and having a partial denture made. I questioned how her teeth could suddenly deteriorate, and was concerned about myself, given that I see the same dentist. When she told me she'd been skipping the xrays it all made sense.
May 23, 2012 11:30AM
I have always budgeted for dental care and am not sorry.  Several years ago my dentist recommended braces because my crooked teeth were causing problems. Along the way I was alerted to other problems that were corrected. I was not happy since I'd had braces as a child but didn't follow the correct after-care and my teeth became crooked again.  : (

It's several years later, the orthodontia is complete, my teeth are straight and behaving properly now and I have all of my original teeth. I think it's a good thing to take care of your teeth.

Jun 28, 2012 9:54PM
Thanks Donna!  This is a great article.  I didn't know that there was actually affordable dental care. 
May 24, 2012 9:32AM
Travel to another Country, we have great dentists in Hungary - my husband just had a filing done for $40 total. You could pay for your flight/hotel have a fun visit and get your tooth cared for - doesn't that say something about the high costs in the US! (he had to have the filing because the Stateside dentist that put it in less than a year ago, did a poor job - through our State insurance plan)
May 23, 2012 1:17PM
Hey Donna,..  what is your suggestion to get most of those 130 million onto insurance ???  how about dentists that are on salary who aren't trying to be blood sucking leaches but instead who are content to help the public for a decent paycheck ????
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.