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Save money on dental care

Dentists' hardships could save you cash -- or cost you more

By Teresa Mears Sep 9, 2009 7:37PM

Add another profession to the list of those feeling the effects of the recession: dentists.


Their pain could be your gain, in discounted fees – or it could cost you more.


As patients put off routine check-ups and hold off on fillings and other procedures, some dentists are finding that they need to drum up business, SmartMoney reports. For some, that means marketing, sending more reminders to patients, sending out coffee mugs or even offering reward points. (Would these be Frequent Flosser miles?)


Other, less scrupulous, dentists are making ends meet by recommending procedures that patients don’t really need, something that was going on long before the economy soured. The Better Business Bureau says dentists are among the top 50 professions consumers complain about, topping even lawyers, the magazine noted.


Good dental health is important, and putting off needed care can sometimes cost you more in the long run, The New York Times noted in a story about saving money on dental care. But it still pays to ask questions.


Here are some ways to save money and still keep your teeth in good shape:


  • Ask your dentist if she will agree to a discount if you pay cash. If not, ask about a payment plan. The Los Angeles Times called about 20 dentists and asked whether they’d be willing to talk about payment plans, and half said yes.
  • Check out dental schools and dental hygiene schools, where student dentists and hygienists will do the procedures for practice at half the price.
  • Look into dental discount plans, but look at them carefully. In some places, they’re a good deal. In other cities, the best dentists don’t participate and you may end up with dentists who recommend you spend money on procedures you don’t really need. (This was our experience with this type of plan.) Lindsey Knerl at partner blog WiseBread tried a discount plan for her family of six and concluded it wasn’t a great deal for them.
  • If your dentist recommends an expensive procedure, get a second opinion. You may really need $20,000 worth of implants. But you may not. Our “discount” dentist (see above) persuaded us our old fillings needed to be replaced. Once we went back to the former dentist, whose regular prices are quite reasonable, he noted that all the old fillings had been in good shape and didn’t need replacing. Teri Newton at Saving Advice saved herself pain and money when she got a second opinion on dental work.
  • Ask if a less expensive procedure would do, at least for a while. Sometimes you can get by with a filling instead of a crown, for example.
  • Keep up the brushing and flossing, the most cost-effective thing you can do to keep up your dental health. It’s a bargain even if you pay full price, but the latest coupon fliers have been filled with coupons for toothbrushes and toothpaste.

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