How to Get Dental Care Without Going Into Debt'

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All it takes is a single bad tooth to wreck months of careful budgeting. Suddenly you’re facing a big dental bill and you need to come up with the money, or a plan, ASAP. What should you do?

Going to the ER for toothaches

First off, if you are experiencing a dental emergency (your symptoms would include unmanageable pain, uncontrollable bleeding, significant swelling on your gums or around your mouth, high fever and or dizziness) head to your own dentist or the emergency room. Immediately.

The ER is not a good place to get dental care, and it’ll cost you way more than you’d pay a dentist, but if it’s your only option go now and work out how you’ll pay later.

If you don’t have an active oral infection, you have some options. But you still want to get treatment as soon as possible, because the longer you delay the more extensive the dental damage and the more expensive the cost of care.

If You Already Have Dental Insurance

You might be in luck if you’ve been covered for more than six months. If so, and assuming that the tooth wasn’t acting up prior to you getting the insurance, and you are under your annual spending limit, your insurance company will probably pay for part of your dental bill.

If you don’t have dental insurance, don’t bother buying it now, because your coverage for anything but the most basic procedures won’t kick in for weeks.

If you can’t afford the care you need, discuss the issue with your dentist. You may be able to work out a payment plan. Or your dentist may be able to do the most urgent part of your dental treatment now and postpone the rest until you can save a bit of money. You never know until you ask.

But none of the above options will actually lower the cost of your dental care. For that you need what’s called a dental savings plan. 

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What is a Dental Savings Plan?

Dental savings plans, sometimes called “dental discount plans,” are an affordable, flexible alternative to traditional dental insurance.

You pay an annual fee, on average about $125 a year, compared to $300 for dental insurance, to join a dental savings plan. As a member, you then gain immediate access to a network of dentists who give you discounts of 10-60 percent off the typical cost of their services.

With a dental savings plan you get reduced rates on virtually all of your dental care; preventive check-ups and cleanings, basic care such as fillings and root canals, and restorative care to repair or replace damaged or missing teeth.

Depending on the plan you choose, you can also save on procedures such as orthodontics (braces) and prosthodontics (which includes dental implants), as well as cosmetic treatments such as tooth whitening and overlays that dental insurance typically doesn’t cover.

Many dental savings plans also include, at no extra cost, savings on eye care (and lenses, glasses/sunglasses), prescription medications, chiropractic treatment, fitness and wellness options, and other healthcare services.

How Do Dental Savings Plans Work?

Wondering why any dentist would happily give you a big discount on your dental care? In part, because it’s easier than dealing with insurance.

Since you pay the dentist directly at the time you get your treatment, the dentist doesn’t have to worry about your insurance denying the claim, doesn’t have to wait for reimbursements, negotiate approvals before starting your treatment, file claims or manage any of the other hassles associated with dental insurance.

Plus, dental savings plans make it much easier for more people to afford dental care, and that makes dentists happy.

What’s the Best Dental Savings Plan?

That depends on your budget, your dental care needs and preferences.

If you already have a dentist, the best way to pick a plan is to ask him or her which dental savings plan you should join.

Or you can visit and use the “Find a Plan” search tool. The tool enables you to see what plans the dentists in your area participate in. You can use the same tool to compare how much you can save with different plans.

While you’re reviewing plans, check all of the details. Find out what happens if you’re not happy with the plan after you purchase it. And see if you can easily switch plans if your dental needs change.

You can use your plan with 24-72 hours of joining, so dental savings plans are a perfect way to handle dental emergencies. They are also a great way to reduce your dental care costs if you’ve gone over your dental insurance’s annual limit, or as a supplement to basic dental insurance plans.

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How Do Dental Savings Plans Compare to Dental Insurance?

Dental insurance does a wonderful job of making preventive dental care affordable. With most dental insurance plans, you get two free check-ups and cleanings a year along with a set of basic (bitewing) x-rays.

That may not sound like much, but it’s actually a great thing. Regular preventive dental care is the absolute best way to keep your teeth and gums healthy throughout your lifetime. And dental insurance is designed to strongly encourage you to get that preventive care.

But if you do have a dental health issue, you may be disappointed in dental insurance. First, dental insurance has a low annual spending limit; it only covers you up to $1,000-$1,500 a year – about the cost of one root canal and a crown. Once you reach that limit you have to pay for your dental care out-of-pocket for the rest of the year.

You also have to wait before your benefits kick in for pricey treatments like tooth restorations – and who wants to walk around for months with a missing tooth? Plus, the cosmetic treatments that make your smile look great typically aren’t covered by dental insurance.

In comparison, you can use your dental savings plan as often as you need to – members get discounts on dental care all year long, and you can start using it as soon as your plan activates.

And even if you have dental health problems now, or dental work already in progress, you still get the same discounts with a dental savings plan. Dental insurance has restrictions about pre-existing conditions.

And everyone is accepted, there are no background or credit checks before you can join a dental savings plan.

Plan Ahead for Dental Savings

Dental problems do more than ruin your smile and confidence, they also have a serious impact on your overall health. You can’t ignore a sick tooth and hope it will get better. Dental savings plans are a sensible way to get the dental care you need without wrecking your budget.

Do You Want to Save 10-60% on Your Dental Care?

See How Much You Can Save with a Dental Savings Plan!

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Published February 14, 2018 Updated: March 6, 2018
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