Dental Care without Insurance

While our workplace provides health insurance and a small yearly voucher for eye care, we are on our own for dental care.  As a consequence, we haven’t been to the dentist since we went off our parents’ insurance – five years ago for Kyle, two years ago for me.  I am very happy with my smile (naturally straight!) and I was beginning to have visions of cavity-ridden teeth and anesthesia, so I scheduled two appointments for us for yesterday for exams.


Thankfully after the X-rays, cleanings, and exams we were both given a clean bill of health and did not need to have any additional work done.  Even so, our total bill came to $600, which is a huge hit to our Medical savings account, but that’s what it’s there for!


When I got to work I mentioned to my coworker about the appointment and she asked if we had gone to one of our university’s “preferred” providers, who gave discounts.  I looked up the list and it turned out we had, but after checking their discounted prices I could see that we had paid the full price.  We called the office back and they agreed to give us the discounted prices if we provided our health insurance information.


Here is a breakdown of today’s appointments, the price we paid, and the discounted price:


So just that little conversation and a short phone call saved us almost 50% on our enormous bill!  I’m so glad I discussed it with my coworker.


Below are some possibilities for saving money on dental care when you don’t have dental insurance through your employer.


1)  Practice good preventive care.  OMG preventive care.  I upped my game when I stopped seeing the dentist regularly, but you should do it even if that’s not your situation!

  • floss
  • brush at least twice daily with fluoride toothpaste, and after all meals if you are a superstar
  • invest in an electric toothbrush
  • reduce your sugar/simple carbohydrate intake



2)  Purchase insurance.  I got an instant quote from the dental plan I could buy through my health insurance, and its monthly premium is $39.  Most years I get no work done, so I’d rather pay out-of-pocket occasionally than pay those premiums monthly.  We’re also self-insuring a little bit with our Medical savings account so I feel comfortable without it.  There are also plans available on the open market.  I found a plan for $17.50/month premiums but with higher payments per service than through my health insurance.  Just make sure you understand what you’re buying!


3)  Subscribe to a discount plan.  You can pay for discount plans like the one offered through my health insurance company, but for a monthly fee.  For instance, in my zip code I could pay $7 per month and get discounts even deeper than the ones I’m already signed up for through my health insurance.  Remember the difference between insurance and these discount programs, though!


4) Get care through a non-traditional route.  You might be able to receive donated dental services through various programs available in your state if you qualify (elderly, disabled, low-income, etc.).  You could also become a patient at a clinic associated with a dental school to be treated by a doctoral student.  You could visit a federally funded health care center (not just dentistry), where you pay what you are able.


I used these sites when compiling this list – source 1, source 2, source 3.


In any case, I would encourage you, if you need insurance input, to ask your coworkers and others in your same situation what they do.  Certainly do your own research, but you can find new ideas like I did today by using their (verified) best practices.


Do you use any of these routes to procure dental care?  Do you have any other suggestions for people without insurance?


image from Kevin H.

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29 Responses to "Dental Care without Insurance"

  1. Emily too says:

    Good thing you checked in! Our plan also doesn’t cover dental, so we go to a teaching clinic for cleanings. They take two to four hours, so I can see how the money vs time tradeoff might not be worth it for everyone, but they’re cheap (price went up from $10 last year to $20 now).

    1. Emily says:

      Do you get exams there too or just cleanings?

      1. Emily too says:

        Just cleanings. They are looking for problems and have dentists come around to check their work, so I figure if something looked wrong I would find out and go get an exam or treatment, but probably don’t need one most of the time.

  2. Daisy says:

    My school currently pays for cleanings 2x a year which is great – I feel like I need to go to the dentist at least twice a year. But when I graduate, if I don’t get a permanent job, then I won’t have benefits so I’ll be stuck waiting until I get a full time one. In Canada, most jobs have benefits and benefits cover dental and medical expenses.
    Daisy recently posted..March Goals: How I Did

    1. Emily says:

      I never thought I’d go years without visiting a dentist or getting a cleaning. My teeth are actually a high priority. I think it was a combination of dread (new cavities??), laziness, and cheapness.

  3. Dental insurance is a must. When I was younger I got into a big accident which has required me to make extremely regular visits to the dentist(about 10 times a year). In total I have about $35,000 of dental work. Mind you, I didn’t pay a dime, it was covered by Workers Compensation(accident happened at work).

    Of the $35,000 dollars of work (So far. I still have about another $10,000 to go.) $15,000 of it was within the first week.

    Anyways, That is my story.
    MyCanadianFinances recently posted..Quality Over Quantity. Does It Always Apply?

    1. Emily says:

      Expensive accidents are one of the main reasons young, healthy people carry insurance, so I agree with you. However, my impression was that accidents resulting in dental injury should be covered under health insurance and dental insurance is more for everyday wear/decay consequences. Can anyone else speak to that thought? In any case, I’m glad yours was covered by workers compensation! I hope you are doing OK!

      1. Blarg! says:

        I checked this when reading the fine print of my employer’s health insurance. They make a distinction between regular dental work and work that you would likely get only at a hospital, such as after a traumatic event. Only the hospital surgery is actually covered by my health insurance. Longer term reconstructive/corrective work wouldn’t fall into this category. This is why the fine print matters!

        1. Emily says:

          Thanks for that reference. I’ll check out the fine print in my policy, too. Do you have dental insurance or only medical?

          1. Blarg! says:

            I have a separate dental plan that covers biannual cleanings and an annual x-ray. I don’t recall how much coverage there is for other procedures (filling, crowns etc).

  4. My dental insurance covers 2 visits a year, but only covers 50% of any cavities, etc after the large deductible. Living social often offers cleaning offers for really cheap. You might want to check it out.
    20’s Finances recently posted..My 1000 Dollar Budgeting Mistake and How I fixed it

    1. Emily says:

      Thanks for the suggestion! I don’t use daily deal websites so that didn’t occur to me but it’s a great tip!

  5. Jessica says:

    I don’t have dental insurance either, but I make sure to get my teeth cleaned every 6 months. I’d rather pay out of pocket for preventative care than for something much more expensive down the road. My dentist charges $60 for a cleaning and exam, and adds $40 for an X-ray.
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    1. Emily says:

      I think we’ll go every 6 months going forward. That’s what we practiced when we had insurance, and the cost isn’t prohibitive or anything. Sounds like you’re playing quite a bit less than us! I think I’ll look at the discount rates of other preferred providers to see if what we paid is normal for our area.

  6. Michelle says:

    I need to look into this. I actually have a blog post in the making possibly for tomorrow (if I don’t get too depressed about it to write about it, that is) talking about the huge SUCK that my life is right now. My dentist says I need braces as I have teeth that are “shifting.” I don’t know anything about ortho care as I’ve never had braces and none of my kids have….yet. I love life. (This is the whiniest comment I’ve ever written…sorry about that!)

    1. Emily says:

      That sucks. As I mentioned I’ve never had braces so I don’t know much about it. Would putting it off until you’re out of debt damage your teeth?

  7. My best friend at home is a dental hygienist. She sometimes does cleanings at her house for me or at her work on the weekends. She has her own tools from school. If your best friend isn’t a dental hygienist, I’d suggest calling your local dental school or dental hygienist training programs to see if they have any training days. When my bff was in school she had to actually bring in “volunteers” for her exams.

    1. Emily says:

      That’s a really creative solution!

  8. I hate going to the dentist because I always have problems with my teeth. According to dentists, I’m more susceptible to cavities which sucks – and I don’t make it any better by not flossing. I haven’t gone in almost a year and I need to go soon but I’ve been putting it off.
    Young Professional Finances recently posted..The Cost of Being Sick

    1. Emily says:

      I was kind of dreading going this time, because the last time I went I had 2 or 3 new cavities that had to be filled, and that was after another 2-3 year stretch of not going to the dentist. There are some genetic predispositions to cavities but certainly you need to do the best care you can to mitigate that. Kyle isn’t a dental hygiene superstar and has never had a cavity so he’s just fortunate! I started flossing about 1.5 years ago. All I did was make it a goal to floss 3x/week. After a few weeks I really had the hang of it and it became a habit to floss pretty much every day. I feel really good about that behavior change.

  9. Leigh says:

    What? They don’t provide you with dental insurance? That’s insane. And why was Kyle’s dental work so much more expensive than yours? 😉

    So many of my friends are too lazy to go see the dentist when they were also too lazy to opt out of the dental insurance, which is super cheap ($5/month and it covers two preventative care visits per year). My plan doesn’t cover very much of non-preventative care though, which is probably why the premiums are so cheap.

    I think I need to start making flossing a priority. That’s the main complaint the dentist has when I go see them for my twice yearly check-ups.

    I like the idea of self-insuring when the cost of private insurance just doesn’t make sense. And I love the colors of your spreadsheet, haha 🙂
    Leigh recently posted..Discussing Salary On Dates

    1. Emily says:

      Hey, I’m happy to get health insurance with no premiums! Kyle’s work was more expensive because he was a first-time patient at that office. Next time we will both get the lower price.
      Definitely floss! I think it’s an easy habit to make. I had to find a brand of floss I really liked though (Glide).

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