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Cutting Your Dental Expenses

I’ve spent a lot of money on my teeth over the years. Probably from a combination of a bad diet, lots of carbs, no flossing when I was younger, acid reflux, and high levels of stress. I’ve managed to stay away from meth so far – my only saving grace.

I have had multiple dentists over the years. I have spent thousands of dollars on root canals, tooth extraction, onlays, crowns, and a bridge. I have also dated several dentists – not sure if that makes me more or less credible.


Saving Money on Your Teeth

I don’t like going to the dentist but I hate going to 2 different dentists and getting completely different opinions.

I went to one dentist who said I had 7 cavities. Went to another 1.5 months later and she said I had 0 dental cavities. Are you fucking kidding me?

Let’s talk about ways of saving money on your teeth. Dental care doesn’t have to be expensive but you need some dental knowledge in order to save money.


1. Dental Insurance

I’m comfortable making the broad generalization that dental insurance is a waste of money. It might even entice your dentist to be a little more aggressive in your care. I know I’m that way when I don’t have to worry about the cost of a chest xray – if I can do it and I think I need it, I order it. Is it good for the patient? Dunno.

More aggressive care in dentistry, much like in medicine, hurts you as a patient and tends to earn the dentist more money.

The savings potential of having dental insurance can be achieved by shopping around with different dentists – different good dentists.

2. Shopping Around

By shopping around I mean that you call up different dental offices and ask what a certain procedure costs. Dentists don’t have much of a clue how much their competitors charge. And new dentists – even good ones – don’t always know how much to charge.

If you have a favorite dentist whom you cannot live without then it might be tougher. But there will come a time when you might need a dental implant or a bridge or extraction which your dentist cannot do.

For these procedures it’s good to call around because prices can vary a lot. It goes without say that you won’t just go to the cheapest dentist.

3. Second Opinion

You are told that you need a crown. Or that you need an extraction. Or a root canal or an onlay (an onlay is a very large filling which takes up a large portion of your tooth). Then you are told how much it costs. You should take time to research the costs and think about it.

“Thank you, I’ll talk to your front office about the finances and get back to you with my decision.”

There are online cost calculators you can use.

Fortunately, most dentists separate themselves from the finances and have their biller talk to you about the costs. This makes the conversation much less awkward.

Always request your xrays to take to another office to get a second opinion. If you’re too shy just say that your friend is a dentist and wants to see them.

In the new office you’ll have a brief exam and a few minutes spent reviewing your xrays. If you don’t need a crown or a more tooth-preserving option is available then you’ll save yourself a lot of money, pain, and return visits.

4. Dental Pain

Dental pain – or supposed dental pain – can cost you a lot of money. Many times the pain comes from grinding your teeth, referred pain from the jaw, sinus pain, or other causes like neuralgia.

Interestingly, I have a pinched nerve in my neck which on occasion flares up – nothing bad at all. But this little fucker radiates directly to my left upper tooth. So bad that I spent 6 month, a few years ago, chasing down the cause. I finally got a brilliant endodontist and she assured me it’s not the tooth! From there I was able to figure out the exact cause.

If the xrays are normal then the history of the pain can be really helpful to a good dentist to tell you the likely cause. Almost always a trial of high-fluoride toothpaste is a good thing to try before getting more aggressive with dental pain.

5. High Up-front Cost

I chose a bridge instead of a dental implant after I had to have a tooth extracted. The reason I need the extraction in the first place is because the filling fell out and I didn’t get a temporary filling fast enough and I cracked the tooth chewing on almonds.

The implant would replace the tooth with a post that goes inside the bone. But, in my case, it also required a sinus lift – an extra $5k expense at the time. The bridge – which would need me to destroy 2 perfectly healthy nearby teeth – only would have cost $1,700.

I saved money upfront but I will eventually have to replace this bridge and flossing under one of these fuckers is tedious.

6. Superficial Dental Decay

Some dental decay will need to be addressed with a filling or more aggressive measures. But if the decay is superficial then it can sometimes be mitigated with something like Prevident.

Your dentist or dentist friends should be able to tell you when it’s time to get aggressive with the decay and when to attempt something more conservative in order to same money on dental expenses.

7. Grinding/Clenching

We got grinders and we got clenchers. Both fuck with your teeth. I’ve destroyed my crown and onlay more than once because I used to clench and grind so much.

Meditation and muscle massage before sleep can prevent both grinding and clenching. But you might also grind during the day and not realize it until you are made aware of it. This can also lead to TMD.

I am not a fan of $600 mouthguards (dental guards) because they don’t do anything for TMD and though they protect your teeth to an extend, the adherence rate is really low. Try a $15 one first, then go for custom if necessary.

8. Brushing/Flossing

You might have incredibly resistant enamel and rarely brush and never floss but eventually your body’s anatomy will change, either with age or because of your diet. When it does, learning those dental care habits can come too late and you’ll incur a lot of dental expenses.

Brush with flouride and brush more frequently if you are a high-carb consumer. Don’t fall for the bullshit of “oh nobody flosses every day or brushes after every meal”. In the past 6 years I’ve missed flossing maybe a handful of times. I’ve also brushed after nearly every meal because I eat most of my meals at home. I used to even brush at work in the bathroom.

I recently learned that you’re supposed to wait 30 minutes after meals before brushing.

A good dentist should be able to point out to you what parts of your teeth are more prone to dental caries because of deep pockets or other weird anatomy.

Finally, your brushing technique is really important – maybe even more important than the brainless activity of shoving a plastic stick in your mouth. Watch a good YouTube video on it and you’ll learn some good techniques.

9. Fluoride

There are ways to do without fluoride, if you think it’s bad for you. But for others, if your water isn’t fluoridated, it might be good to swish with a fluoride mouthwash, without washing your mouth out after.

10. Dental Cleaning

Dental cleaning by a hygienist is a really efficient way for you to decrease your need for future dental intervention.

I know it’s a fucking pain in the ass but if you can find a great hygienist then the process can be pleasant. They will point out things to you that you didn’t know and teach you a lot.

In my opinion xrays are overdone so I don’t get them too often but I try not to miss my dental cleaning appointments. Regular dental cleaning will save you a lot of money on dental care in the future.


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