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Tips for keeping dental care costs down

Consumer Reports News: January 04, 2012 12:08 PM

The biggest reason for delaying dental care is cost, according to our new survey that asked readers to describe the dental health and cosmetic treatments they received in the last five years.

Among other findings in the survey, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, cost was cited as a barrier by 43 percent of readers who delayed dental care. Our readers tend to have better insurance coverage than Americans on average, but even some of those with insurance put off a treatment they needed for health reasons. Twenty-three percent did so because insurance wouldn’t cover the procedure, and 24 percent did so because they had already used up the maximum that their insurance plan would cover for the year.

Here are a few ways you can keep your dental costs down:

  • Shop around and bargain: Look up typical insurance paid rates in your area at and, then ask providers to accept that amount, or less, as a cash payment.

  • Consider free and low-cost clinics and health centers: Some community health centers offer dental care with fees based on the ability to pay. You should call your local health department to find one nearby. Just note that you can expect to encounter waiting lists in some locations.

  • Look into dental and dental hygienist schools: If you are willing to be treated by supervised students, you can avail yourself of schools that offer free or discontinued care to the public. A list of schools is available at

  • Investigate dental discount plans: For an annual membership fee of around $50 to $100, you can get access to a network of dentists who have agreed to discounted rates. However, we recommend that you watch out for pricey add-ons and extra procedures that you don’t need.

The full report Dental do's and don'ts: How to keep your teeth healthy without going broke (available to subscribers), appeared in the February issue of Consumer Reports.

Maggie Shader

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