The 2011 Survey of Dental Care Affordability & Accessibility also found that many of us -- with or without insurance -- delay receiving dental care, which can end up costing us a lot more down the road. (Can you blame us? Personally, I'd rather do my taxes.)
Researchers actually found that the top reason so many of us avoid going to the dentist is high cost -- followed by lack of transparency about costs and, finally, difficult in finding a good dentist. (Check out MoneyWatch blogger Sarah Lorge Butler's great piece: "Is Your Dentist Ripping You Off?")
Fortunately, I managed to get my doc to come up a low-cost strategy for my implant. But in light of the survey's findings, I asked Jake Winebaum -- founder and CEO of the study's funder, Brighter.com, a site that lets patients compare dentists by price and reputation -- for a few tips on how to keep costs down. Here are his suggestions.
1. Seek New Patient Specials
Many dental practices offer special deals for new patients -- from free exams and cleanings to credits on advanced procedures. For example, Winebaum says, you may be able to score a $500 discount off a treatment plan that exceeds $1,500. I recall receiving free cleaning and tooth whitening when I made my first appointment with my dentist a few years back.
2. Request a Copy of Your Treatment Plan
The trickiest part about dental comparison shopping is the way services are named, says Winebaum; inconsistency can make it very hard to compare apples to apples. Get your treatment plan in hand (just ask the dentist to print it out), so that you can see the specific services, ADA codes and tooth numbers, as well as how much the original dentist is charging for each part of the process. "That way a second dentist can give you an exact quote for the specific treatment plan," says Winebaum. And while dentists may shy away from criticizing a peer's work, they will often give a second evaluation for free.
3. Ask For a Family Discount
There are savings in numbers. If you, your spouse and kids can all go to the same dentist, ask for a family discount, which could save you at least 10% on your visits.
4. Book on Fridays
Offer to schedule your appointment at a non-peak time, like Friday afternoons, suggests Winebaum. "Dentists' chairs are a lot like plane seats; popular days are Monday through Thursday," he says. "If the office is open on a day with low patient traffic, it's better for them to fill it for a lower price than let it go empty."
Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at www.farnoosh.tv and on Twitter/farnoosh
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