Handling Your Dental Costs Without Using Insurance
It’s unfortunate that the people who avoid the dentist because of worries about money are often the ones who end up spending the most in the end, explains Dr. Rex Hoang. Hoang is the owner of DC Dental Spa, a premier dentist office in Washington, DC.
Hoang says that coming in for regular exams and checkups can actually save you money in the long run by preventing the types of infections and dental issues that cost thousands of dollars to repair. “The irony is that people who are afraid to go to the dentist or cannot afford it will be the ones who spend the most money on dental treatments in the long run, so just keep in mind that old saying—an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” he says.
By coming in for semi-annual cleanings, you can prevent cavities from growing in the first place. “And that way, you don’t have to spend the money on fillings,” Hoang explains. Even if a patient does get a cavity, treating it at an early stage is going to be cheaper than waiting until it gets more serious.
“Treating a cavity early on means you aren’t going to have to worry about paying for a root canal, which is what you’ll need if the cavity gets bigger and gets into the nerve,” he says. Once a cavity reaches the nerve, there isn’t much a person can do except spend the money on a root canal. If not, the pain is going to be excruciating—and it isn’t going to get any better until the cavity is fixed.
While the average filling costs around $200, Hoang says that root canals in dentist offices in Washington, DC average around $2,000. “So it’s tenfold. You can fill 10 teeth for the price of one root canal,” he explains. In the majority of cases, if a patient were to simply come in to the dentist as soon as he notices a cavity, then the dentist would be able to catch it while it’s still in its early stage. Once the cavity hits the nerve, though, it is going to be up to 10 times more expensive to take care of. “Early prevention and early detection really are the keys to saving money on dentistry,” Hoang says.
Women, especially, are prone to avoiding the dentist out of worries about skyrocketing costs. “The crazy things is that to maintain your hair yearly actually costs more than to maintain your teeth,” says Hoang. While many women in the Washington, DC area avoid the dentist office because they think it will be too expensive, they continue going to monthly hair appointments and paying for hair coloring, cutting, and straightening. “All that adds up to more each year than two annual dental cleanings,” says Hoang.
On average, Hoang estimates that a total office visit with all costs included averages about $180. Since people only need to get cleanings once every six months, they can expect to only need to spend about $400 a year on dental costs as long as they keep up with their appointments. “Most people don’t recognize this and they think that dentistry is really expensive,” says Hoang. “But if you keep up with your cleanings and prevent cavities in the first place, then that is definitely not going to be as expensive as getting your hair done at a salon each month.”
Additionally, Hoang recommends that patients ask about pricing before they agree to any treatments. At DC Dental Spa, he says he always tells his patients the exact price of any procedure before starting. Unfortunately, he also laments that prices can change during a dental procedure, if it becomes clear that a particular problem is more serious than first thought. “Treating patients isn’t like fixing a car,” he says. “We don’t have any way of knowing exactly what needs to be fixed until we get going with the procedure and see how the patient’s body is responding to the treatments.”
Still, Hoang tries to tell each patient as much as he can about the price range for a given procedure before getting started—as well as whether he anticipates any additional complications coming up along the way. “Unfortunately, there is no way for us to look at an x-ray and tell a patient exactly what the final cost is going to be,” he says. “You have to physically go in to look at the tooth, remove the decay, and see where the decay is.”
While Hoang encourages patients to ask about pricing beforehand, he also warns that people should understand that things can change over the course of a procedure. After all is said and done, patients need to be flexible with how much they are willing to spend if they want to have the best outcomes from their dental work.
*Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your healthcare provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with an appropriate healthcare provider.