The last time I went to the dentist, I was told that I have a cavity in one of my teeth and that my wisdom teeth have to come out. I lost my insurance shortly after that dental visit two years ago and I have yet to get my teeth fixed.
To judge by my friends’ stories, it’s a common scenario. There are as many dentists as there are Starbucks in this city, but their fees for fillings and extractions are too high. So I just ignore the problem, telling myself that I will get it fixed once I have the money.
When I started to ask for prices for basic treatment as part of this assignment, I found that the costs actually vary widely (and I can afford to get that cavity filled after all). The spreadsheet we have here gives some low-cost opportunities for dental care if you don’t happen to have either a regular dentist or dental insurance.
In 2010 a report by CDC found a lot of people like me: it said 45 million U.S. residents lack dental insurance coverage. We’re skeptical about that number though: last year 51 million Americans lacked health insurance, so the idea that more people have dental insurance than health insurance invites questions. One of the biggest reasons cited for skipping basic coverage is cost. Dental care is covered by employer-sponsored insurance less often than health care is, so people have to buy into a specific dental insurance plan or pay out of pocket.
“Part of the problem lies with the historical lack of understanding of the nature of oral health,” the American Dental Association said in a statement, referring to the common separation of health
insurance and dental insurance. “Presumably, many insurers may not make the connection between oral health and overall health.”
Dental care is an important part of staying healthy. Healthy teeth and gums can protect against more serious health conditions including stroke, heart disease and diabetes, WebMD reports.
To fill the gap in dental care, consumers in New York and elsewhere can turn to dental clinics or dental schools. There are a number of clinics and schools in the tri-state area that provide basic procedures, surgeries and emergency care. Residents can also search group coupon websites that offer discounts on dental services or online dental discount plans.
Some dental clinics are federally funded or part of community health centers such as the Ryan Center, an independent, not-for-profit organization that offers medical and dental services to New Yorkers. The Ryan Center accepts some forms of insurance or charges patients on a sliding scale. There are three locations in Manhattan that perform basic dental procedures in office. The center refers patients to St. Luke’s for dental surgeries and more serious problems.
Other centers such as the Center for Dentistry at Hackensack University Medical Center offer all dental services and surgeries in office and can perform emergency exams for a reduced fee. The Center for Dentistry accepts Medicaid, self-pay and charity care for the needy.
Dental schools offer dental procedures that are performed by students under the guidance of experienced faculty dentists. The NYU College of Dentistry Clinic does root canals, crowns, braces and implants among other procedures. They do not offer a sliding scale fee-for-service, but the clinic is willing to work out a payment plan with patients.
The cost of dental care at clinics or dental schools is significantly cheaper than the dental office. Basic procedures could cost anywhere between 25-60 percent off the regular price at dental offices depending on where you go. You just might have to wait longer to pay less.
By the way, we know that many dentists will discuss prices for cleanings, cavities, whitening, braces and the like. As we’ve told you elsewhere here at ClearHealthCosts.com, the price that’s named is not always the price you’re expected to pay. If you have lost your dental insurance, ask your dentist what the cash or self-pay price for a certain procedure is. You might be surprised. Also, take a look at our spreadsheet and see if it gives you ideas.
Affordable dental coverage has also become a growing part of group coupon websites like groupon.com, livingsocial.com and lifebooker.com. Group coupon websites offer cosmetic services like teeth whitening and invisalign braces, as well as cleanings and exams at a discounted price. There is usually a time limit to purchase the service though, along with a maximum number of available coupons.
There are also websites like brighter.com, which provide dental discount plans in the form of a membership similar to Costco. The discount plan provider pre-negotiated savings on a variety of dental procedures with more than 25,000 dentists to offer reduced price services to members.
To sign up for discounts through brighter.com, a person has to agree to a membership. An individual plan costs $79 a year and guarantees 20-60 percent off dental care for an individual for a year with a limited range of participating providers. The family plan costs $129 a year and guarantees savings of 20-60 percent. A comprehensive oral exam through brighter.com would cost $21 instead of $106, a savings of 80 percent. A cavity filling could cost as little as $86 instead of $211, a 59 percent discount. If you are not ready to commit to the membership, brighter.com offers a free 1-month trial with savings of 5-15 percent off of dental care costs.
Unlike group coupon sites that offer a specific service for a particular location, group dental discount plans allow members to search for discounted services by zip code and offers a wider range of services.
Wait time for appointments varies by location. The Ryan Center usually has a long wait time even though they schedule appointments. Group coupons have a long wait time too, because people rush to fill in appointments once a coupon is offered. Group coupons are best used for routine visits. For example, Lifebooker.com offered a coupon from Ebenezer Dental: $199.20 for a full dental cleaning and comprehensive exam including a full series of x-rays. Groupon.com recently had an offer from Park South Dentistry that was $2,999 for a complete invisalign clear braces treatment.