(Updated 2022) How much does a dental exam cost? Here in the New York metro area, it can cost from $20 to $200, and we’ve heard as much as $300-plus. Why? Well, it depends. Who’s the provider, and what all is included? Are you paying cash? Do you want X-rays with that?
More than 74 million Americans, about a quarter of the population, lack dental insurance (here’s a recent article about that). So shopping around to find a good provider at a good price is not uncommon.
Looking for a dental exam? You’re not alone. One of our most common searches is “how much does a dental exam cost?”
What you need to know about dental services
Dental services are more of an open market than some of our other procedures. You should expect prices to vary. Be prepared for package offers. Always ask about discounts or specials.
Also, remember that a basic dental exam is not always standard. Some clinics include X-rays in the exam. Others don’t.
Always ask what the exam will include. Take notes; take names. That way if there’s any misunderstanding, you can explain, “Bob told me the basic exam includes X-rays, and a cleaning is an additional $59” or whatever.
Some providers offer dental cleanings that incorporate an exam as well. Sometimes you’ll go to a provider to get a cavity filled, and they’ll offer a cleaning for an additional, reduced price.
If you’re insured, ask what it will cost you after your deductible or co-pay. If you’re not insured, ask your provider what the cash or self-pay rate is for the service you want.
Ask for discounts or specials: Can I get a cleaning with your exam? Do X-rays cost extra? Ask beforehand.
Where to go for a dental exam
There are a number of choices for providers, including the local dentist, who may be your provider now.
In some cities, there’s a list of public health dental clinics, like this one for New York City. There may be other options where you live, like state programs including this one in Vermont and Vermont’s Dr. Dynasaur for kids.
This site, toothwisdom.org, from the nonprofit Oral Health America, lists affordable dental health resources geared toward older adults, but there may well be resources for others.
We don’t give medical advice, but we do try to help you think about saving money – so, you might want to look for a school of dentistry or dental hygiene training; they can have clinics where students will practice under supervision. Free or reduced-cost clinics check your income, while others like dental schools may not.
Thinking about dental chains? Be careful; some of them have been accused of using deceptive business models. Here’s an article about that and here is another on the same topic – know where you are going before you go.
Dental insurance in general
Many employers, especially bigger ones, offer dental insurance, but typically it is separate from the medical insurance plan. You should also check for sure what’s included; quite often one or two cleanings a year are included, but things like cosmetic work, including orthodontia, may have limited coverage.
Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance policies purchased on either the state or federal exchanges may or may not include children’s dental insurance, and thus it is often sold separately. Some states, like Connecticut, require it as part of all plans, but most do not. (Here’s a New York Times article about the topic.)
If you lack dental insurance outside of the workplace, and anticipate dental expenditures, you could buy a dental insurance policy. If you want one, there are nationwide marketplaces like getinsured.com, ehealthinsurance.com and so on that offer dental insurance. There may also be local providers.
Dental insurance plans typically have a coverage limit, so be sure you know what you’re buying. In general, insurers will understand that if you are buying dental insurance you are planning to use it – so the coverage limits under a given premium may make it not so appetizing. Check what’s covered.
My dentist just outside New York City says many dental insurance plans purchased by individuals outside of employer plans are a bad deal for the consumer and a good deal for the insurer.
Also, some doctor and dentist offices offer payment plans like CareCredit, a division of GE Capital Retail Bank. Consumer advocates advise approaching these plans with caution – people have found themselves with unacceptable debt. (Here’s a New York Times article about that topic.)
So, how much does a dental exam cost?
Here at clearhealthcosts.com, we do pricing surveys for the self-pay prices for common procedures. What we have found nationwide is a range from $20 to $300-plus if you ask in advance and pay cash; here’s our price list for the New York area and here’s a price list for the San Francisco area for a dental exam.
It’s not unusual to see Groupon, LivingSocial or similar coupons and other offers for dental care, especially whitening but also cleaning and other dental care. (The two companies joined forces, though they have separate Web presences.)
The takeaway: Questions to ask
As we always say, know before you go. Call before you go. Ask how much you will be charged. Take notes. Take names. Take numbers.
Here are some questions.
- How much will a dental exam cost?
- How much will it cost ME?
- What all is covered in that price?
- Is this covered by insurance without a copay (if applicable)? If not, why not?
- Do you have a sliding scale based on income, family size and other factors? How does that work?
- Are there other fees or charges?
- Do you have a prompt-pay discount, a cash or self-pay rate?
- Will I be charged for an initial visit, for x-rays, and also for the procedure?
- If I need a filling, how much will that cost?
- Is there a separate charge for the doctor’s visit, or is it all included in the price you just named?
Part 2: How to argue a bill.
Jeanne Pinder is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded ClearHealthCosts.
She was previously a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia University School of Journalism. ClearHealthCosts has won grants from the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York; the International Women’s Media Foundation; the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with KQED public radio in San Francisco and KPCC in Los Angeles; the Lenfest Foundation in Philadelphia for a partnership with The Philadelphia Inquirer; and the New York State Health Foundation for a partnership with WNYC public radio/Gothamist in New York; and other honors.
Her TED talk about fixing health costs has surpassed 2 million views.