(Updated 2022) Looking for a price on teeth cleaning? You’re not alone. One of our fairly common searches is “how much does teeth cleaning cost?”
More than 74 million Americans, about a quarter of the population, lack dental insurance (here’s a recent article about that). So shopping around for a dental cleaning, to find a good provider at a good price, is not uncommon.
What you need to know
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 teeth cleaning is not always standard. Some clinics include an exam and X-rays in the cleaning. Others don’t.
Always ask what the teeth cleaning will include. Take notes; take names. That way if there’s any misunderstanding, you can explain, “Bob told me the basic cleaning includes X-rays, and an exam 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.
Usually a provider will give you a set price, but sometimes they will say the price could turn out to be greater “depending on the need of the patient.” Be wary of that idea: the last thing you want is to finish up and get asked for an extra $100.
If you’re insured, ask up front 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. Get it in writing.
Ask for discounts or specials: Can I get a cleaning with your exam? An exam with your cleaning? Do X-rays cost extra?
Where to go
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, like this one for New York City of free dental clinics. Or there’s this government website that highlights low-cost oral health clinics in the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. There’s also this listing for dental services in New York state that are free, low-cost and sliding scale from the nonprofit NeedyMeds. There may be other options where you live, like state programs including Office of Vermont Health Access 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 –- 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.)
No insurance? No problem
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 says most plans that individuals buy for themselves turn out to be a disappointment.)
Also, some doctor and dentist offices offer payment plans like CareCredit, a division of GE Capital Retail Bank. The way it works: you get your treatment, and a payment plan. The provider gets paid up front, but you get the price of the procedure, plus a financing charge, and quite often stiff penalties if you don’t meet the schedules. 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 teeth cleaning cost?
Here at ClearHealthCosts, 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 our price list for the Los Angeles area.
Also, a California company called brighter.com offers the opportunity to book with providers for a price quoted online. So far they’re deep in the Los Angeles area, but don’t have New York providers. “Brighter is the first true dental marketplace, making it easy for patients to find and book an appointment with a quality, affordable dentist,” the site says. “Our online service allows cash-paying patients to manage their dental health by giving them free access to pre-negotiated prices at hundreds of top dentists.”
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 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 teeth cleaning cost?
- How much will teeth cleaning cost ME?
- Is it a set price, or can the price vary?
- 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 cleaning?
- 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.