The Insider’s Guide to Cutting Dental Costs

Dentist chair in New York

Have you ever wondered how your dental costs in New York compare to those in, say, Milwaukee, Wisconsin?

I came across dental exam prices across several cities in the U.S. and the answer may surprise you. Well, just to get what won’t surprise you out of the way, New York is up there — 7th on the list, to be exact.

But wait, how high is that really?

Prices are different for every dentist, so there will always be someone who pays the most and someone who pays the least. Imagine if you were the person smack dab in the middle of those extremes. You pay the most balanced price of them all. In New York, you’re actually only paying 12 bucks more for a dental exam than a Milwaukeean in the same exact, center-most position as you.

All considered then, New York prices may not be all that bad.

So what’s the city with the lowest dental prices? San Jose, at $150. But, San Jose turns out to be something of an outlier, along with Vegas.

The highest price? Raleigh, North Carolina, at $327 for a dental exam.

 

Median price of a dental exam by city

Maybe New York wasn’t as bad as you thought it was. Still, it ain’t exactly San Jose. So what are some ways you can help save dental costs?

Well, I don’t have any cool “hacks” for you, sorry. There’s no loophole you can take to avoid getting that missing tooth replaced or treating a toothache. I can’t help you avoid dentists altogether, because believe it or not we do serve a very strong purpose, and that’s not only in helping catch and preventing early warning signs of bigger dental problems, but also to help you with any oral health issues you may have. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t save costs.

Let me give you the inside scoop:

  1. Proper dental hygiene
  2. A diet your teeth take strength in
  3. Prioritize your dental procedures
  4. Resolve short-term, high-priority problems now
  5. Schedule your cleanings

Take Care of Your Teeth!

For some, it’s really easy to get cavities. For others, it’s difficult. It’s a matter of genetics…and hygiene.

So what goes into good dental hygiene?

Brush your teeth. In yours 20s, maybe you can get away with missing a few nights here and there. Even at that age, brushing your teeth is extremely important. I know a woman who almost never brushed her teeth when she was young, needing a full set of dentures before she was old enough to legally drink. This is an outlier, of course. Still, outlier cases see outlier results, and even mild cases of hygienic neglect can lead to mild cases of tooth decay and gum disease — the type of situation that can require a filling, and cost you money. Brush twice a day at a minimum; when you wake up and before you go to sleep.

Flossing matters too. Yes, I too have read the study that says that flossing overrated. Actually, it says that of the studied reviewed none of them were done rigorously enough to really conclusively prove that flossing makes a difference, which isn’t the same thing as saying that it doesn’t. So the existing evidence is not the end-all, be all, but are you really not going to floss?

Think about it this way: even if flossing is only 5% of good dental hygiene, how would you feel if that 5% was all that you needed to avoid that cavity you may one day have?

Also, mouthwash. The non-alcoholic type, to be specific (alcohol reduces saliva production, and saliva helps clean your teeth). It’s not a magic worker, but regular use of mouthwash can help make getting gingivitis or tooth decay less likely. Meaning, fewer fillings. And that’s a good thing!

Yep, it really is as simple as this. And all too often so easy to forget, unfortunately.

What about your diet? What role does that play?

Let’s explore…

The Clean Smile Diet

What you eat matters. The bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease, for example, love carbs, much like us humans. I mean, can you blame them? Those soft, freshly baked French baguettes are irresistible.

It’s okay to eat carbs, but it pays to be extra diligent when it comes to brushing your teeth after a big lunch.

Apart from knowing what not to eat as much of and what should cause you take greater-than-average care of your teeth that day, there are foods that actually positively influence your dental health.

The science is old and, as with all scientific studies, should be subject to scrutiny (science is about disproof, not proof, after all). In any case, you can count on the following as being good for you and your smile:

  • Egg yolks
  • Chicken
  • Leafy greens (kale, spinach, lettuce, etc.)
  • Cucumbers
  • Asparagus
  • Tuna
  • Broccoli
  • Some nuts, like peanuts, are great (a lot of calcium and vitamin D)

You know what else is absolutely essential for good dental health? Water! 70 percent of your body is water, is it a surprise that your teeth rely on it too? Water not only helps clean your teeth, but also helps proteins in your saliva do better at fighting against acidic buildup.

Fruits are good for your teeth for similar reasons as water.

Finally, if you like to chew gum, chewing the sugar-free variant can go a long way in helping against tooth decay, specifically against the dangerous-sounding streptococci bacteria.

Okay, so what if you can’t avoid dental work?

Let’s take a deeper dive into that.

Where Are Your Priorities?

A patient is missing a tooth and is also unhappy with how crooked his bottom row of teeth are. It happens. Gaps leave room for teeth to expand into and they start to separate and shift. The patient sits down to make a treatment plan for these issues.

He decides to save costs by focusing on one treatment now and another later to spread the cost. In this case, there may be medical benefits too, because braces would help re-open the gap created by the missing tooth. Once the gap is re-opened, an implant can be placed, and in both the orthodontic and periodontic case you get long-lasting results.

Some things you want to treat right away. Like gum disease or tooth decay.

Others, you can plan ahead for. If you’re looking at a number of procedures that don’t have immediate priority, like cosmetic treatments or complex restorative work, then you can spread these out and tackle them one-by-one.

Long-term planning shouldn’t turn into procrastination. Because it can come back to you with a bite.

Allow me to illustrate by way of example…

Some Problems Are Short Term, and Should be Solved Now

Your tooth has been hurting for a few days. At first, the pain is fuzzy and tolerable, and you wonder whether it’s anything serious at all. Then it starts to get sharper and sharper, still maybe you try to hold out. Finally, the pain is unbearable and you come to the dentist.

What may have been a filling before is now a root canal.

It pays to treat dental issues early.

Another common example. You’re missing a tooth, but you don’t want to spend the money to replace it with a dental implant. You forget about it.

Did you know that by transmitting the force of your chewing your teeth are keeping your jaw healthy by stimulating bone growth? Conversely, the area of the jaw around the space of the missing tooth starts to shrink and lose mass.

What’s happening is that the lack of stimulus is causing the bone to recede. While certainly not always the case, this can create a need for a bone augmentation.

By waiting, you’ve added to the cost of your procedure.

If it can get worse, it can get pricier, deal with it now.

Yes, Dental Cleanings are Important

I know it’s easy for a dentist to recommend that you visit yours at least twice a year.

The thing is, it’s a genuine recommendation. It’s also important and true.

The guy who waited too long to take care of his cavity could have avoided long ago if he had come to his cleaning, where the dentist could have caught the problem early and dealt with it.

Cleanings also help you prevent these problems altogether. For a lot of people, the only appointments they make for some time might be check-ups. It’s a question of being vigilant and having the discipline to take care of your teeth the way they deserve because after your baby teeth you only get one set.

You may want cosmetic work done, but that you can take care of when it’s right for you. Go to your dentist at least twice a year and reduce the chances you’ll need to take care of periodontic or restorative work right away.

No Magic Bullet,
But the Boring ‘ol Method Works Pretty Well

Sometimes it’s hard to avoid things like cavities. Heck, I know a lot of patients who are exceptionally diligent in their dental hygiene and still suffer from tooth decay. Some are more susceptible to different dental problems than others, but that’s okay and it doesn’t mean that some are just destined to high dentist bills.

See your dentist every six months.

And go the extra mile for your teeth when you’re taking care of them. The human smile is a beautiful thing.