How to save money on dental care

Anke Neustadt

Your smile might disappear when you get your bill for dental care. Costs can quickly add up, even with insurance.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Henry Smith’s smile said it all when you ask him about his teeth.

“I found paradise,” he said. “This is paradise to me.”

Not many people say that about a trip to the dentist. A decade ago Smith ditched his regular dentist for the UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry and has not been back. Initially, it was the cost of care that converted him.

“I had a severe case of periodontal disease,” he said. “After he (the dentist) worked up an estimate of how much it would cost me to get my teeth back in fair condition, it was five figures. Five figures was a high five figures. Of course, I told him I couldn’t afford it. He said, well, let me recommend you go to the dental school and we can cut that at least in half.”

The savings and quality of care had him showing off his smirk. Dental students care for patients under the close supervision of teachers.

“The savings for the actual care is going to range from 20 to 60 percent, depending on the nature of the procedure,” said Dr. Gary Guest, DDS, a professor at the UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry. “It can be substantial in terms of the cost savings, yet still maintaining a high quality of care.”

The dental students have also had plenty of practice before treating patients.

“It’s not like they’re doing something for the very first time,” said Dr. Guest. “The dental students spend between 70 and 80 percent of their time delivering direct patient care in their third and fourth year, so they repeat the different procedures multiple times.”

The school offers a wide variety of services and specialties from cleanings to fillings, crowns, teeth straightening, and oral surgery. An initial screening cost $39. Patients should expect to spend more time and possibly have more appointments than at a private dentist’s office. You can book an appointment online or call 210-450-3700.

Not ready to switch dentists? There are still ways to save.

Look at buying your own dental insurance.

“You pay a small annual fee and then that will definitely dramatically reduce the cost of some of those more expensive dental care services. You can even go to a warehouse club like Costco, they sell dental insurance,” said Andrea Woroch, a smart shopping expert. “Just makes sure you’re looking at whether it’s an HMO or PPO and if the provider you prefer is included. Otherwise, you will have to go to their associated providers.”

Find out if you can set up a payment plan, especially before a big procedure.

“You maybe pay over consecutive months and then you don’t have to pay interest on a credit card,” Woroch said.

 Plus find deals for dental work on Groupon and LivingSocial.

“Oftentimes, the deals are for things like teeth whitening, maybe even straightening or cleaning services. Maybe you have to buy a bundle package, but you get a 30 to 50 percent discount,” Woroch said.

Giving you a great grin for less.

If you have a question for Eyewitness Wants To Know, email us at [email protected] or call us at 210-377-8647.


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