Saturday, September 19, 2015

How I saved over $10,000 on my dental bill!!!

About a month ago, I went to the dentist.  I, like most Americans, greatly dislike going to the dentist.  I am afraid of painful procedures and painful fees.  We all have to go to the dentist though.  There isn't much way around it.  Well, there is, but the alternative is even worse in the long run.

I decided that I wanted to go to a local, neighborhood operation, and I saw a dentist that was nice enough.  By the end of the appointment he had recommended three fillings, two crowns, two root canals, and didn't tell me anything about how much it would cost me.  Apparently, we needed to schedule another appointment for the next week, and we'd cover that information then.

Well, I wasn't going to schedule a procedure and not know how much it would cost me so, he sat down with me and gave me the following information.

All of theses treatments cost over $11,000 before insurance.  My insurance contributes about $1300 for these treatments.  This would leave the average person owing over $9000.  Well, I was told that since I am a teacher, they'd give me a special deal.  After I added the amounts that I would really have to pay, they totaled about $3000 (after insurance paid out).  Well, that sounded like an improvement, but I still didn't have $3000 sitting around.  I am just getting started on my emergency savings account.  I haven't built it up that far yet.  At this point, I was feeling overwhelmed.  I was freaked out about needing three fillings, two crowns, and two root canals.  I was also freaked out about not being able to afford them.  So, I made another appointment, and went home.

I am not the kind of person that can just sit and do nothing, so I sprung into action. I decided to get a second opinion.  I made an appointment at NYU's dental school.  It would cost me $95, and they don't take insurance, but they would provide me with paperwork to submit for insurance reimbursements.  The next day I cancelled my follow-up appointment, and contacted my dental insurance company to do my homework on the way my policy works (see last week's articles "5 Questions to Ask You Dental Insurance Provider").

Skipping forward,  I went to the dental school, and learned that I do NOT need three fillings, two crowns, and two root canals!  At this point, they say I need two fillings.  Now, I will be candid about this, it is still possible that this could change because at a dental school they have several checks and balances, and my student-dentist has the support of the overseeing dentist (who agrees with this diagnosis), but still has to defend our "treatment plan" to yet another supervising dentist above him.  Regardless, I assume this treatment plan passes the supervisory inspection.  That being said, my grand total will be $730 (this is for both fillings, a cleaning, and a full exam).  I should be reimbursed by my insurance for roughly half of it.  So, I started out getting a printout suggesting that I needed $11,000 worth of treatments, and am ending up paying roughly $300 out of pocket.

Now, I typically publish some sort of "to do" list for you....  So, let me give you my take-aways.

1.  Get a 2nd opinion.  Not all dentists have the same fee schedule.  Also, some dentists (or any health care practitioner) over-diagnose.  Remember, a dentist that runs his/her own practice has to set his fee schedules taking his/her overhead into account.  This might make some of you uncomfortable, but the truth is that in this country healthcare is a business that is out to make money.
2.  Consider a dental school.  I say this for multiple reasons.  First, the fees are lower.  Second, an educational environment has a different goal than a solo practitioner.  A school wants to educate.  It is not in their best interest to over-diagnose.  Schools tend to be fairly conservative, and do not like to treat things that are not necessary.  Yes, a student will work on you, but they have a licensed dentist check their work at every step.  You are in good hands.
3.  Make sure the fees are explained to you before you are about to get the work done.  The first dentist didn't plan on sharing any of this info with me until I insisted.  This would have been a huge set back.
4.  Invest in dental floss.  I know this one sounds silly, but several dentists have told me that flossing daily is the number one way to avoid having lots of work done in the future.  Besides, dental floss is way cheaper (and more pleasant) than a root canal.

Anyway, I hope my personal experience has given you some insight.  This sort of situation can be scary, and sometimes that fear overrides our attention to our wallet.  We MUST get the healthcare we need, but we must also be careful not to get procedures performed on us that we do not need.  We also have a right to shop around for someone that can do the work for cheaper.  Obviously we can't "drag our feet" on these matters because this is about our health, but I have to say, I am SO glad that I got a second opinion now, I  will only spend a few hundred dollars out of pocket rather than several thousand.  That was definitely worth the time and energy I spent doing my homework!


  1. It was wondering if I could use this write-up on my other website, I will link it back to your website though.Great Thanks.
    private dentist

    1. Thank you so much for your response! If you'd be willing to provide me some information about your website, that would be wonderful.