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Ways to Take a Bite Out of Your Dental Bills

The most effective way to lower your dental bills is to take care of your teeth, and to make sure your children do the same.

Every dollar you spend on preventive care such as brushing and cleaning can save you anywhere from $4 to $50 in restorative care, according to a dental industry report.

The following strategies can help you make further cuts in your dental spending.

1. See a dentist regularly. Doing so will help ensure that problems are taken care of before they become more serious and expensive. In most cases, the more involved the dental procedure, the more expensive it is—even if you have insurance—because your co-payments will be higher.

2. Verify what your plan covers before treatment begins. Before you agree to undergo any major dental work, ask your dentist for a detailed description of the treatment you need and submit it to your insurance carrier to learn how much of the cost will be covered.

3. Split treatment over two years. For example, if you need $3,000 worth of major gum care and your plan has a $1,200 annual maximum, you could spread the work over two calendar years and get $2,400 in coverage.

4. Choose a dentist who belongs to your plan's network. Switching from a dentist who isn't in the plan to one who is enrolled can cut your costs 15 to 35 percent.

5. Know the costs before you agree to treatment. In some cases, there may be several ways to treat a dental problem. Ask the dentist to list all options for treatment.

6. Take advantage of any free exams, teeth cleanings, or X-rays your insurance may cover. Many dental plans pay for annual or semiannual dental checkups, which include cleanings and exams. Such treatments prevent dental complications or worsening of dental problems such as cavities.

7. Take good care of your teeth. Brush at least once (preferably twice) daily and floss daily to help prevent cavities and gum disease. Children who are old enough to spit out toothpaste instead of swallow it should use toothpaste with fluoride. Consider using an electric toothbrush, which cleans teeth better than a manual brush; an electric toothbrush can be particularly helpful for younger children. Children and adolescents should have a sealant applied to their teeth to help prevent cavities; your dentist can advise you on the appropriate age for sealants. Follow a healthy diet, with minimal amounts of candy, soda, and other sweets. Don't smoke; smoking increases your risk for gum disease and tooth loss.

8. Ask questions. Become a partner in your dental health by asking your dentist:

  • How often should I change my toothbrush?

  • What kind of toothbrush/paste should I use?

  • What's the proper way to brush and floss my teeth?

  • How often should I schedule a dental visit?

  • At what age should my child first visit the dentist?

Once you have the answers, follow your dentist's advice, you'll receive better care and lower bills.