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One in 3 American adults lacks dental insurance. Even if you have benefits, they may not cover the services you need, or they may leave you with big out-of-pocket expenses.

But skimping on dental care because you can’t afford it can cost more — and cause more pain — in the long run. Good oral health is important for your overall health.

So put your money where your mouth is, but spend it smartly. Here are some sensible ways to cut your costs.

Space It Out

The twice-a-year dental checkup has been the mainstay for decades. But there’s not much evidence that everyone needs to go that often. In one study, researchers looked at 16 years of insurance claims and found that for most nonsmokers in good health, one visit a year may prevent tooth loss just as well as a checkup every 6 months.

People who smoke, have diabetes, or are prone to gum disease may need to see their dentists more than twice a year. The same goes for people who naturally build plaque and tartar fast.

Skip What You Can

Before your exam, ask about the plans for your visit and the fees. Check if you can do without a particular service. For example, many insurers pay for bitewing X-rays — which show cavities between teeth — every 12 months. The American Dental Association says teens and adults can wait up to 3 years between X-rays if they take good care of their teeth and don’t have any oral problems.

But if you have tooth decay or are likely to get cavities, you may need X-rays as often as every 6 months. If you skip them, they could cost you a tooth or require an expensive root canal or a crown later.

Wise Up About Wisdom Teeth

These teeth at the very back of your mouth usually come in during your late teens or early 20s. Some people never get them, or they have them with no issues. But wisdom teeth often can get impacted when they don’t have space to come out from the gum.


Many dentists recommend taking them out as a way to avoid any future problems. But some researchers and public health experts say extraction surgery is not a good idea for otherwise healthy teeth.

Ask your dentist if your wisdom teeth need to come out right away or if you can wait a few months or even years. Or get a second opinion. Putting off a needed extraction could make it more complicated and expensive in the end.

Rethink Braces

Straightening and aligning teeth is a big-ticket expense that involves many trips to your dentist or orthodontist to adjust your appliance and to check your progress. More often than not, people get braces for cosmetic, not medical, reasons.

Sometimes, a poor bite can keep your or your child’s teeth and jaw from working without pain. Braces can correct that. Other times, you may want to get braces simply to look and feel better. Either way, check if you can pay in installments and if you can skip any services to keep costs down. Be upfront about your money situation, and ask what’s best for you.

Look Into Low-Cost Clinics

If you need dental care your insurance doesn’t cover or if you’ve maxed out your benefits, check if you can get it done elsewhere for less.

Many local and state health departments, dental schools, and taxpayer-funded community health clinics offer a range of services. They can include cleaning, filling cavities, extracting teeth, root canals, crowns, and even emergency care. Some clinics charge sliding fees based on how much you can afford. Others have low fixed prices, such as $15 for a full set of X-rays for kids. Go to the nonprofit website to search for a low-cost clinic near you.

Do Your Part

It bears repeating: Prevention is the best — and cheapest — medicine. Brush and floss every single day. Flossing prevents plaque and the cavities that follow it. Brushing keeps your teeth and gums healthy.

Know the signs when something minor turns serious. Call your dentist if you notice:

  • Pain. Eating and chewing should not hurt.
  • Constant sensitivity, especially to hot, cold, or sweet foods and drinks.
  • Swelling. Even if it doesn’t hurt, swelling inside your mouth can signal an infection.
  • Bleeding. Your gums shouldn’t bleed every time you brush.
  • Bad breath that won’t go away also can mean infection.
Medical Reference Reviewed by Alfred D. Wyatt Jr., DMD on June 01, 2018



American Dental Association: “Dental Benefits and Medicaid,” “American Dental Association Statement on Regular Dental Visits,” “Dental Radiographic Examinations: Recommendations for Patient Selection and Limiting Radiation Exposure.”

Journal of Dental Research: “Patient Stratification for Preventive Care in Dentistry.”

Evidence-Based Dentistry: “Editorial: The six-monthly dental check.”

Louis Bonvissuto DDS, Nashville, TN.

Lucy Bonvissuto, office manager for Louis Bonvissuto, DDS, Nashville, TN.

Mayo Clinic: “Dental exam,” “Bad Breath,” “Wisdom tooth extraction.”

American Journal of Public Health: “The Prophylactic Extraction of Third Molars: A Public Health Hazard.” “Your Teeth,” “Braces.”

Rhonda Switzer-Nadasdi, DMD, chief executive officer, Interfaith Dental Clinic, Nashville, TN.

American Association of Orthodontists: “Medically Necessary Orthodontic Care: AAO Initiative Advances.”

Tooth Wisdom: “Find Affordable Dental Care.”

Clayton State University: “Dental Hygiene Clinic.”

Georgia Department of Public Health: “Programs and Services.”