How to save money on dental care

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

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

“I have found paradise,” he says. “It’s heaven for me.”

Few people say that about a visit to the dentist. Ten years ago, Smith dropped out of his regular dentist for UT Health San Antonio dental school and hasn’t returned. Initially, it was the cost of care that converted him.

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

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

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

Dental students also had a lot of practice before treating patients.

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

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

Not ready to change dentist? There are still ways to save.

Consider buying your own dental insurance.

“You pay a small annual fee, which will certainly significantly reduce the cost of some of these more expensive dental services. You can even go to a warehouse club like Costco, they sell dental insurance,” said smart shopping expert Andrea Woroch. “Just make sure you look at whether it’s an HMO or a PPO and whether your preferred provider 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 might be paying in consecutive months and then you don’t have to pay interest on a credit card,” Woroch said.

Plus, find dental deals on Groupon and LivingSocial.

“Often the offers are for things like teeth whitening, maybe even straightening or cleaning services. You may have to buy a bundle package, but you’ll get a 30-50% discount,” Woroch said.

Give you a big smile 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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