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My dental problems have escalated. All weekend my lower right molar throbbed, and upon closer inspection, I found a gaping cavity on the side, in between the two teeth. Prime spot for catching food, air, etc. This sucker is huge, and I only hope it doesn’t require a root canal…especially since I’ve never had a tooth hurt like this.

But that’s not all! I also have a minimum of two other cavities. One in the upper right side (the first one that I mentioned way-back-when, I can’t see it, but Mark says he can), and another one on the lower left side. I only know about these because I had a sugary drink (root beer) this weekend, and it was like a radar — blip blip blip, you have a cavity here, and here, and here. What I don’t get, is how did these all just “pop” up in the last 6 months? Shouldn’t there have been some indication of decay at my last dental visit in July? Especially for the really advanced cavity that is currently killing me? And I currently don’t eat candy or drink soda pop, chew gum, and my diet is pretty restrictive as far as sugary crap goes — but that obviously has had no impact on minimizing cavities!!

This is all very disappointing. My mouth is rotting and I have a horrible toothache that just throbs when I eat, breathe, sleep, etc. For obvious reasons, I got very upset this weekend, at the apparent decay of my dental health and the looming financial setback of at least three fillings, plus all the fees associated with new patient visits.

So I googled. For hours. I needed to find a good dentist (hard to do without recommendations), who took new patients and provided some sort of same-as-cash financing. And I needed to make an appointment ASAP.

Discount Dental Plans

The good news is that I found some pretty decent options for minimizing dental care expenses. It appears the best option for people without dental insurance is to enroll in a discounted fee dental plan at www.dentalplans.com. You pay a certain annual fee to participate in the plan, and you pay up to 50% less than what the dentist would normally charge. Also, most plans take effect a day after you enroll and there are no waiting periods to satisfy or pre-existing condition limitations. Discount dental plans aren’t limited to people without insurance, by the way. You can enroll and use them for services that your insurance may not cover, like cosmetic dentistry and orthodontics. Or they may be a good option if you have maxed out your annual limit on your insurance.

Prices for the dental plans differ by area. Those I was looking at ranged from $99.95-$129.95 per year. Right now you can get a 15% discount off all the plans at dentalplans.com using the code “REDHAT.” I also found a 10% discount, using the coupon-code “blurt.” The difference in price for just onefilling at any dentist in the Phoenix area more than makes up for the cost of enrolling in the plan. For example, here is a chart showing some of the discounted fees and savings for the Vital Savings Plan by Aetna:

Sample Discounted Fees and Savings

Procedure Description Usual Fee 1 Discounted Fee (for Plan Members) 2 Member Savings
Routine 6 Month Check-Up $40 $22 $18
In Depth Check-Up $67 $31 $36
Full Mouth X-Rays $104 $53 $51
Four Bitewing X-Rays $49 $25 $24
Panoramic Film $87 $44 $43
Adult Teeth Cleaning $75 $42 $33
Child Teeth Cleaning $53 $30 $23
Protective Sealant / Tooth $43 $22 $21
1 Surface White Filling for U or L Front Tooth $121 $65 $56
Single Crown – Porcelain on High Noble Metal $867 $542 $325
Single Crown – Porcelain on Noble Metal $838 $526 $312
Root Canal Treatment – Molar $829 $512 $317
Perio Scaling and Root Planing (Per Quadrant) $208 $114 $94
Full Upper Denture $1,252 $694 $558

So, assuming I need three fillings, I’ll save a minimum of $180 on fillings alone by joining this plan. That more than makes up for the cost of enrollment. I paid $110.46 after the 15% discount, and I received three months free through their current promotion. I signed up today, and my activation begins tomorrow. I chose the Vital Savings by Aetna plan because:

  1. It had one of the lowest discounted fee schedules,
  2. It was one of the few plans accepted by the dentist I was interested in seeing,
  3. It also provides additional savings on vision care, natural products and services (i.e. accupuncture, massage, chiropractic), fitness, and oral health care products.
  4. It offers vision discounts at a wide variety of places. Now maybe I can get a new pair of glasses!

When I was comparison shopping, I saw that one of the plans offering vision discounts, the Dent-All Plan, was accepted by Sam’s Club, which means that you would get a discount off the already extremely low prices there. The Dent-All Plan was one of the few plans that also offered prescription and hearing benefits. It seemed like the best deal for dental alone was the Dental Eclipse Discount Plan, which is offered to Utah and Arizona residents only. It provides significantly lower dental rates than any of the other plans ($10 for a routine checkup, $55 for a surface filling, $235-507 for a root canal). It doesn’t, however, provide extra vision or prescription benefits. The other drawback is that plan is not accepted by very many dentists, and in the end I chose a dentist that doesn’t accept it, so I went with Aetna.

If you are interested in signing up through dentalplans.com, let me know and I can send you a referral email. Alternatively, you can go to their website and sign up for a plan, using my rewards code: 37S94H88. You get the same free 3 months, and I get referral “reward points” which can be redeemed toward free additional months on my current plan.

It’s important to note that these are discount or reduced-fee plans, NOT insurance. You are simply charged a reduced rate for dental procedures according to a discounted fee schedule. Payment is expected in full at the time of the procedure.

Also, one other discount dental plan that I ran across was the Southwest Dental Plan. For only $68 a year, it provides discounts of up to 63% on dentist fees at eight Southwest Dental Group locations (all located within the metropolitan Phoenix area). The prices are comparable to the dental plans mentioned above, and it covers specialty dental care. The only drawback may be that you’re limited to one of those eight locations.

CareCredit Financing
When I was researching various dentists, I made a point to look into their financing options. Several offer a bookkeeping discount for paying in cash; this is usually around 5-10%, which isn’t really that much for basic procedures. For someone like me, on a very fixed low income, the better option would be same-as-cash financing, which allows you to stretch the payments out over a period of time, at no extra cost. I didn’t even know that such an option existed, until my dad mentioned it. So I narrowed the dentists down to those who offered this option.

The particular dentist I’ve chosen offers CareCredit financing, “the nation’s leading patient payment program.” With CareCredit you can finance 100% of your dental care, and there are no upfront costs, no annual fees, and no pre-payment penalties. They offer a No Interest Payment Plan, which applies to purchases of $300 of more made on an account. Under this plan, no finance charges will be charged so long as you make the minimum monthly payment, and you pay the full amount within the allotted promotional period. CareCredit is a GE Money Company, so it’s a reliable source. You can use CareCredit for anything from LASIK and teeth whitening, to every day checkup costs for you, your family and even your pet.

This is a huge relief — the thought of a root canal makes me shudder, but if I do need one, and my bill comes out to more than $300, I always have the option to make monthly payments under the no interest plan, so long as I qualify (don’t see why I wouldn’t).

The Young Studly Dentist
So which dentist did I end up choosing? Dr. George Carr, DDS, a young dentist who looks likes he’s fresh off a GQ cover. In all my googling, I happened upon an unofficial graduate student guide put out by the department of Life Sciences at ASU, and in it there were some recommendations by current graduate students. They first recommended enrolling in dentalplans.com (Check!).  Then several students gave recommendations for dentists they used in the area, and Dr.Carr was one of them. He also happened to be the only one on that list that accepted any of the discount dental plans from dentalplans.com. At this point I had pretty much already narrowed the field down to two other dentists.

So why Dr. Carr? Well, at first I wasn’t too thrilled that he was so young. I guess I somehow equate youth to lack of experience. But his website was by FAR the most impressive of any dentist that I had browsed. He uses technologically advanced equipment, which is probably a benefit of his being only 5 years out of dental school. For example, he uses digital x-rays instead of film, which have better resolution and greatly reduce the radiation exposure to patients. And he also uses the KaVo DIAGNOdent, for early detection of decay that would otherwise go undetected by visual inspection or x-rays alone.  Plus Dr. Carr did graduate from one of the elite dental schools in the country (University of Washington School of Dentistry). His class ranked 2nd in the nation on the National Board exams.  And he has a ridiculously long resume (goes all the way back to high school, a bit silly). So he’s definitely very intelligent. There is also an extensive smile gallery on his website, for everything from routine procedures (fillings, crowns) to cosmetic surgery. His portfolio shows that he does quality work. Also, his office is located in Tempe, just off the 101 on Southern Ave, so it’s at a pretty central location relative to school and work. And, the final requirements: he accepts the Vital Savings discounted dental plan and participates in CareCredit financing.

I called his office early this morning, and sure enough, Dr. Carr was accepting new patients, and they could fit me in for an emergency appointment Tuesday morning at 7:45 a.m. Also I was told by the receptionist that Dr. Carr is willing to work with graduate students, and usually offers a 10% discount on all services to them. So even without the dental plan, or CareCredit financing, I would be getting a better deal than if I had just randomly gone to any joe schmoe dentist.

Let’s just hope all that research pays off!

One Response to “How to Afford Dental Procedures Without Insurance”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi Hon, hope your mouth is feeling a bit better. Care-credit is a really good program. We use it, & it is nice to know you have it as a backup as well. Like you said,insurance can run out pretty quickly! It also helps boost your credit rating, so long as you pay your bills, naturally! Feel better! Love ya, Mom

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