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Affordable Dentistry: How I Saved Thousands

We all know that we should get regular dental check-ups but seeing a dentist can be expensive. According to Fairhealthconsumer.org   a simple composite (white) 1 surface filling on a front tooth in Richmond Virginia will average $150. This is the easiest type of filling. If your cavity covers two surfaces the price goes up to $185 and 4 surfaces would be $276 and that doesn’t cover x-rays, cleanings and possibly Novocain. Back teeth cost even more with four surfaces on a back tooth costing $320. Also depending on your location and your particular Dentist it could cost you significantly more.

How Not to Save Money

Affordable DentistAmalgam (silver) fillings are slightly cheaper with 1 surface costing $124 and four surfaces costing $255. But did you know that amalgam fillings are actually a combination of 50% mercury,  ~22%-32% silver, plus tin, copper and other trace metals. And there is evidence that the mercury leeches out of the fillings over time. After a few years half the mercury disappears. Well, not exactly disappears it has to go somewhere, so if it is in your mouth you must be either breathing or swallowing it.

So there is considerable concern over the safety of Amalgam fillings… although the American Dental Association (ADA) still endorses their use. But they have been banned in some European countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

Plus, Germany, Austria, and Canada have recommended against placing amalgam in certain individuals such as pregnant women, children, those with renal (Kidney) dysfunction, and those with an allergy to metals. But why take chances? To be safe it is best to avoid mercury altogether.

So if you want to save money on your dental care what can you do?

Saving Money: An Affordable Dentist?

After having avoided the dentist for several years, I ended up with several cavities that needed taking care of. Looking at the prices above, I now realize that although he was very good my personal dentist charged quite a bit more than the average for my area (which may have contributed to my avoidance). And then one day, I was talking with a friend who mentioned going to the local Dental School. I had heard of going to students for haircuts but for dentistry? Well, I guess they have to learn somehow but do I really want them learning on me?

My first visit happened to be at the beginning of  the semester and was a bit like a “Cattle Call”. There were probably 100 people in the waiting room all waiting for their preliminary exam. They did a basic evaluation, checked for oral cancer, probed around and did x-rays to determine if I was a good candidate for their services. And at the end I was approved and assigned to a student dentist. She was a “Junior” which means that she has already finished her Bachelors degree and is in her third year of Grad School. Sophomores are allowed to assist and do things like cleanings I believe, but can’t actually drill on your teeth. I think they use practice teeth in a lab.

On my second visit my affordable student dentist did a cleaning on my teeth and we discussed my treatment plan. Students are closely supervised by experienced dentists every step of the way. First the student explains to the “Professor” what they intend to do and they discuss how it will be done. The student then prepares your mouth and calls the professor back over to approve getting started. The student will then give you a shot to numb your mouth and begin drilling. When they think they have the cavity properly prepped they call the professor back over and he will often make a few further suggestions. Once the changes are made the student will receive permission to begin filling. When they are done filling they will attempt to shape the filling properly and call the professor back for assistance or final approval. Occasionally, the Professor will make a few final tweaks to the filling to touch up the job and add the professional touch but that is about it.

Drawbacks to Student Dentists

Over all, I have been satisfied with the quality of work, the major drawback is that it takes quite a bit longer than if an experienced dentist had done the job.  Obviously, all that checking and talking back and forth takes a bit of extra time. But I thought it was going so well that on my third visit I arranged for my wife to come along. She got her own student, so we could both be worked on at the same time. Since she wasn’t there for the “cattle call” her student did the preliminary exam and was able to get started right away.

So How Much Did it Cost?

How much did I save? Well,  remember I don’t have dental insurance so I have to pay the full amount myself. The school does accept dental insurance however. The cleaning cost me $46, Fluoride treatment $11, a single surface filling on a front tooth cost me $49 (two-surfaces would be $55), the initial oral exam was $44, Bite-wing x-rays were $36, Panoramic x-rays were $68, and a 3 surface rear tooth filling was $63.

Just that final 3 surface filling would have cost me at least $300 at my regular dentist (probably $350) and instead it cost me $63. So on that visit alone I saved almost $300. Between my fillings and my wife’s we probably saved at least $2000. Although I must admit that it was so cheap that I actually had extra cosmetic work done that I probably wouldn’t have had done if I had been paying full price!

Here’s a table of the cost comparison.

Procedure Average Student Savings
Cleaning $86 $46 $40
Dental Exam $86 $44 $42
Bite Wing X-Ray $65 $36 $29
Panoramic X-Rays $122 $68 $54
Fluoride Treatment $47 $11 $36
Single Surface Filling $150 $49 $101
Two Surface Filling $185 $55 $135
Three Surface Rear Tooth $300 $63 $237

All-in-all, I have been very happy with my student dentist experience. Most states have at least one Dental school tied to the State Medical University system. So if you live near a large city with a medical University you might want to check into the possibility of using a student to save hundreds (or thousands) of dollars.

Image courtesy of Gregory Szarkiewicz / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

About Tim McMahon

Work by editor and author, Tim McMahon, has been featured in Bloomberg, CBS News, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, Forbes, Washington Post, Drudge Report, The Atlantic, Business Insider, American Thinker, Lew Rockwell, Huffington Post, Rolling Stone, Oakland Press, Free Republic, Education World, Realty Trac, Reason, Coin News, and Council for Economic Education. Connect with Tim on Google+