Whether your dental work is necessary to fix a problem with your teeth and gums, or it’s purely cosmetic, dental procedures are expensive. Bridgework alone can cost $1,000 or more, and a crown with a root canal could have a price tag of up to $3,000.
Here’s what you need to know about financing dental work and your various payment options for your next trip to the dentist.
Dental work and medical insurance options
Nearly 108 million people in the U.S. have no dental insurance at all. Those who do have dental insurance might find it only covers a small percentage of an expensive procedure.
What many people don’t realize is that, in a few cases, dental work could be covered by standard medical insurance. If a procedure is found to be “medically necessary,” your medical insurance would pay the costs. This also applies to any insurance under the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.
For example, if you have a jaw injury from an accident and need oral surgery, your health insurance will probably approve the treatment. Likewise, insurance may also cover procedures to correct airway obstructions, chewing dysfunction, or severe speech defects.
There is almost never medical insurance coverage for things like root canals, dentures, bridges, braces, or dental implants. In these cases, you will need to find a way to pay or finance your dental work.
If you have dental insurance
Even if you have dental insurance, you may not have the coverage you need. Although insurance pays for preventative care, the contribution to other services has limits. For example, one Delta Dental policy only pays 50% towards the cost of oral surgery, root canals, and crowns.(Source)
When there remains a gap between insurance coverage and your dental bill, or if you don’t have insurance at all, here are your options to pay for your dental work.
How to pay for dental work
Before you decide to have a procedure, first ask yourself — and the dentist — if it’s really necessary. There could be a cheaper alternative, or this might be something you can put off while saving some money.
Whether you have insurance or not, you should always compare the prices dentists in your area charge for a procedure. Even within the same network, providers can have big cost differences for the same service. Prices also vary widely depending on where you live.
If you decide to move forward, check the prices for procedures to make sure they’re fair. A good place to do this is the Healthcare Bluebook site. Sometimes, a provider will be willing to negotiate on prices, particularly if you are planning to pay in full.
If you don’t have the cash up front to pay for your dental work, your options include:
- Ask the dental office about payment plans
- Get a personal loan
- Pay with a credit card
- Using dental credit cards or medical credit cards
- Which option you choose depends on your particular circumstances as well as your credit. If you’re not sure what your credit score is, you can check that for free here.
Dental office payment plan options
Many dental offices recognize that a large dental bill falls under the category of an unexpected expense. For this reason, some will offer a short-term payment plan if you can’t pay for the entire procedure at once. This may or may not be available for elective work such as veneers or implants. You won’t know if you don’t ask.
These repayment plans with dental offices usually don’t have interest fees attached to them, and they aren’t reported to credit bureaus. This remains true unless you default. If you fail to make good on your agreement to pay, expect to be taken to collections.
If your dental office does offer a payment plan, be sure to clarify their terms before you have work done. Ask them if they charge interest as well as how long you will have to pay the balance and the exact amount of your monthly payments.
Some dental offices might suggest that you use what is known as “dental financing” to pay for your dental work. This involves getting an unsecured loan with a third-party lender. Although the rates may be a little higher than with traditional lenders, dental financing makes it possible for you to get the dental work you want with payments that fit your budget.
Financing dental work with a personal loan
A personal loan can be a good option for financing dental work. This is an unsecured term loan that you pay back over a set period with a fixed interest rate that is based on both your credit score and the amount borrowed.
Paying for dental work with credit cards
Nearly all dental offices accept major credit cards as payment for dental work. If you have available credit, this could be a good option to pay for these services. Depending on your credit score, there are some excellent credit cards that offer either rewards or a no-interest introductory period – or both.
The Chase Freedom Visa card is one of the best cash-back cards on the market that doesn’t come with an annual fee. The card has a 0% APR introductory offer on all balance transfers and purchases for the first 15 months. After that, interest rates start at 10.74% above prime. Cash back rewards are 1% on all purchases and as much as 5% on certain purchases up to $1,500 in changing categories every three months. This card isn’t ideal for travelers due to a 3% foreign transaction fee, but the introductory APR makes it a good choice to finance dental work.
Citi Simplicity is a good choice for people with excellent credit. The introductory 0% APR period with this card is 21 months, and there’s no annual fee or late payment fees. However, the card does have a 3% balance transfer fee.
What you should know about dental credit cards
Many physician’s offices and dental practices now have brochures on hand for a specialty medical credit card that you can use to pay for both necessary and elective procedures. The most common dental credit card is through Care Credit.
The credit agreements promise consumers a low introductory annual percentage rate (APR) period if you pay off the card within, say 12 or 18 months. Unfortunately, what they don’t advertise is that if you don’t pay off the card within that time, they charge you double-digit back interest dating to the beginning of your credit agreement.
Dental credit cards can be enticing for several reasons. They have a good sales pitch and are often “sponsored” by a trusted medical or dental provider. These cards also have a high approval rating, so even if you have poor credit, you will likely get approval.
Investing in preventative care
Even if you don’t need urgent dental work at the moment, one of the best ways to ensure that you won’t in the future is to invest in preventative care. Paying $100 for a filling today can help ensure that you won’t have to fork over thousands for a root canal and crown in a year or two.
Not only should you take care of your teeth at home by brushing and using dental floss on a daily basis, but you should also make regular visits to the dentist. These annual and bi-annual check-ups aren’t expensive, and there are several ways to mitigate the costs.
Health care spending accounts
Using a health care spending account (HSA) is one way to do this. An HSA allows you to put away pre-tax dollars each month that you can use for medical expenses such as physician co-pays, medications, and dental care. Note that self-employed workers can only contribute to an HSA with after-tax dollars (source).
How to compare offers and lenders
When you compare offers and lenders, look at the total cost of each option. Consider the APR listed by the lender as well as how long it will take you to pay off the loan or credit line. If your dental work is elective, look at that total cost and decide whether or not you still want to have the work done right away or wait to save some cash.
Whether you need dental work for an unexpected or urgent issue, or you want to enhance your smile, there are financing sources available if you know where to look. Interested in using a personal loan to pay for your dental work? Compare personal loan lenders first.
Do you prefer to use a credit card? Be sure to search the best credit card offers and choose a 0% APR introductory period offer to pay for your next dental procedure.
We can help you compare financial products so you can choose the best option for your situation. Start here.