Medical Financing

How to Pay for Dental Work With No Money

People in the U.S. without dental insurance (Source).

Whether you need a cavity filled or a simple teeth cleaning, dental work is expensive—especially for people without insurance.

No one looks forward to a visit to the dentist. And if you’ve neglected your teeth because of a lack of money, you’re not alone. An American Dental Association survey found that 42 percent of Americans don’t go to the dentist as often as they’d like.

When you look at the costs for dental services, it’s no wonder. Just routine cleanings, x-rays, and exams can cost $300 to $400 per year. For people without insurance, the average deep clean costs $500 to $900. A crown or a root canal could set you back $1,500 or more.

The reality is, even for people who have medical insurance, it usually doesn’t include dental insurance. And even a dental insurance plan has limits on coverage for how much it will pay for dental care and can include high co-pays and deductibles depending on your provider.

While it’s best to make an effort to save money for a big expense like the need for dental work, it’s not always possible. And neglecting your teeth can lead to big problems in the long term, like gum disease or more disastrous health problems.

So, how can you afford the dental care that you need? If you don’t have dental insurance or can’t afford the out-of-pocket expenses for dental treatment and services you need, there are several financing options and resources for assistance to consider.

Before looking for a loan or assistance to pay for your dental care, you should first understand the factors that affect what various dental clinics charge for treatment so that you can seek the most affordable options for you.

The average costs of dental procedures

How much do dental procedures cost anyway?

“Dentists set their own rates for dental care after evaluating their dental practice and the local market. After all, a dental practice is just like any other business and must be priced competitively,” says Andrea Randall of Starmount and Unum Dental, a provider of dental insurance.

Dentists set their own rates for dental care after evaluating their dental practice and the local market. After all, a dental practice is just like any other business, and must be priced competitively”

A few experts in the industry weighed in, providing the following cost estimations.

Dental exams, cleanings, and digital x-rays$75 to $150
Composite (tooth-colored) fillings per area filled$100 to $300
Typical ceramic crown$800 to $1,200
Dental bridges$1,500 to $3,000
Simple tooth extractions per tooth$100 to $200
Surgical tooth extractions per tooth$200 to $400
Teeth whitening take-home trays$100 to $200
Teeth whitening in-office$300 to $500+
Invisalign$4,000 to $8,000
Dental Implants per tooth$1,500 to $2,500
Routine cleanings, x-rays, and exams per year$300 to $400
An average-size filling$200 to $300
Crowns and root canals$1200 to $1300

Connie Feng, D.D.S. at Twin Leaf Dentistry, offers the following quotes but warns, “It varies widely based on location and whether the office participates with insurance networks.”

Now, let’s take a closer look at why dental costs can vary so greatly.

4 factors that impact the cost of dental care

Many factors can impact how much you pay for your dental procedures. However, the most significant include location, whether the dentist is in your plan’s network, coding of procedures, and whether you choose budget versus premium care.

Whether you have insurance or not, you should always search and compare the prices that clinics in your area charge for the specific service you need. Even within the same network, dentists can have big cost differences for the same services.Dental_Finance_Options


1) Location

First up is location. “As in many other areas of the consumer market, dentistry and the fees associated with it can drastically vary. Fees can vary by zip code (yes, insurance companies set their reimbursement rates based on the zip code your doctor is in),” says Alvarez.

He adds, “If you see a dentist in Midtown NYC or Beverly Hills, expect to pay much more than seeing one in the South Bronx or Compton.”

2) Insurance

Next is insurance. “For a given procedure, the price will vary significantly based on whether or not you have insurance. If seeing an in-network provider, there is a negotiated rate between the dentist and the insurance company.

This will impact not only the amount the dentist will make off the procedure but your portion of that amount as well. If you are seeing an out-of-network provider, or you have no insurance at all, your payment is based on the office’s typical fee,” says Jennifer Dean, D.D.S. and practice owner of Rancho Sante Fe Cosmetic and Family Dentistry.

You may save around 15% to 20% on a certain dental procedure just for visiting a network dentist”

Randall adds, “You may save around 15% to 20% on a certain dental procedure just for visiting a network dentist. 59% of adults ages 19 to 64 have private dental plans according to the American Dental Association.

However, there are different types of dental insurance and various plan designs with different benefits. Consumers with the right dental plan and benefits can significantly reduce their cost of care.”

3) Coding of procedures

Several dentists also mentioned that procedure coding could impact the cost.

“Average costs differ widely, even from community to community, let alone county or state to state. This is primarily due to the coding process with dental insurance companies,” says Barnard.

Dean adds, “Different dentists can approach and code things differently. For example, if you need two fillings on one tooth, one dentist may charge that as two distinct and separate two-surface fillings, while another may charge that as a single three-surface filling, which is typically cheaper.”

4) Quality of care

Lastly, you get what you pay for.

“Private practice fees can also vary greatly even within a single locale, depending on experience, technical expertise, materials cost, etc.,” says Travis Mattson, practicing dentist at Dentolutions.

He adds, “Shopping on price alone is not easy, as not all dentistry and materials are the same. For example, in the case of a crown, a dentist could have a crown fabricated in another country and milled on a computer for much cheaper than one handcrafted by a master technician/ceramic artist in the United States. Those differences often get reflected in the end result, as well as the fees charged.”

Alvarez summarizes this point saying, “Just as with cars or clothing, you can buy a Honda or a Mercedes, you can shop at Walmart or Chanel, and you can also choose to see a clinic dentist for a low cost, or you can see a fee-for-service dentist at a higher cost.

The types of fees are different, and the materials and quality of care you receive will also be different. You may need a filling that can cost $75 to $100 done in silver-mercury amalgam, or you can have a Lucite reinforced ceramic on-lay filling that costs up to $2000. The choice is yours.”

These factors should be taken into consideration when choosing a dentist. Be aware that you can save by choosing an in-network provider or going to a provider in a lower-income area, but you also should consider the quality and expertise of the dentist.

So what should you do if you find yourself with a massive bill for a dental procedure? How can you pay for dental work?

How can you pay for dental work?

Whatever your reason for needing help with getting dental treatment services, there is a range of options.

Check your medical insurance policy

In some cases, standard medical insurance policies will cover dental work. While standard medical insurance rarely covers treatments like root canals, dentures, bridges, braces, or dental implants, the procedure may be covered if it is found to be “medically necessary.”

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.

Does Medicare cover dental services?

A Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C) may cover the following:

  • Teeth cleaning
  • Routine X-rays
  • Extractions
  • Fillings

Discount cards

An alternative to dental insurance is a dental discount card, for which you pay a small flat fee for sizeable discounts at dental clinics within the network.

Ask about a payment plan

Many dentists offer short-term payment plans for individuals without insurance. These plans don’t usually have interest fees, and the loan isn’t reported to credit bureaus. This remains true unless you default. If you fail to pay what you owe, expect to be taken to collections.

Find out if they charge interest, how long you’ll have to pay the debt, and how much you’ll have to pay each month. Keep in mind that this option isn’t always available, especially for elective work such as veneers or implants. But you won’t know unless you ask!

Take out a personal loan

personal loan can be a good option for financing dental work. You can use a personal loan to pay for anything. And if you have good credit, you can probably score a lower interest rate than you would get with a credit card.

With a personal loan, you’ll make regular monthly payments over the length of a set loan term. Not sure what kind of rates you might qualify for? SuperMoney can help! With our personalized loan engine, you can get quotes from dozens of top lenders in seconds. Here is a list of our best dental loans.

Get a home equity loan or HELOC

Do you own your house and have some equity in it? If so, you might want to consider tapping into it to cover your dental costs. Home equity loans and lines of credit (HELOC) enable you to borrow against the equity in your home.

This is a great option if you have bad credit because your house secures the loan, ensuring low interest rates. Just make sure you can make your payments on time, as your house will be on the line if you don’t!

Use a medical credit card

Many physician’s offices and dental practices have brochures on hand advertising specialized medical credit cards. The most common dental credit card is available through Care Credit.

That said, as long as you’re careful to pay your debt in time, medical credit cards can be a great option. They’re especially helpful for applicants with bad credit, who might not otherwise qualify for such low rates.

Pay with a credit card

Nearly all dental offices accept major credit cards as payment for dental work. If your credit line is big enough, this could be a good option. But keep in mind that interest rates on credit cards are usually higher than the interest rates of personal loans. If it’s going to take you several months to pay off the debt, be sure to compare both options to find the cheapest financing solution!

Also, if you have good credit, there’s another great option out there. Many credit cards offer promotions wherein they charge zero interest for a set introductory period — typically 6-12 months. As long as you’re able to pay off the balance before the promotional period ends, you’ve financed your dental bill without paying a dime in interest!

Not sure where to start? Check out these great credit card offers:

Use an HSA

Do you have a health savings account (HSA)? Then draw from it to pay for your dental procedure! An HSA lets you put away pre-tax income into a special savings account every month. You can spend the money in your HSA on any qualified medical expenses — including dental work.

Borrow from your 401(k)

Suppose you don’t have an HSA, and your low credit score makes it hard to get competitive offers from lenders or credit card companies. How can you finance your dental work?

Easy: borrow the money from your future self! Sound impossible? Not if you have a 401(k) retirement savings account! Borrowing money from your own 401(k) lets you draw funds from your own retirement. Because you’re borrowing from yourself, you won’t have to pass a credit check, and you won’t have to pay any interest.

As long as you remain working for your current employer (the one who facilitates your 401(k)), you can take your time to pay yourself back. But if you lose or leave your job, you must pay your debt within 60 days.

Getting free or low-cost dental care

Students and low-income adults and families often qualify for special programs and services.

Dental discount programs for students

For college students, many schools offer a dental discount program that is designed with the budgets of students in mind. And at some schools, dental treatment is available on campus along with other health services. You may also be able to get free treatment at the dental school.

Community Dental Clinics

Check the American Dental Association (ADA) website. They provide a map with all the free and low-cost dental treatment programs in each state.

You can also call your local public hospital and ask for recommendations. Some larger hospitals may have a community dental clinic or have a list of clinics to recommend. Your state’s dental association is another great resource. Here is a directory of all state dental associations and related organizations.

Call your local dental schools

Your local dental school can be a great choice for low-cost dental treatment.

Dentists and dental hygienists have to get training before they get licensed, so dental schools need patients for them to practice on. The treatment is not always free, but it costs much less than a regular dental clinic. Most work off a sliding scale program that charges you according to your income.

The ADA has a useful list of dental schools here, which you can search by city or state.

Dental care nonprofits

Non-profit organizations that specialize in providing affordable or free dental work for low-income adults, children, and families are another great resource. Here’s a quick list of links to get you started:

  • United Way: The United Way is a community-based coalition of charitable organizations. Call 211 and ask for help in finding a dental clinic or other options in your area.
  • HRSA: The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is the primary federal agency for improving health care to individuals who are geographically isolated, economically, or medically vulnerable.
  • Dentistry From The Heart: This non-profit service focuses on providing dental care to people who cannot afford it.
  • Mission of Mercy This faith-based program receives no government funding, which means it can provide healthcare without any pre-qualifications. Patients don’t have to prove their poverty or residency.

Hospital Emergency Rooms

Going to the ER for dental care should be your last resort, but sometimes you just really need help right away. The emergency room may be a good option if you are in a lot of pain or have an oral infection and don’t have the cash to pay upfront.

Of course, this option isn’t really cheap. The average cost for an ER dental emergency is $750 to $1,000, depending on whether you live in a rural area or a big city. However, getting an ER bill later is better than allowing an infection to fester.

Ask a parent or family member for help

Few people look forward to asking parents or family for financial help. But if someone in your family has the resources to help you, consider asking for some assistance, perhaps in the form of a short-term loan or some kind of trade.