While almost all Americans now have some form of health insurance because of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (popularly known as “Obamacare”), dental insurance is a whole other ball of wax – and far fewer people enjoy its protections.
So if your dentist just discovered a cavity and you don’t have dental insurance (or your policy doesn’t cover much beyond routine cleanings), you might be more worried about the bill than the actual procedure. Fillings can be an unwelcome expense, but there are ways to keep the cost down and keep your teeth in good repair.
What Is a Filling and How Much Will It Cost?
A cavity is a hole in your tooth caused by decay. A filling simply fills that in, hence the name. The procedure includes first drilling out the decaying tissue to make sure that the rot stops — with the aid of Novocaine or other numbing or pain-blocking agent. Once that’s done, the hole in your tooth is filled in with one of a variety of different materials:
- Metal: Don’t believe that old wives’ tale about mercury in your teeth. Metal fillings these days are made out of silver amalgam. Depending on the size of the cavity, these will cost you between $50 and $150 for one or two teeth and from $120 to $300 for several teeth.
- Resin: These fillings are meant to blend in — as opposed to shiny metal, they’re the same color as your teeth. That makes them an attractive option if you have a lot of cavities you don’t want people to see. However, resin fillings cost a bit more than a standard metal filling. One or two teeth filled with this material will run you between $90 and $250, depending on the size of the cavities. More than that and you’re looking at between $150 and $450.
- Porcelain or gold cast: We saved the most expensive for last. Porcelain or gold fillings will run you at least $250 and up to $4,500, depending on how many you need and how big your cavities are.
If you’re suffering from sticker shock, there are some ways you can save a few bucks without sacrificing the quality of your care.
How to Save on the Cost of a Filling
You don’t want to pay too much, but you don’t want to get bargain basement care, either. So how can you save while getting the dental care that you need?
Dental schools: You might be worried about having student dentists work on you, but dental school students are always supervised by dentists while working. Fillings are a routine procedure and depending on where you live, you might actually get better care at this price point by going to a prestigious university’s dental school.
Social discount sites: You probably wouldn’t want to go to a brain surgeon who was selling discounted procedures on Groupon, but remember that a filling is a very basic procedure. Keep your eyes posted on sites like Groupon and see what you can get.
Flexible payment options: Some dentists will give you a discount for paying everything up front in cash. Others will offer you terms to repay the procedure monthly at a price you can afford. Call around about prices and then get other dentists to match the lowest price.
HSAs and FSAs: If you’ve got a health savings account or flexible spending arrangement, you can save some money in there tax-free and then use those funds to pay for the filling procedure. Since the money is taken out before taxes, it’s shielded from FICA withholdings and federal and state income taxes — a double-digit discount of 10% or more for most middle-income Americans.
Fillings might be a decidedly unwelcome surprise, but they’re not going to break the bank. Even if you’re especially strapped for cash, you can get the dental care that you need. That’s one less thing for you to grind your teeth about at night.