Saving on Dental and Vision Care
We have stopped paying for dental insurance. When I checked out the dental insurance discount plans that are available all over the internet, at first they seemed attractive, but when I called my dentist’s office, I found out that they offer a 20% discount for uninsured people, and, after factoring in the monthly costs of the discount plans, my net cost would be about the same. If you don’t have dental insurance you may find that the base price the dentist charges you is higher. Big insurers like Aetna (the PPO providers) negotiate better rates with dentists, so if you have dental plan with Aetna, your portion of the payment would be calculated on these lower charges. I found our dentist office to be very helpful and they were more than willing to discuss my options and give me an idea of costs under the various dental plans and office discount.
Given the high costs of dental coverage, I decided to look for other alternatives. It turns out there are two other alternatives in the Portland area which can save us a lot of money: low income dental clinics and dental schools.
We have two dental schools in our area. Portland Community College has a two-year dental assistant\hygienist program and OHSU has a dental school for training dentists. I checked out both schools and both offer large discounts on dental work performed by students, under the supervision of dentists. You may balk at the idea of having students using you as guinea pigs for their learning, but the work they perform is closely monitored and we both found the work done to be excellent and, in some respects, better than work we had done at our regular dental office.
PCC offers exams, x-rays, cleanings, and simple fillings. OHSU offers every service a dentist would perform, including extractions, crowns, onlays, and even dental surgery. The procedure at both schools was to schedule a preliminary (very thorough) exam where they evaluated our dental needs and determined if we were good candidates for them to work on. Both Dennis and I require the more intensive (and expensive) periodontal cleanings every six months which made them happy at PCC. Dennis needed work on a broken molar which they could only do at OHSU. The x-rays and cleanings were cheaper at PCC, so I had mine done there. Dennis had his x-rays and first cleaning done at OHSU, and ended up having four teeth worked on, two cracked\broken molars and two filling replacements. We both had follow-up cleanings done at PCC. The work at PCC cost MUCH less than we would have paid for x-rays and cleanings at our regular dentist with the uninsured discounts. The work Dennis had done at OHSU ended up costing at least 50% less than we would have paid at our regular dentist. Some of the costs for major things, like crowns, are less than what we would have paid out-of-pocket with our previous AETNA dental insurance plan. When we turn 62, the rates at PCC will be reduced even further.
The main negative that we encountered using the dental schools was not the quality of the work, surprisingly. In fact, the cleanings we got were hands-down the most extensive and meticulous cleanings we had ever received. They also took the longest. The fillings and tooth repairs that Dennis received were also well done. The biggest negative was the number of visits required and the amount of time spent in the dentist chair. This was particularly true for Dennis who had fillings and tooth repairs done. The reason for this is that a lot of the work is done twice. The student examines you and writes up his\her exam and treatment recommendations. Then the instructor examines you and compares his exam to the student’s and explains anything the student may have missed. The instructor gives approval of the treatment plan and instructions for how anything tricky should be done as well as how far the student should proceed before the instructor will check in again. The student proceeds with the work, and they tend to be slower…because they are students. They also tend to be more careful in general. Once the student has reached the point in the work agreed upon with the instructor, such as after the drilling and prep are done for a filling, they stop and hunt down the instructor. Sometimes the instructor is immediately available. Sometimes it takes 15-20 minutes to find or free up the instructor to check in, while you wait in the chair. The instructor comes over and examines the work and if more needs to be done, the instructor will tell the student what more to do, or sometimes do it himself and show the student. The work proceeds in this fashion until the work is done. The work is assigned to student to match difficulty with higher skills. Dennis had two complicated tooth rebuilds, so he got a 4th year student. If you are getting work done in the Spring, you may be under the care of a student who is nearing graduation, as Dennis was. For his final visits the student had already passed his dental boards and was doing clinics outside of the dental school. It was obvious that the instructors felt less need to supervise his work, but they still made him correct things he hadn’t done up to their standards, and their standards seemed very high at the school.
If you are a person with dental phobia and can’t tolerate sitting (or laying) in a dental chair for an extra hour or more per filling, then going to a dental school for work is probably not a good option for you. You pay for the cost savings with your time and patience. Neither Dennis nor I have a problem sitting in the dentist chair longer and making extra visits to save money. Of course, this option is only available to you if you are live in an area where there are dental schools nearby. Given the number of visits required, I wouldn’t think this would be a feasible option if you have to travel very far to get to the school.
Here is an outline of the PCC Dental Clinic costs as of October 2017.
Comprehensive Oral Exam:$5Teeth Cleaning
- Adult: $25 to $40
- Child: $20
- Seniors (62+): $15
Dental X-rays$10 to $25
Oral Hygiene Educationincluded in the cost of the dental cleaning
Periodontal (Gum) Treatmentincluded in the cost of the dental cleaning
Low Cost Dental Clinics
Check out http://www.freedentalcare.us and enter in your city for local information on any services available. You will get information on the nearest clinic and the services provided.
Services Listed: 1. Free Dental Clinics 2. Sliding Fee Scale Dental Clinics 3. Low Cost Affordable Dental Clinics 4. Non Profit Dental Clinics
The sliding fee and low cost dental clinics usually have a minimum Fee and proof of income is required.
Local dentists often send out coupons in the mail or you can find them in local coupon magazines. If you are nervous about having some quick, local options available in case of dental emergency you might want to keep current coupons at all times. Check out reviews for the dentists beforehand. These coupons are often for hundreds of dollars off a procedure. Once I got a crown for zero charge using a coupon.
Foreign Dental Work
If you are traveling frequently to lower cost countries you can also avail yourself of the inexpensive, and often high quality, dentist treatments available in those countries. For example, we have heard good reports from people having low cost dental work done in Mexico. We will also be checking out dental care prices there and in other countries we plan to visit and write about them on this site
Most vision insurances in my experience amount to discount plans. The price (even full price without insurance) of the eye exam is usually by far the cheapest part. I’ve found that base prices of glasses, frames and contact lenses are often inflated so the co-pay after insurance is applied is often not much lower than the rate I could have received by shopping around with no insurance. For glasses and contacts there are very competitive rates online and Costco prices are good. Local optometry schools often offer services at a cheaper rate. For Lasik surgery look for Groupons or other coupons. We got a Groupon at 50% off regular cost for our daughter Megan’s Lasik (which wasn’t covered under our vision insurance at the time) with one of the best doctors in our area, which saved us over two thousand dollars.