How to Save Money at the Dentist – Get a Second Opinion

I have noticed something really strange when it comes to dentists. I generally find that I am unwilling to pay $30,000 for a car when I can find a perfectly good one for much and I am not as concerned with brand names as I am about just being clothed and warm. However, lately my friends and coworkers have been mentioning that they have just paid thousands of dollars for root canals and other expensive dental procedures, like it is just part of life.

Every time someone starts to tell me about this I cringe and ask if they had gotten a second opinion. This is where it gets weirder because 100% of the time people resist the idea. “Oh, the dentist came highly recommended. I trust her.” Is it really that much effort to go to another dentist and see if they come up with the same diagnosis and cost? Since when did people so blindly drop thousands of dollars with little thought?

I think that financial wisdom should apply to every area of your life. It is no good to have a great mechanic to rely on, limit the cost of your college, and to save all your pennies in other areas of your life if you are just going to fork all that savings over to the first dentist who tells you that you need a lot of dental work. It’s important to use common sense in all your purchases.

I had been seeing the same dentist for over 20 years when we moved 2 hours away a few years back. To this day I still drive 2 hours, every 6 months, to see my dentist because I have yet to find another one I could trust.

It started with our move and when I asked for an opinion of a good dentist in the area. Off with my recommendation I was looking forward to testing out a new dentist and to find someone trustworthy in the area. Since I have hardly had any problems with my teeth in the past, I didn’t expect much but the usual cleaning. However, I walked out of the dentist’s office with an estimate for $3,000 worth of work which included replacing all of my fillings and a root canal among other things.

To me, the root canal didn’t make any sense at all to me so I went back home to my dentist for a second opinion. He looked in my mouth and said:

Insurance would never cover any of this. I could replace your fillings but the more they are replaced the more drilling is done to your tooth. I generally don’t like to replace them prematurely. You could have years left in them. If it isn’t broke, why fix it?

It was then a light bulb went off in my head that maybe I was taken advantage of because I did not have insurance. I don’t have dental insurance. How would I know if the insurance company would have never covered it? All I know was that this $3,000 expense came out of nowhere, I wasn’t prepared for it, and it made little sense.

I then asked my boss for a dentist recommendation and told him my previous experience. He recommended his wife’s dentist because she had some very bad experiences and had fallen victim to quite a few dental scams. However, she had found a wonderful local dentist. This sounded perfect.

I went in, but I guess I wasn’t as shocked this time when I walked out with another $3,000 estimate. This time the cost was for root planning and replacing all fillings (again). Since the diagnosis was entirely different this time, a red flag went off in my head. I went back to my dentist and pretty much had the same discussion again. Insurance wouldn’t cover it and this new dentist was out for a buck.

I started to have doubts though. Was this dentist we had gone to all these years really taking good care of my teeth? Have I put too much faith in him? I had never gotten a second opinion on him! My husband had a friend fresh out of dentistry school so we decided to chat with him for a 3rd opinion. He never looked in my mouth but we had an interesting phone conversation. He told me unless I had been homeless in the streets for years and I didn’t have terrible gum disease (obvious) he could assure me that I did not need root planning.

He shed a little light on the topic and told us some things to look for in our dental search:

Look for dentists who attended a public university

He told us that the way dentists are trained in public school versus private school was different. That private school dentists overall were more likely to push more aggressive, money-making procedures. Public school dentists on the other hand are more likely to just stick with the basics. I hesitate to say either is right or wrong, but the two different kinds of schools have very different philosophies. I am sure there are many exceptions to the rule as well, but wanted to note it as a general insight.

Look for dentists who own their own practices

Look for dentists who own their own practices rather than going into large centers, if you want quality care. A dentist out on his own has more of his own reputation and livelihood on the line.

Whenever you get a quote for expensive dental work, get a second or a third opinion

Better yet, don’t even tell the other dentists about your first opinion. You will get more objective opinions this way.

Always ask if the work in necessary

Often dentists present treatment as if it is necessary, but will be honest with you about how necessary it really is when you ask more questions.

As far as my own dentist, I would not say he is a perfect. I was told as a teen that I needed jaw surgery; that I would never have a correct bite and I would have to wear braces for the rest of my life otherwise. The surgery was legit as it was completely covered by my insurance. However, these days when I go in he looks at my mouth and wonders aloud if this procedure was really necessary. With time, technology, and knowledge, things change. I am not sure if today I came in if he would have recommended the same course of treatment.

I think this really illustrates a point why it is good to get a second or third opinion when it comes to the dentist. You may come across a doctor who has found an easier or more affordable way to solve the problem. I don’t think it is necessarily always a bad dentist/good dentist issue. It seems to be the nature of the industry. Of course, with any industry, there are always scams to look out for too.

In addition, I have found a dentist recommendation means little most of the time. Even other recommendations from my own trusted dentist have not gone over well. I would put far more weight in an actual second opinion than another dentist recommendation, after my own experiences.

I came across this interesting article which really says it better than I can. This article was written a good decade ago, but has some valuable information and describes much of what I experienced. It is about an individual who went to 45 random dentists in Canada with a set of X-rays and asked for opinions on any work needed. She got about 45 different answers.

Next time you are told you need some dental procedure, whether is covered by insurance or not, it is good to get more opinions. It might just save you thousands of dollars.

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20 Responses to How to Save Money at the Dentist – Get a Second Opinion

  1. MB says:

    I found this to be true for orthodontist and oral surgeons as well. My daughter needed braces for more than just cosmetic reasons and I went to two different orthodontists for opinions. While they both had similar opinions on the treatment, one was closer to my house and $1000.00 less expensive. Guess where we went. Same for oral surgery that she required. One oral surgeon wouldn’t even give me an estimate, just said they would bill me for whatever the insurance did not cover. I asked how much the procedure should run and how much of that should be covered by insurance. They could not give me an answer. The second surgeon gave me an estimate of the total cost, an estimate of what insurance would pay and then even refunded my money when insurance paid more than they had estimated. It always pays to get more than one opinion.

  2. Amy says:

    I also had a bad experience with trying to find a dentist recently. I went to a place because they sent me a flyer for special introductory pricing (cleaning and exam for $97, cheap where I live) (I do not have dental insurance). They wanted me to have all kinds of work done that I didn’t think was necessary.

    So, before visiting another office, I called ten of them to ask what they charged for a basic cleaning and exam and a full set of xrays. I was amazed at the number of places that would not give me a price over the phone! The cost of these basic services should be the same for everyone. Many places were also fairly rude about it, which made little sense to me when I was making such a simple and basic request for information on an expensive service. That made it easy to choose my new dentist–they were one of a few places that were both friendly and forthcoming with prices. As luck would have it, they were also the closest place to home and the cheapest.

    I have not ever gotten a second opinion, though, and the reason has always been that, like the woman in the story, I imagine that I would end up with a different opinion from every dentist I saw. Meanwhile, I would be paying for exams at every place I visited, thus eating into any potential savings and possibly even adding to my total bill if I ended up sticking with the first dentist. I’m not sure if there’s a way to get around this problem that probably deters many people from getting a second opinion. That and possibly the difficulty of getting time off of work for appointments and everyone’s general dread of going to the dentist.

  3. Shannon says:

    Good article — it brings up a lot of points I would have never thought of. I think that, in addition to the reasons Amy gave for not getting second opinions, there is a general feeling in our culture that medical doctors are always right. The rudeness and arrogance that many of them (certainly not all!) convey perpetuates this idea. They make people afraid to question their opinions.

  4. Chaz says:

    You’re a bit wrong about insurance. Many doctors and dentists love procedures that are covered by insurance because the patient has no monetary reasons to resist.

    Also, dental insurance is a bit different from medical insurance. I’ve never seen a dental insurance policy that covers things completely– they just give you a discount. They’re more like a membership at Costco than blanket coverage.

    Still, you point about medical opinion is a good one.

  5. Teri says:

    Because a diagnosis of root planing was entirely different from a root canal. The fillings yes, but hell any greedy doctor who is going to make up stuff is going to tell me to replace all my fillings. I am not sure how that shows anything considering 3 years later from those diagnoses my fillings are going strong.

    As far as the root planing, that is what a friend dentist said but my own dentist said he would never do the work – completely unecessary. So I did have a thorough second opinion.

    I can enure you that my own oral health is top notch. But this is really where the red flags come in. I would never skimp on a procedure I Felt was necessary for my health. Let me make that clear. But it certainly doesn’t mean no one is out to scam you. & why it made no sense why I suddenly needed thousands of dollars of work after decades of no problems with my teeth. & many different diagnosis. I am more concerned how I have heard these procedures can damage your oral health when they are done unnecessarily.

    Um I don’t have any squeaks or leaks so why do I need a new transmission??? – that is really my point.

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  7. Dianne G. says:

    I just got back from getting a second opinion. Funny, this opinion was completely different from the first. Now I have two different opinions. Off to see a third dentist?? The first said I had two minor cavities. No big deal. The second said I need to replace three of my fillings due to cavities underneath. One of which is too big and I would need a $600 inlay. These weren’t even the ones that the first dentist was talking about. This is very frustrating!

  8. Heidi says:

    It has happened to me twice now that I went for a second opinion and save a bit of money. 4 years ago a dentist told me I needed a root canal and crown – but I had no pain so I went to another dentist who told me I didn’t have one dern cavity and I was good to go… the tooth never started bothering me so I am happy I went through the trouble. Now my son needs (so I am told) orthodontic work. This is some expensive stuff… think I will shop around on this one.

  9. Mieke says:

    My dentist, rather a new person to me, has given me two crowns in the past two years, but both have a few problems with twinges of pain. A half year ago, he gave me a clean bill of health, even though I told him about the twinges, so I believed him. Then he told me a week ago that I need 5 crowns – urgently. I had a second opinion yesterday, and was also told I need crowns, even possible root canals, and that I have been neglecting my teeth.
    But I have no pain, except below the two crowns that are recent. So – not sure what to do now. My first action will be to try to get an appointment with the University Dental School.

  10. I find that it is always good to get a second opinion. But the second opinion can be used by the other dentist or orthodondinst to redirect you to their business’s. I find that getting a second opinion online, sending x rays to a specialist who is an expert in diagnoses, and doesn’t have the conflict of interest of stealing your business to be the way to go. There are a few websites like this already available in Dental and Orthodontry.

  11. x says:

    I hate dentists and doctors. When I was a kid, I had a real demon for a dentist. Every time my sister and I went, we “needed” fillings. What a pattern! Each of us ended up getting the exact same molars filled with that toxic amalgam crap.

    When I was just 13, I had a visit, and that time, I “needed” a fifth filling. Well even at such a young age, I was suspicious. (My mother was not… Go figure.)

    The dentist giving the second opinion said my teeth were fine.

    Fast forward 26 years, and my teeth are still fine.

    And I still hate dentists.

  12. fred zietz says:

    Sounds like you all need to have a little more faith. If you dont trust the dentist, find another. Its not just the work, it is the relationship. And no dentist is going to be correct 100%.
    However, there is the 5% (like any profession that should not be working).
    And CARING dentists can go to any dental school-not just public schools.

  13. patricia says:

    When it comes to the dental profession beware! There are more scams than you can shake a stick. It is a worry to think of how many are scammed or treated unnecessarily on a daily basis in this country. That has been my observation after walking the walk having entered an office for a check up and passed to the buddy and had my insurance worked over and… just BE CAREFUL and question everything. Look in your mouth or your child’s mouth. Do you see a hole? Search google for dentist arrested just to read the unusual stories of sexual assaults, drugs, and then search dental fraud. The dental world is difficult to navigate. On the positive side, I think they have been doing a lot of this for a while and people are catching on and reporting. Always report fraud to the dental board. The dental profession is self regulation so don’t expect much help. Just put something in the file to be seen and hopefully if reports keep appearing for the same dentist something will finally happen. Otherwise, we are all very much on our own navigating the dental world.

  14. sharin says:

    I’m seeing a new dentist and am planning on getting partial dentures costing around $5000.00. Last week I had scaling/root planning done, the dentist was not good with the needle, it hurt too much I thought, and didn’t numb me enough, even though he came back and shot me up again. Now I’m wondering if I should trust him with pulling several teeth and feeling the pain. Should I get a second opinion on the price? I would hate to shell out 5k for a lot of pain!

  15. szapper says:

    Sharin, definitely try to get a second or even third opinion. This article makes sense on so many levels, especially: “don

  16. Dr. Matt says:

    As a dentist it never ceases to amaze me what variable opinions appear from lay people outside of the profession. Just a couple comments regarding your opinions.
    Your comment about private vs. public schools is not only completely inaccurate, it is slanderous. I went to a public undergrad and a private grad school and most of my closest colleagues went to dental school at a state school. There is no way to determine one way or the other what type of diagnosis a dentist is going to make, but I can assure you it is not determined on whether they went to a public or private school.

    Second, “Look for dentists that own their own practices.” What? Single doctor offices will be extinct in the future for a variety of reasons. From strictly a business aspect (since you are talking about cost in your article)the overhead for a multi doctor practice (by the way, most of those dentists DO own their own practice, they simply share the space), what you call a “center” will have significantly lower overhead and also most likely have many more patients. The result is that, strictly from a dollars and “sense” perspective, the “center” would be more profitable and thus the doctor would be more apt to give a LESS aggressive treatment diagnosis b/c they don’t need to produce as much to make an equivalent paycheck.

    Well, it looks like your dentist sold you well since you drive two hours b/c you “trust” him. What excellent advice he gave you. He successfully kept you away from another dentist, so you won’t have to worry about the second and third opinion that you are recommending in your article. Lol…

  17. Scott22 says:

    Dr. Mat, You didn’t address a few huge problems I have run up against that were discussed here.

    The differing diagnoses. Many have related getting a second opinion and were giving completely different diagnoses, all the way from needing a root canal to a perfectly healthy tooth with not cavity.

    Getting a routine exam price. If you call and ask how much they are going to charge for anything, they often will not even give basic information. They are often put off, like it is a completely rude question. They will bill you whatever it is.

    One problem is a second opinion is really impractical, it is too expensive and I am not even sure if a dentist will do it. Then what do you do with conflicting information. Maybe the dentists who says you do need something is right?

    I am thinking about going to Mexico. Someone I know who lives on the boarder says they do great work at 20% of the costs. Of course there are no guarantees, but there appears to be many problems with the work done in the US too.

  18. Paul Mond says:

    DF must be a dentist. I can call the BBB to get reviews of mechanics. I can call the local school board to find out about teachers, I can call the state licensing to find out about legitimate manicurists. What I cannot do is call ANY third party to find out if a doctor, dentist, or lawyer is on the up and up. That is sad, really sick. Bottom line: be very cautious. There is no way to know if a dentist is honest. Not world of mouth, nothing.

  19. val123 says:

    As a medical doctor I find so many inconsistencies with the reasons that dentists give me for these procedures that I believe many of the procedures are unnecessary. dentists have lots of expensive equipment in their offices and I think there is a minimum that they need to make per patient to keep their businesses afloat. I have gotten too much variation in the opinions and have a trained eye to look at xrays and their fiberoptic pictures too and believe they are showing me minor normal variations that occur with aging just to justify these costly procedures. these dentists have to pay to keep their offices running somehow! and what about keeping up their lifestyles in the manner they r used to. I believe the writer and would like to know the name of her dentist so I could drive four days to see him or her.

  20. Finnemac says:

    If a dentist is found to do unnecessary work, maybe unnecessary work should be done on the dentist’s teeth. A court should do it as a sentence for unnecessary dental work and the dentist stays in prison until his appeals run out, then his teeth are damaged with unnecessary dental work.

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