Dental emergencies are just that – emergencies.
A broken tooth may seem like nothing more than an uncomfortable cosmetic problem, but broken teeth are at high risk for infection. If left untreated, infections can spread to the blood and brain. Prompt attention to dental emergencies can be lifesaving. Go to your dentist right away, before the problem becomes worse (and more expensive to treat).
The emergency room is not equipped to handle dental emergencies.
People who have been ignoring a troublesome tooth often wind up in the ER because of increased pain and swelling that no longer responds to over-the-counter pain medication. These patients are routinely given a prescription for antibiotics and pain medications. If the problem is not addressed by a dentist, however, they end up back in the emergency room with the same symptoms. Physicians and nurses at hospitals cannot pull a tooth – only a dentist can.
The cheapest treatment option could end up being more expensive in the long run.
Your dentist may present more than one option for treatment, but keep in mind that a quick fix could land you back at the dentist later. If you have a problem tooth, you may have the choice between extraction (less expensive) and a root canal with a crown (more expensive). If you choose extraction and later decide you wish to replace the tooth for cosmetic reasons, you will need an implant, which is more expensive than the root canal and crown. Depending on how long you have waited, you might need braces to shift your teeth back to their original position before the implant will fit properly. You may have saved a few hundred dollars by avoiding the original root canal, but now you are looking at thousands of dollars worth of dental work.
Shopping around is unlikely to save you money.
Prices for dental care are generally the same within a given region. It’s more important to find a dentist that you trust. If you already have an established relationship with a dentist, he or she will be best equipped to recommend treatment options. If you need to find a new dentist, your biggest priority should be finding one you can trust.
Ask about financing.
Most dentists have financing options available to help uninsured patients handle the burden of a large dental bill. These could come in the form of a line of credit, such as CareCredit, which frequently have promotional periods with no interest if the total amount is paid off within an agreed-upon amount of time. Other options include healthcare installment loans, which accrue interest from the beginning but often offer low rates compared to standard credit cards. Either way, for most people, the cost of dental work is much more manageable when worked into a monthly budget rather than requiring an up-front lump sum payment.
If you are uninsured or underinsured and in need of dental work, you can learn more about your financing options here.