dentistThe only professional service less popular than dentistry is……hmmm, we can’t think of any.   Yet, oral health is one of life’s essential maintenance list items, aside from the fact that bad teeth can lead to chronic pain and applesauce for dinner.  Yuck!    Worse yet,  an estimated 108 million Americans who don’t have dental insurance and are stuck paying full out-of-pocket expenses every time they visit a dentist. But even many people who have dental coverage often end up paying a lot for what their insurance doesn’t cover.   Still, finding a dentist is not an easy task although the Internet is finally making it a bit easier.   So we’ve come up with a list of Internet resources that will make your search for dental services less of a pain in the jaw.

Conventional “wisdom” suggests that you should do these four things:
– Ask family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers for their recommendations.
–  Ask your family doctor or local pharmacist.
–   If you’re moving, ask your current dentist to make a recommendation.
– Contact your local or state dental society or www.ada.org.

That’s well and fine, but there are some other new strategies that might work better.  Of course, the most obvious way to reduce costs is to simply ask for a discount—many dentists will readily shave off 10% for any uninsured customers. And if you’re over age 55 or 60, it is wise to ask whether there is a senior discount program, which is quite common even though it’s not usually advertised.   But here are some other options:

CHECK OUT LOCAL REVIEWS

Yelp, Angie’s List and other local merchant websites offer customer feedback on dentists.  Similarly. ZocDoc offers customer reviews, although this site is designed to promote medical services.

DISCOUNT PLANS

For somewhere between roughly $80 to $200 a year you can get a “membership” at plans such as DentalPlans.com that offer discounts of between 10% to 60% discounts on cleanings, crowns, implants, root canals and other procedures from participating dentists.  In Southern ­California area you might consider Brighter,  which is essentially a referral service that provides a network of dentists who will accept discounts of 35% on services.

MEDICARE SUPPLEMENTS

If you get Medicare, there are some Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans that include dental care. Many of these plans, which are sold through private insurance companies, cover routine dental care.  Look for these Medicare Advantage plans in your area that offer dental care  (note:  the enrollment ­period is between October 15 and December 7)

LOW-INCOME OPTIONS

If your income is low, there are various programs and services that provide dental care at a reduced rate or for free. Some of the free programs identified by Savvy Senior are:

Medicaid & CHIP benefits: All states provide dental-care services to children covered by Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), but dental coverage for adults on Medicaid will vary by state. Check out Medicaid.gov for coverage and eligibility details.

State and local services: Some state and local programs as well as local clinics offer reduced-rate or free dental care to people with low incomes—generally below 200% of the federal poverty level.

HRSA health centers: Supported by the US Health Resources and Services Administration, there are nearly 1,300 health centers that operate more than 9,200 locations around the US that provide discounted or free health and dental care based on financial need. Info on this HRSA centers can be found at FindAHealthCenter.HRSA.gov.

Free health clinics: There are around 1,200 nonprofit, privately funded, volunteer-based free clinics across the country that provide a range of medical, dental and pharmacy services to economically disadvantaged people.

Dental Lifeline Network: This national humanitarian organization provides free dental care to the elderly and disabled people who can’t afford to pay. The program operates through a volunteer network of more than 15,000 dentists and 3,600 dental labs across the US. It also offers the Donated Orthodontic Services program in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, New Jersey, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Virginia that enables low-income children to receive orthodontic treatment for a fee of $200.