How to Lower Dental Costs by Phasing Care

Some folks who have not had access to regular care will discover that a lot of dental disease has accumulated over the years.  But don’t despair!  You don’t have all of your work done overnight. Your dentist can manage your care over time.

It may not seem like phasing care makes dental care less expensive. It seems like it just draws out your costs over time.

But phasing care CAN reduce the overall cost of dental care.  Remember, dental costs rise exponentially if dental disease is allowed to progress! If you´re addressing your issues in an acceptable time frame with careful treatment sequencing, you will often save money in grand-total terms.

And of course, phasing your care also makes it much more affordable right now. It’s a lot easier to fit dental care into your budget when it is completed over time.

Treatment Sequencing Phases

I divide treatment into four phases:

  • PHASE 1 – Fire Extinguishing
  • PHASE 2 – Clean up – Active Disease
  • PHASE 3 – Structural Long-Term Considerations
  • PHASE 4 – Maintenance and Prevention

Phase 1 – Fire Extinguishing

In this phase, we address urgent, time-sensitive issues, like deep cavities, pain, and abscesses. These urgent/fire-extinguishing time frames are measured in weeks, not months! Don’t drag your heels here.

In phase 1, we also deal with issues that are urgent to YOU, like a chipped front tooth, or a tooth missing in your smile line. We will find at least a temporary way to get that smile back while you’re undergoing treatment.

Phase 2 – Clean up – Active Disease

Once we get through the fires, then we can take a deep breath.  Now we’re ready to tackle the rest of your dental disease.

In this phase, we fill smaller cavities and do a preventative cleaning or treat gum disease with the appropriate therapy.  Phase 2 can generally be completed in matter of months . Stick with it!

Phase 3 – Structural Long-Term Considerations

Now you’re back to dental health.  But we want to be sure that your teeth are structurally sound.  We also want to be sure that they are well-contoured so that they can be cleaned easily. Plaque is the culprit for most dental issues.  So, cleans-ability is key.

We also want to be sure you have *enough* teeth so that you can chew effectively. In this phase, we place crowns on teeth with large fillings, cracks, or fractures.

Keep in mind that the timing of structural failures or pulp infections mediated by cracks is very difficult to predict.  So, we want to address those teeth with apparent structural vulnerabilities.

We also replace missing teeth, and/or, we might make a night guard to protect teeth from the very destructive forces of nighttime grinding.  We also want to make sure you’re happy with the look of your smile.  Phase 3 can be completed over months or years depending on the circumstances. Stay the course!

Some folks say that they don’t want to complete phase 3 treatment because they are “too old.”  Of course, that’s always your call!   Your dentist can offer guidance regarding the relative urgency of need.

Phase 4 – Maintenance and Prevention

Phase 4 can sometimes overlap phases 2 and 3. We establish an appropriate hygiene recall and exam schedule and give you tools and strategies to prevent new disease.

Once you reach this point, of course, you’re not immune from dental problems. Issues may arise from time to time. However, it won’t be like the laundry list you started with. It will be manageable.

Phase 4 is forever. But compared to what you’ve already done, it’s the easiest by a long shot! ​​

Factors Considered When Sequencing Treatment

We don’t always follow the phases perfectly.  They are just a guideline. There are other factors we consider when determining the sequence of treatment.

  • Your chief concern
  • Your long-term goals
  • Depth of cavities
  • Time/convenience/fewer shots – often it’s appropriate to take care of smaller fillings in the same area we are treating larger fillings because you are already numb in that area.
  • Your interim esthetic desires – for example, some people tolerate missing teeth in their smile for short periods, while others do not.  These preferences will have treatment planning and cost ramifications.
  • Dental Insurance coverage – We strive to minimize your out-of-pocket costs.  Sometimes that will create an incentive to re-order treatment even if it’s less clinically ideal.
  • The relative strategic importance of the tooth in question – Your dental budget will have a large influence on which teeth are most appropriate to focus on.  The more forthcoming you can be, the better the strategy we can develop for you.  Let’s put your dental dollar to its best use!  It’s ideal to save every tooth that can be saved, but that’s not always realistic.  If you have to make sacrifices, we will select the most important/strategic teeth to save to achieve the best overall outcome.

When This Phasing Strategy May Not Work

As a general dentist, I work with patients who need to resolve run-of-the-mill dental problems.  My phasing strategy works great for the vast majority of patients.  But some patients need full mouth rehabilitation.  That means that their bite and smile need a complete overhaul.

That type of work is typically done by a specialist called a prosthodontist.  Prosthodontists typically phase care, but they will determine the sequence of treatment according to the end aesthetic and functional result they are trying to achieve.  It’s much more advanced, and I would defer to the approach your prosthodontist recommends.

But if you are just trying to take care of typical dental problems, ask your dentist if he/she can sequence your care according to these guidelines.

Phasing care is just one tool in the tool kit to manage costs.  You can also try to negotiate the fees down.  For guidance on negotiation strategies, click here.  I hope phasing works for you! Let me know if you have any questions in the comment section below!

4 thoughts on “How to Lower Dental Costs by Phasing Care”

  1. Wow, thank you for this information. It helps to know these things before going to the dentist and to continue as a preventative measure. I will be reading more of your posts to get informed. I am going to try phasing care!

  2. Prevention is always better than cure, so if we can prevent expensive dental work by visiting the dentist on a regular basis, then we should stick to a regular dental routine. A visit for proper cleaning can highly any issues that might lead to gum disease. 

    Being able to phase dental work is a great solution to spread the cost of any dental work. But it can also result in lower long term cost as maintenance can prevent diseases. Thank you for giving me great ideas for when I visit my dentist. 

    • Thank you!! I agree! Definitely try to see your dentist regularly. But, if you haven’t been able to and you have accumulated a lot of treatment needs, don’t give up. There are many approaches to managing costs. Phasing care appropriately is a very useful strategy.


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