Need Dental Work but No Insurance? Save Money by Negotiating with Your Dentist

The high cost of dental care is the number one reason many people don’t get their work completed in a timely manner. The price tag is an even bigger deterrent to dental treatment than fear. Those without dental insurance have it even worse. Not only do they get zero coverage for their work, but they are also subject to the dentist’s office fees instead of the discounted fee schedule mandated by a typical dental insurance plan.

But, burying your head in the sand and allowing dental issues to fester is not a money-saving strategy. It’s just the opposite! Your condition will deteriorate. The work needed to fix your teeth will become exponentially more expensive. The most financially savvy approach to dental care is to complete your work as soon as you can. Not to mention, the clinical outcome of earlier intervention will be so much better.

From the dentist’s point of view, I can assure you that it is also very expensive to deliver quality dental care. Most of what you pay is absorbed right back into the practice. That said, there’s always some room to negotiate.

The best way to negotiate with someone is to leverage their vulnerabilities and offer a win-win situation. As a practicing dentist and former practice owner, I am all too familiar with these vulnerabilities. I will show you how to turn them into savings!

Leveraging Vulnerability #1 – No-shows and last-minute cancellations

Appointment no-shows are probably the number one frustration for dentists. We know that sometimes things happen. But, when we aren’t earning money by producing dentistry, we are still paying staff and overhead. As far as we’re concerned, doing something is better than doing nothing!

How you can save:

1.) If you have a flexible schedule, let your dentist know that you will come in on a moment’s notice to fill a cancellation in exchange for a discount. Your willingness to be on-call is worth money. And that money should be in your pocket! If you can’t offer every day of the week, you could, as an example, offer to be available on any Wednesday for the next two months. But, when you get that call, be sure to follow through, or you won’t get another one.  This strategy will work best for dentists who have a full schedule, and are typically booked out a few weeks ahead.

2.) Pre-pay. One common reason for those no-shows and last-minute cancellations is that patients aren’t prepared to pay. Those who have paid up front are much less likely to change their mind. For that reason, most dentists will offer a discount if you show commitment by pre-paying for your services.

Leveraging Vulnerability #2 – The mid-day blues

Patients typically prefer early morning appointments or later afternoon appointments. Understandably, nobody seems to want the mid-day interruption of a dental appointment. So, it can be tough to fill the 11am to 2 pm range.

How you can save:

It’s always worth asking to be scheduled in these unpopular times in exchange for a discount.  This strategy will work best for less established practices that are not booked out far in advance.

Leveraging Vulnerability #3 – Short appointments cost money

For each appointment, we have to set up, clean up, sterilize instruments, use more disposable supplies, etc. And, there is opportunity cost from that lost time. So, getting more out of one appointment is worth money. And, again, that money should be in your pocket.

How you can save:

Offer to get a lot of work done in one long appointment in exchange for a discount.

However, be prepared – you will likely be required to pay a deposit in order to reserve such a long appointment. If we block significant amounts of time for you, we have to be sure you’re fully committed. And please be sure to eat a good, high calorie breakfast on the day of your marathon appointment. We don’t want you getting hungry mid-appointment. And it may be hard to eat after all that work is done!

Leveraging Vulnerability #4 – We need your professional services

Sometimes we have computer problems, or the floors need replacing, or we need help reviewing a contract. Whatever our needs may be, if you have the right skill set, maybe you can help!

How you can save:

Offer to barter your services. It can be a lot cheaper to pay you in dental care than writing a check for the same market value. And the same goes for you! I actually had a patient clean my house for an entire year. In market value terms, she actually got the better end of the deal. But she worked very hard and deserved every bit of work I did for her.

You probably need a well-established relationship with your dentist for this arrangement. A great deal of trust is required from both parties.

Final thoughts

One strategy that you cannot use to negotiate with your dentist is to offer referrals. We certainly love to get good referrals, but it is illegal in healthcare to reward anyone financially for referring new patients.

Regardless of whatever you can or cannot offer your dentist, it’s always worth asking if there’s room for negotiation. (I hope my patients don’t see this!) The worst your dentist can do is say no.

It might feel awkward to bring up the subject of asking for a discount.  You may want to rehearse it ahead of time.

This probably goes without saying, but be sure that your dentist is in the mood to negotiate with you. Be courteous, respectful and friendly. Honor your appointments. And of course, you should expect the same from your dentist. As the saying goes – you catch more flies with honey!

Whatever you do, don’t allow your dental problems go unaddressed. Eating comfortably and smiling confidently is truly fundamental to quality of life. There are many ways to manage costs. Negotiating with your dentist is just one tool in the tool kit. Let me know if you have any questions or if you have any success with these strategies by posting in the comments below!

4 thoughts on “Need Dental Work but No Insurance? Save Money by Negotiating with Your Dentist”

  1. I had no idea I could not only negotiate my bill but how to save money by planning. You have important information in your articles, and I will add you to my favourite bar on my web browser. Thank you

    • Thank you Eric! Many patients just don’t know to ask about negotiating their fee. Don’t be afraid to do that. It helps when you can offer something in return that doesn’t cost you anything.

  2. Fortunately, I do have dental insurance and I don’t have to worry about paying out of pocket – I feel for those that do! This is a very interesting article; I never thought about negotiating with my dentist! I will keep this in mind for the future if I ever find myself in a situation where I have to pay out of pocket. Thank you for the informative and caring article – great content, keep it up!

    • Thank you, Jordan! I’m glad you have insurance. If you do, there’s less room for negotiation because we are required to collect co-pays as dictated by the plan. But, sometimes you may need work that is not covered by your plan. In those cases, I hope you can use some of these tips to get the best deal.


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