According to a 2017 poll, 40% of U.S. adults don’t get regular cleanings or other preventive care.
Are you one of them?
Whether it’s due to cost, convenience or anxiety, skipping regular dental checkups and cleanings may be problematic as these preventive care services can help prevent serious tooth and gum problems (which often cost more to treat later on).
If you think you can’t afford teeth cleaning because you don’t have dental insurance, you may be surprised to find out that preventive dental procedures like cleanings, exams and fluoride treatments may be relatively affordable. And even if dental insurance isn’t available to you right now, there may be other options to help get you to the dentist for preventive care.
We’ll cover those two important topics below, and also talk more about why routine dental exams are important and how to ease anxiety about visiting the dentist.
How Much Do Dental Cleanings Cost Without Insurance?
The cost estimates below are general reference points. You’ll need to get pricing from local providers for any services you’re considering.
Annual or Bi-Annual Checkup
An annual dental exam typically includes teeth cleaning and checks for cavities, gum disease, and other oral problems. X-rays (radiographs) and other diagnostics may be part of the appointment as well and add cost.
The dentist or hygienist may also discuss your oral healthcare habits, make recommendations about lifestyle changes or cosmetic procedures and answer your questions.
- Initial Dental Appointment (Adult): $115 – $301+
- Adult Bi-Annual Dental Appointment: $96 – $250+
- Child Bi-Annual Dental Appointment: $80 – $208+
Teeth Cleaning + Cavity Prevention
Teeth cleaning, also sometimes referred to as “prophylaxis,” involves the removal of plaque, calculus, and stains from teeth, and is typically performed as part of an annual or bi-annual dental checkup.
- Adult Teeth Cleaning: $63 – $164+
- Child Teeth Cleaning: $47 – $122+
- Fluoride Treatment: $24 – $63+
- Sealant (per tooth): $36 – $95+
Standard Diagnostics Procedures
X-rays are also commonly referred to as “dental radiographs.” Bitewings are a common type of dental X-ray that show the tooth below and above the gum line and can help diagnose gum disease and cavities that are located between teeth. Typically, four bitewings are taken as a set.
- Full Bitewing X-rays (four films): $44 – $116+
- Partial Bitewing X-rays (two films): $32 – $82+
When and how frequently you require X-rays depends on your dentist, the condition of your mouth, how long it’s been since you’ve been to a dentist, and the types of concerns you’re having.
Learn about the costs of other common dental procedures like tooth extractions and fillings.
Want to get insurance to help with the costs of preventive care like annual dental checkups and teeth cleaning?
Routine Dental Exams are Important
Why bother with routine dental care? Can’t you just go to the dentist when you’re experiencing tooth pain or trouble chewing? Well sure, you could just visit the dentist when an issue crops up (and many people do), but routine dental exams are good for more than just getting smooth, polished teeth.
Annual or bi-annual dental exams can help catch and treat tooth decay and gum disease early, keeping these from becoming more serious problems later and requiring more invasive and expensive treatment, like root canals.
Additionally, dentists typically check not just your gums and teeth, but your head and neck muscles, jaw, tongue, and salivary glands. They check for lumps, swelling, discoloration and any abnormality that could indicate a more serious health condition like oral cancer.
Your annual check-up may also help uncover an underlying chronic health condition whose early warning signs appear in the mouth, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and diabetes.
Maybe now you’re convinced that routine dental care and teeth cleanings are a good idea – but you still don’t want to go. The dentist’s office can be a nervewracking experience. In fact, between 9% and 20% of Americans avoid going to the dentist because of anxiety or fear.
Some people even experience “dental phobia,” a pathological condition that may require psychiatric help to treat.
Dealing With Anxiety at the Dentist’s Office
Dentists are generally some of the more affable, good-natured (even chatty) healthcare providers out there. So most people don’t fear their dentist per se (though if you do, you should switch providers immediately and find someone you’re comfortable with).
What people actually fear are experiences and sensations associated with the dentist’s office like:
- Being injected with needles (especially in the mouth)
- Side effects of anesthesia
- Feeling helpless and vulnerable
- Having personal space violated
Speaking with your dentist about any apprehension or discomfort you’re feeling, and making sure you’re working with a provider that takes your concerns seriously, is one of the best ways to address this issue. Your dentist can then make adjustments that may help improve your comfort and ease anxiety.
You may also want to practice stress management techniques prior to or during your appointment, such as meditation, breathing exercises, body scanning and muscle relaxation or guided imagery.
Sometimes just knowing what to expect during your visit can help ease concerns…
What to Expect + How to Prepare for a Routine Dental Exam
Before scheduling your exam, confirm with your dental provider that they accept your dental insurance or discount plan. If you have insurance, you’ll likely only be responsible for an office visit copay at the time of your appointment, but if you have any questions or concerns about paying for services, review your policy information or call your insurance carrier.
If you don’t have insurance, ask how much the exam costs and if there are any additional fees, taxes, or costs to consider. (Even with the estimates provided above, you’ll still want to get this information from the provider you’re visiting.)
When the day of your appointment rolls around, make sure you have your ID card if you have dental insurance, a way to pay your portion of costs that day, and any other paperwork your dentist’s office may require.
Make sure you know how to get to your dentist’s office, what the parking situation will be when you get there and allow yourself enough time. Running late and worrying about where to park are stressors that may be avoidable.
Here’s what you can expect during a routine dental exam. A dentist or hygienist will:
Ask you about any specific oral health concerns you have, update your records with any health conditions or medications you’re taking (as some can impact oral health), and consult with you about proper brushing, flossing, and good oral hygiene practices.
Examine your mouth and gums to evaluate their overall health, including screening for oral cancer. This usually involves some gentle poking in your mouth, around your tongue, and around your neck and jaw.
Evaluate your risk for tooth decay and gum or bone disease, possibly perform other diagnostics like bitewings or dental impressions, and determine what, if any, additional services may be needed (like fillings, root canals, orthodontics, etc.).
Perform teeth cleaning, polishing and flossing to remove stains and deposits on your teeth, and assess your need for fluoride treatment.
Ask questions so you understand why the services are being recommended, validate costs and know that you can decline any additional services if you need to for whatever reason.
That said, it may make financial sense to do additional services while you’re there. If you opt to do them at a follow-up appointment you’ll pay an additional exam fee and copay (if you have insurance), in addition to having to take time out of your day to visit the dentist again.
How Can Dental Insurance Help?
Dental plans are designed to emphasize preventive care (like teeth cleaning), typically by covering 100% of the cost of certain preventive care services (office visit copays typically still apply).
In addition to annual dental exams, teeth cleaning, and bitewing X-rays, other preventive care procedures like fluoride treatment and tooth sealant for some age groups may be 100% covered by dental policies. Learn more about how dental insurance works.
Does that make dental insurance a good deal? It depends.
As outlined above, a lot of preventive dental care services are relatively affordable, especially if your gums and teeth are in good shape and you don’t require additional diagnostics or follow-up services.
If it turns out that you need services to address problems that turn up at your annual dental exam, that’s where the costs can start to add up and dental insurance may be helpful.
For example, a single surface metallic filling could cost between $92 and $242 or more; and a routine tooth removal ranges from $112 to $294 or more. Find out how much other common dental procedures typically cost.
Dental insurance policies typically cover these types of basic services at around 70-80%, meaning you pay 30 to 40% of the cost after you’ve paid your deductible amount.
Since everyone’s finances and oral health are different, you’re the only one that knows if dental insurance is a good choice for you or your family.
It may be especially important for seniors to have dental insurance as they tend to have more teeth and gum issues, and to start kids off right with good oral health habits and to help them feel comfortable at the dentist’s office.
Where Can You Get Dental Insurance?
Often, people with dental insurance obtain coverage through their employer. If dental benefits aren’t available to you through your job, you can still likely purchase an individual policy (most applicants can qualify for dental insurance).
Individual (self-only or family) policies can either be purchased directly from an insurance carrier year-round, or from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Exchange during the annual open enrollment period when you sign up for an ACA health plan. Remember, the ACA requires that medical plans offer pediatric benefits for children 18 and under, however, there is no requirement for adults.
Learn more about the typical cost of dental insurance. Or, get quotes to compare different plans that may be available to you.
Other Options to Pay for Teeth Cleaning Without Insurance
Dental insurance isn’t the only way to get access to funds or reduced rates for preventive care services. You may also want to explore non-insurance options to help you afford preventive dental care, like teeth cleanings.
HSAs: If you have a health savings account (HSA) you can typically use those funds for dental services but check with the IRS to ensure you are using the funds correctly.
Dental Schools or Clinics: These settings typically base cost on a sliding scale. In the case of a dental school, the procedure is performed by a dental student that is being monitored by an experienced, licensed dentist.
Dental Discount Plan: These are not insurance plans. With a discount plan, when you obtain dental services you directly pay your provider a discounted rate for the service as opposed to your provider submitting a claim for services to an insurance company and getting reimbursed by them.
Credit Card: You can generally use a credit card at the dentist’s office. And if it’s a low or no-interest card, it may be reasonable for you to self-finance routine dental care like teeth cleaning on a credit card and pay it off over time.
Remember, if you’re concerned about needing additional services like fillings, that’s where dental insurance may help.
Summary + Next Steps
There are many reasons people avoid the dentist, and many reasons, including better overall health, to regularly visit your dentist for annual or bi-annual check-ups and teeth cleanings.
That said, even without dental insurance, teeth cleanings may be relatively affordable, costing between $63 and $164 for an adult.