No one expects to get a cavity, even though they are common in both kids and adults. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that about 46% of kids between the ages of 2 and 19 have cavities and 13% have ones that are untreated. 92% of adults 20 to 64 years old have cavities with 26% untreated.
Those untreated cavities should get filled, but people have a variety of reasons why they don’t get it done. Cost often plays a part. Dental fillings might not be within a family’s budget.
But cavities, also called dental caries, will not go away by themselves. In fact, they can cause additional problems that end up costing more than a filling will. Luckily there are things families can do to bring down the cost of dental fillings, while still getting this essential treatment.
Prevention Always Saves Money
The cheapest way to deal with a cavity is of course to avoid getting one in the first place. A healthy diet and good oral hygiene can help.
Brush and floss regularly, limit sugary foods and drinks, and see the dentist for a checkup every six months. Parents may also want to consider dental sealants for their kids if they can afford them. Sealants are a liquid resin that is painted onto a child’s molars. It hardens into a durable coating that protects cavity-prone teeth from decay.
Regular dental care is a good thing for everyone, but it is unfortunately not a guarantee against cavities. Even people who take very good care of their teeth sometimes get them.
Benefits of Quick Action
The next best thing to no cavity is catching a cavity early. Dentists can spot decay with an x-ray long before it becomes sensitive or starts to hurt. This is why it is so important to get regular dental checkups.
Cavities start out as small, shallow pits in the tooth enamel. Left alone, they will gradually spread to other surfaces of the tooth and neighboring teeth. Eventually, the decay will move toward the center of the tooth.
There is a drastic difference between getting a tiny cavity filled and one that covers several surfaces or has eaten its way to the root. The dentist can usually fix a small cavity with minimal drilling and may not need to use anesthesia.
As the cavity grows, so does the price to fix it. A bigger cavity will need numbing with novocaine. It will take more time, skill, and material for the dentist to do the procedure. Many dentists charge not just for each tooth that needs a filling, but for each surface of a tooth. And once decay has spread too far, a dental filling won’t be enough. Instead, the patient might need additional procedures such as a crown or a root canal.
A patient does not have any control over how many surfaces their cavity covers, or its location. (Cavities in hard-to-reach back teeth or highly-visible front teeth might take a greater level of expertise to fill, and therefore cost more.) They can, however, make sure they address cavities as soon as possible, which can make a difference in the cost.
The Cost of Dental Filling Materials
Budget-minded patients can bring down the cost of dental fillings in their choice of materials. Composite resin or amalgam fillings are more economical than porcelain or gold.
Often called “silver fillings” because of their color, amalgam was once the preferred material for dental fillings. Silver is one ingredient, along with copper, tin, and mercury. Although several scientific studies agree they are safe, the mercury content continues to raise concerns about toxicity. Because of this, and the introduction of materials that look more natural, few dentists still use amalgam for fillings.
When it is available, amalgam is the least expensive option when it comes to the cost of dental fillings. A filling on one or two tooth surfaces runs about $100 to $200. Three or more surfaces will be roughly $120 to $300. They are durable, especially for molars, and last about 10 to 15 years.
Composite resins combine an acrylic substance with ground glass-like particles to form a hard durable surface. Dental fillings of composite resin can be made to match the color of a patient’s natural teeth so they will blend in. Many patients prefer them to amalgam, whose silver or grayish color makes a filling stand out.
Fillings run approximately $135 to $250, or about $150 to $400 for three or more tooth surfaces. They are not quite as strong as amalgam but are still expected to hold up for at least 5 to 7 years.
More Expensive Materials
Patients trying to bring down the cost of dental fillings will most likely want to stay away from porcelain or gold fillings. Gold is not surprisingly the most expensive filling material. In addition to their high price, just like amalgam, gold fillings are noticeable.
Porcelain or ceramic fillings blend in like composite resin but are more fragile and more expensive. Both gold and porcelain fillings can range anywhere between $250 and $4500.
Dentists often have a favorite material to work with, but that does not mean a patient has to limit their choices. If a dentist is unable to offer a less expensive filling option, the patient can always look for another dentist. Our online search tool helps patients who don’t have a dentist—or who would like to find a new one.
While novocaine is necessary when getting a filling, some dentists offer sedation or things to help relax their patients during the procedure. Nitrous oxide (known as laughing gas) might make the process more pleasant but can cost an additional $50. Oral sedation will add $250 and intravenous sedation more than $500. Unless anxiety about getting a filling is extreme, foregoing these is another way to lower the cost.
Payment Options for Dental Fillings
Patients with dental insurance policies will be happy to hear that the cost of dental fillings is often covered along with checkups and x-rays. Even if the entire procedure is not paid for, it can bring down the out-of-pocket cost considerably.
For those with insurance, the first step in finding an affordable provider is making sure they are in the insurance plan. This information may be found through the insurance company or with a quick phone call to the dental practice.
Some dentists offer special offers, for example, a lower rate for new patients or active military. They may also provide payment plans allowing patients to pay for services over several months.
Dental credit cards such as CareCredit won’t bring down the cost of dental fillings or other dental work, but it does let the patient get the work done right away and pay over time.
Don’t Ignore Dental Fillings
Even though the need for a dental filling can put an unexpected strain on a family’s budget, they are necessary for maintaining good dental health. The longer a cavity goes untreated, the more likely it is to cause further problems that are more serious and more expensive.