What If I Can’t Afford Emergency Dental Treatment?

man holding money for elgin emergency dentist blog

I’m freaking out about how to pay for the dental treatment I need. I’m 19 and didn’t go to the dentist when I was a kid. Now that I’m an adult and with a job and insurance I decided to go have things checked out and get a cleaning. I knew I’d have a cavity or two, but I just about died when I got a $6,000 bill. I don’t remember all the things that were on it. There were fillings and crowns for sure. Worst part—I didn’t even get my cleaning. They told me to start scheduling the work instead. When I told them I didn’t have the cash for that kind of stuff, they tried to scare me into it, saying I’d have a dental emergency at some point and would have to pay for it. Fair enough, but I don’t have the money. And, now I’m worried about what I’m going to do when something does turn into a big problem and I still don’t have the money. What do people like me do?


Dear J,

Sorry to hear you had such a difficult time. They should have gone over the options with you and it sounds like they could have handled things much better than they did. Let’s dig into your options a bit.

It Took Time to Develop Problems, It’ll Take Time to Correct Them

Try not to look at the overall cost if it overwhelms you. Like you said, you didn’t visit the dentist as a child, so you’ve got several years of stuff to make up for. Don’t expect to address it all at once. It’s not realistic for most people. The more important thing is that you start addressing what you can when you can. Eventually, you will work through the whole list, but it could take some time to do it and that’s ok.

Avoid Dental Emergencies by Having a Dentist “Triage”

Nobody can tell you for certain when a tooth is going to blow up and necessitate emergency dental treatment, but dentists can typically tell you which problem areas look like they’re going to cause serious issues first. Start with those, so you can knock things out of the way strategically and hopefully avoid having any unexpected visits. If something does blow up, you can also ask the office what options are available to address it. Sometimes there are temporary fixes or alternatives that cost less.

Stagger Appointments Based on Budget

They were correct in that it’s important to move through the work as quickly as possible. The sooner you do things, the less time cavities have to grow. Your fillings will stay fillings and not become crowns and/or root canals. That shouldn’t “scare” you, but it is an undeniable reality to keep in mind. Once you know what order to do things in, start building out a budget and a schedule. For example, maybe on the first month, you’ll tackle one crown and then save up for a month or two before doing the second one. The trick is to get it down on a planning tool for yourself; whatever you use, be it paper or digital calendars. That will help you stay on track.

Save Where You Can

Each person has his or her own way of saving money. Some people stash it in an envelope while others have savings or checking accounts for specific expenses. You may also find a dentist who will let you build up a credit over time. Maybe send them $25-50 per week on an automatic payment until you build enough to have an appointment. You can also pick up a secondary dental insurance, but be on the lookout for waiting periods.

Ask About Payment Plans

While few offices will provide in-house financing, some accept CareCredit. It works like a credit card for health-related expenses at select providers and often has no interest for a period of time. Of course, you’ll want to pay it off before interest accrues if at all possible.

Find a New Dentist

A great office will hear your concerns and walk you through options like these here, so you can take care of your smile and feel good. The office you went to didn’t do any of that, so they’re probably not a good fit for you. Try a new office and communicate your concerns with them. It should work like a partnership. Best of luck to you.

This blog was sponsored by Dr. Steve Sirin, a provider of comprehensive care and emergency dental treatment in Elgin, IL.

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