A trip to the dentist is never fun, but the cost of dental treatment can make it even worse. Routine treatment can cost hundreds of dollars, while other procedures such as root canals can run in the thousands.

About 45 percent of Americans lack dental insurance, reports the National Association of Dental Plans. And even if you have dental insurance, benefit caps, deductibles, and co-pays may still hit your wallet hard.

Try these tips from Bankrate.com on managing high dental costs without sacrificing your dental health:

—Consider enrolling in a dental discount plan. These plans differ from insurance plans in that they simply offer reduced costs for dental procedures. You pay a (usually low) monthly premium to belong, but you may have to choose from a restricted list of dentists.

—Check with an accountant or tax professional to make sure you are taking every allowable tax deduction. Even if a medical or dental plan doesn't cover an expense, the expense still may be deductible.

—If you're employed, see whether you can create a flexible spending account that allows you to withhold a predetermined amount of money (before taxes) from your paycheck for medical and dental expenses. Just make sure you estimate correctly what you think you'll need—you lose any money remaining in the account at the end of the year.

—Dental schools often offer many dental services at lower costs. They are usually performed by dental students who are supervised by faculty members. Some dental schools even take insurance or Medicaid.

—Many trade and professional associations and even university alumni associations offer dental insurance plans. For example, the AARP has a voluntary program for its members, while the National Writers Union recently added an insurance program for members.

Copyright (c) 2006 MarketWatch, Inc.