Many dread the dentist. Between the scraping and the drilling, it’s no wonder that fear of the dentist is one of the most common phobias.

In recent years, however, it’s become clear that proper dental care isn’t just important for healthy teeth, but for overall health. In fact, studies have tied poor dental health to heart disease, cancer and a shorter lifespan.

Though vital, dental work is also expensive. A yearly exam, tooth-cleaning and X-rays can cost well over $200, while more complex dental work such as root canals and capping teeth can cost more than $1,000.

“There is an expression, ‘Good dentistry is very expensive, but not as expensive as bad dentistry,’” said Dr. Gerald Curatola, owner of Rejuvenation Dentistry in New York.

Jokes aside, Curatola said dentistry, as a rule, has some of the highest overhead costs in the health industry.

“Dental equipment, dental materials, and dental laboratories, in addition to general office overhead, cause most dentists to incur overhead costs that are not experienced by other health professions,” he said. “To make matters worse, insurance coverage for dental procedures is woefully inadequate.”

Curatola said many dental insurance companies haven’t raised caps in decades and continue to limit annual expenses to about $2,000 annually.

“Yet insurance premiums have continually risen, (while) the procedures covered and percentage of coverage for dental procedures has not,” he said. “This has caused many companies to drop dental insurance for their employees as well.”

But there are ways to save money. Prevention is the best option for limiting expensive dental work, said Curatola, adding that regular dental exams and cleanings are vital to maintaining healthy teeth.

Additionally, he recommends these four cornerstones, which will be detailed in his upcoming book, “Smile Healthy”:

1.) Eliminate detergent products (most toothpastes have a common ingredient found in soap) and alcohol-based mouth rinses that dehydrate the sensitive environment of the mouth.

2.) Healthy Nutrition is essential. Remember the three A's, alkalizing, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich. Citrus fruits, sugary foods and acidic drinks are among those that can damage teeth.

3.) Stress management. Stress has many debilitating effects on the mouth like dry mouth and bruxism and TMJ disorders.

4.) Exercise and fitness. It is commonly known that athletes have a very low incidence of gum disease. Regular healthy exercise improves circulation and immune function, said Curatola.

If expensive dental work is unavoidable, try these three tips, suggested Curatola:

Ask your dentist for a written treatment plan which includes several options. For example, expensive "heroics" to save a much compromised tooth (such as root canal treatment, crown lengthening and a crown) with a questionable prognosis might best be handled by a tooth extraction and replacement by a dental implant. "In this case a second opinion will also come in handy," he said.

Ask your dentist to prioritize your care. If the overall cost is overwhelming, it is best not to postpone everything, but to take care of those problems that could become more expensive if not attended to immediately.

Ask your dentist for financing options that allow you to defray the cost of treatment over a short period of time. Many dentists use dental financing plans such as Care Credit, which enable patients to make regular payments over the cost of a year without any interest, or over a longer period at a reduced interest rate.

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