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Before I could even bring up the most common objection to getting dental care at schools to save a buck, Betty J. Morland did it for me. "I'm retired. I've got time," said the Roseville resident, who knew that even though dental schools can save patients 33 to 75 percent, appointments can take twice as long as those with a regular dentist. The students take extensive health histories, they're slower than experienced dentists and they have their work checked by supervisors.
In the '80s, Morland paid a pretty penny for several crowns. Now she protects her investment without dental insurance by going to Century College's dental hygiene school in White Bear Lake. It's one of five schools for dental assistants and/or dental hygienists in the Twin Cities. Most bargain hunters probably know of the savings at the University of Minnesota's School of Dentistry.
But fewer know of the hygienist/assistant schools that offer even better deals on exams, cleaning, X-rays, sealants, root planing and whitening strips.
More than 13,500 Minnesotans took advantage of low prices at the seven Minnesota State Colleges and Universities dental assistant and hygienist programs in 2008, said Colleen Brickle, interim dean of health sciences at Normandale Community College in Bloomington.
About 43 percent of Americans lack dental insurance, according to the American Dental Association. Anyone putting off dental care should remember that preventive care is cheaper than waiting until the pain starts, said Dr. Craig Seldon, director of quality assurance at the University of Minnesota's School of Dentistry. Brushing twice a day and flossing once a day can prevent up to 80 percent of disease, Seldon said. You can buy a fancy rechargeable toothbrush for $100 or a $1 cheapie, but what's important is that you brush for two minutes.
Uninsured people might delay care because of the expense, but prices at the hygienist schools are about 75 percent lower than what most dentists charge, said Karri Bell, program director of the dental assisting program at Herzing University in Crystal. Most schools also offer an extra 50 percent off for ages 60 or older. (Prices at the U of M Dental School are about 33 percent lower than at a private practice.) Plan on two to three hours for most checkups. Also allow extra time to get an appointment because student clinics have more limited hours than private practices do. Dental-phobic patients will be happy to know that some schools offer free nitrous oxide.
Prices are especially low for kids. Parents looking to save cash and trips to fill cavities should look into getting sealants on the eight molars. Prices can be $60 per tooth at a regular dentist's office but as low as $5 per tooth at some clinics. Cavity-prone adults should also consider sealants, said Dr. Dan Shaw, associate professor of pediatric dentistry at the University of Minnesota.
Patients at the hygienist schools who need more extensive work involving cavities, extractions, root canals and crowns can be referred to low-cost or sliding-scale clinics or the U of M or return to their regular dentists.
Where to save
Dollars & Sense visited six dental schools to extract ways for uninsured, low-income, unemployed or retired Twin Cities area residents to save.
Argosy University dental hygiene clinic (1515 Central Pkwy., 3rd floor, Eagan, 651-846-3381)
Prices: Adult cleaning $36, child cleaning $15, full mouth X-rays $40, bitewing X-rays $20, root planing $40 per quadrant, sealants $10 per tooth, fluoride treatment $10 and custom-made teeth whitening trays $200.
Prices: Polishing and fluoride $15, full mouth X-rays $10, four bitewings $4, and sealants $5 per tooth.
Herzing University dental hygiene clinic (5700 W. Broadway, Crystal, 763-231-3174)
Prices: Adult cleaning and polishing $25, child cleaning and polishing $15, scaling/root planing $25 per quadrant, periodontal maintenance $30, sealants $5 per tooth, two to four bitewing X-rays $5 to $10, full mouth X-rays $25, panoramic films $25, child's X-rays $5, whitening with Crest professional strips and cleaning $75.
Century College dental hygiene program (3300 Century Av. N., White Bear Lake, 651-779-5787)
Prices: The program charges for a treatment plan rather than by the service. Patients younger than 18 years and older than 62 are charged $24 for a treatment plan. If several appointments are needed, the fee is the same for one or multiple appointments. For ages 18-62, it's $48. Services available include X-rays, cleaning, scaling and root planing, sealants, fluoride treatment and desensitizing treatment. Teeth whitening with professional strength Crest Whitestrips ($43) is extra.
Normandale Community College dental hygiene clinic (9700 France Av. S., Bloomington, 952-487-7020)
Prices: Adult cleaning $30, child cleaning $20, full mouth X-rays $34, bitewings $20, sealants $10 per tooth, free fluoride treatments, deep root planing $30 (full mouth), and Crest professional strength Whitestrips $35. Next year, some of Normandale's students will be able to offer restorative services (fillings) because of a new master's program in conjunction with Metropolitan State University.
University of Minnesota School of Dentistry (515 Delaware St. SE., 7th floor, Mpls., 612-625-2495)
Prices: Exam and full mouth X-rays $147, cleaning $47, tooth-colored filling $84 to $213, extraction $92 to $184 (depending on complication of removal), root canal $338 to $543, crown $598, and sealants $34 per tooth.
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633 or email@example.com