A staggering 45 million Americans have had their teeth whitened by professionals, or nearly 15 percent of the U.S. population. And, that number is likely to keep growing, since “half of Americans believe a bright, white smile is the most memorable feature when first meeting someone, according to the American Association of Cosmetic Dentists (AACD), more important even than what that person says.”
Maybe you’ve considered whitening your teeth too. If so, you’ve probably already gotten a taste of the many options out there. You may have also realized that, although professional teeth-whitening services are offered by most dentists, it’s considered strictly cosmetic, and is therefore not covered by traditional dental insurance. That means you’ll be footing the bill.
Unfortunately, professional teeth-whitening services can be expensive, with the average retail cost of teeth whitening ranging from $300 to $1,000 (depending on where it’s performed and how extensive the treatments need to be).
So, if you want to move ahead with whitening your teeth, how can you afford it? This article will cover some strategies you can explore to help cover the costs of cosmetic dental care and make this popular service more affordable for you and your family.
DIY whitening options
The first, and probably least expensive, option to consider all the do-it-yourself methods for teeth whitening, including the wide selection of over-the-counter products available. You can probably find at least half a dozen options from just as many different brands in your local supermarket or drugstore.
Some, like whitening toothpastes, are perfectly safe, effective, and simple to use. Others are a bit more complicated. The one downside they all share is that they take a long period of consistent use before you see results. And, in most cases, the results they provide are pretty minor — a shade or two lighter, and that’s it.
Of course, that’s perfectly fine for some people. If that’s you, you’ll probably find that DIY teeth whitening is both the most convenient and most cost-effective option.
Special note: There are a number of ineffective and even dangerous methods and products advertised as DIY teeth whitening solutions. We wrote an entire guide to help you navigate those waters and settle on those options that are both safe and effective. Read the guide here.
Dental discount plans
Similar to insurance, dental discount plans will have a panel of participating dentists who have agreed to offer their services at discounted rates to plan members. Assuming the plan you join includes discounts toward cosmetic dental procedures, this can be an excellent way to save money.
If you can accomplish your goals using DIY products or methods, you’ll want to carefully compare the cost and convenience of those options with discounted professional services. This will allow you to determine which option saves you more money while allowing the provider to offer the best services and materials for your situation. In some cases, your dentist may evaluate the situation and prescribe or recommend an over-the-counter whitening product to use, so it doesn’t hurt to ask if that’s an option.
One potential advantage of the discount plan over time is the fact that there are no limits to how many times the discount can be applied, or how much you’re allowed to save. Having your teeth whitened will likely involve a number of visits. But, the results will probably be more pronounced and will occur much faster than any at-home solution could deliver. Remember too that you’ll be purchasing a lot of those products over a long period before you have results. With all that factored in, your overall out-of-pocket expense may be lower with the discount plan.
Private financing through the office
These days, many dentists have set up programs to offer financing for expensive procedures, either privately or through a third-party lender. They know most patients can’t afford to pay for these services all at once, and the option to finance teeth whitening can sway a patient who is on the fence. You should discuss this with each office to learn about plan rules, interest rates, payment terms, and other details unique to that location.
While these kinds of private financing options usually end up more expensive than paying cash upfront for the services, the interest rates and terms tend to be better than the average American’s available credit card or personal loan options. Low credit scores tend to be less of a deterrent than in other financing situations, too. Especially if used in combination with a discount plan, financing the remaining balance of your whitening services through the office can be both convenient and cost-effective.
Personal credit or savings
A final option to consider is paying for your professional teeth whitening using a credit card, personal loan, line of credit, or funds from a savings account or retirement fund.
Since it can be a significant purchase, each person needs to make their own decision on how highly they value the benefits of brightening their smile compared to the cost of credit or the limitations it may place on future spending. If you’re going to take a large amount of cash out of a savings account or retirement fund, the wise move is to discuss it with your financial planner first and compare all the details with the other options listed above.
Regardless of your personal financial situation, getting your teeth professionally whitened can be a big decision that deserves time and attention. If you’re not currently a member of a dental discount plan, joining one is a logical first step in the process. Then, follow through with adequate due diligence and enlist your provider’s help in choosing the best options for your situation.