5 Tips Before You Pay for a Root Canal

Marina Shifrin

Updated on Tue Mar 10, 2015

When you are a 22-year-old graduate, just released into the world, your understanding of financial management may be a little off. For example, I had no idea what an emergency fund was, nor that you needed one at all times. You can imagine my shock when I had to pay for a root canal right out of college as a new transplant to New York City.

pay for a root canal image

U.S. Naval Forces / Flickr source

You know the saying, you live and learn? Well I definitely learned through this ordeal. Hopefully I can pass on some of my lessons so you don’t make the same costly mistakes I have made.

If I could have lived through the process again there are a few things I would have done differently to have saved myself the huge costs. Here are some tips that will hopefully help you if you are ever in this situation, or even prevent you from getting into the situation.

1. Be prepared, plan ahead

Not expecting added costs was my biggest mistake in the whole dental process. Upon graduation, I had responsibly set aside money for my move to NYC and even enough to live job-free for a few months. After the shock of paying first and last month’s rent plus deposit, my fund was crushed, but I still had enough to get by for a few months. Then I started getting earth shattering headaches and pain in my tooth — anyone who’s had tooth pain knows I’m not exaggerating.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t set aside  three to six months income for situations like this and did not have dental insurance. This toothache came at an epically bad time, but sickness and accidents typically do.

2. Shop around for doctors

After consulting Yelp, I found a doctor who was very accommodating to those without health insurance and was close to where I lived. When I went to visit, he told me that he could waive the X-ray and consultation fee, which saved me about $150. I instantly trusted him, imagining all the other things he could “waive” for me. At the end of the visit, he confirmed my fears and told me that I indeed needed a root canal.

Related: Why an HSA Is Important for 20-Somethings

Here is where I made my second big mistake — I decided just to go with this doctor because I trusted him, had a good experience and decided it was easier than meeting with multiple dentists.

3. Calculate the FULL price

This seems like a pretty obvious step when you have such a big payment to cover. But as a naive college graduate, I just asked how much the root canal would cost. Whether I was naive or the dentist wasn’t transparent, is up for debate, but he only told me the cost of the root canal procedure which was $1,900 without insurance. You can imagine my surprise and anger when I found out the follow-up procedure for a new crown to cover the tooth would be an added $1,200!

I got the first procedure at this office, but to help pay for the follow-up procedure with the crown, I decided to get a second job.

4. Set up a payment plan

I decided to pay for my root canal through a company called CareCredit, a credit card for health care procedures. After seeking the advice of my parents, I set up a plan where I paid $200 a month until my first procedure was completely paid off.

Although, I initially wanted to knock out the payments as quickly as possible, I was advised to do smaller payments over a longer amount of time. This worked out better because as long as I completed the payments by a set date, I would not have interest paid on the card.

Tip: A credit card that has an introductory no-interest offer can also help. Just make sure to pay it off before the APR kicks in.

This plan is not available at all doctors’ offices and you may not be eligible for one of these no-interest plans.

5. Look for yearly insurance plans

This may not be for everyone, but this plan I’d found though Careington, an insurance plan site, ended up being my saving grace. The only reason I trusted Careington was because a co-worker recommended it. Sites like this need to be thoroughly investigated some may not cover the procedures you need, or work with the doctors you need.

After paying $70 for the entire year, I was able to get my second procedure for $600 as opposed to the $1,200 it was originally going to cost. I did, however, need to get the second procedure done at a different office that accepted this plan.

All in all, I ended up saving $530 on the second procedure. When you’re a broke college grad, $530 is a lot of money. Had I known about this plan earlier, I could have paid $580 for my root canal as opposed to the $1,900 I shelled out in the first place.


Post a Comment

  • Randy

    That was a great article Marina, thank you for sharing your experience and information.  I have come to believe that most dentists are not on the up and up, I went to 4 different dentists for a comprehensive exam, x-rays and their recommended treatment plans and got 4 different reports and total costs from a low of 3500.00 to a high of 30,000.00 and inbetween.  It really does make me wonder how 4 different dentists can vary so much in treatment plans and costs.  Hmmm, at this rate I may be saving for the rest of my life.

    • http://www.mybanktracker.com Marina


      I appreciate the kind words. I seriously will never feed my children sugar or candy of any kind so they can avoid the nightmare of dealing with a dentist. It looks like you know what you are doing though!

      • Randy

        Hi Marina,

        That is great that you are “managing” how much sugar and treats you give your kids; that speaks very higly of your parenting skills.

        As for me knowing what I am doing, not really….I am putting off going to the dentist and still haven’t found one that seems reasonable and come up with a decent treatment plan.  If you have any suggestions on how to find a good one, I think that would be a great topic also.

        I do much better dealing with banks than with dentists! 

      • kia

        Sweetie candy and sugar are not the only factors that cause tooth decay. Please do your research before posting irrelevant things.

  • Sherry

    Very helpful advice. I am a 53 year old with dental insurance and even had a Flex spending account, but I used all of this at the beginning of the year and now need a root canal on the tooth they crowned. I too plan to use CareCredit. My advice, the older you get the more dental insurance you’re going to need even if you do take good care of your teeth like I do and did. Things just happen! I’m going to pass your article on to my 20+ year olds!

    • Ton

      I had a crown and then needed a root canal a couple of years later on that very same tooth. I had root canal procedure done right through the crown follow with fillings. Don’t change the temperature on this tooth as I did, crown crack right on top a few short weeks later. Need new crown now, I should know with 7 root canals and 9 crowns later

  • Darlene

    This seriously just saved my life! Good god. Two root canals $900 for root canal, $900 for crown. Split in half only $353 and $532 for crown. Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Darlene

      Through Careington. :)

      It’s same day activation, same day use.

  • Jennifer

    Thank you for this! I am signing up for Careington today! There is no way I can afford $2500 for a root canal and crown. This will be very helpful!

  • Cody

    I strongly advise against taking out a loan with Care Credit. If you haven’t repaid your debt in full during the interest-free period, the company will charge you almost 30% interest on the entire amount of your loan: hundreds or thousands of dollars. Even if you devise a regular schedule of payments, other emergencies can pop up. If this happens and you’re even a day late on your loan, you’ll have to pay exorbitant fees.

  • Nicagypt

    This happened to me as well! I wish I would have read this before getting a root canal, which I feel I was pressured into. I could have managed with a crown my other dentist said :(. I had some other procedures done , which I really need and now am way over my head in debt. It’s so frustrating not having any wiggle room, and having to look for a second job while holding a full time position.

  • Phill80

    Do not be fooled by marketing tricks individual doctors (I made ​​that mistake and paid much more than I had 2000 USD), most people pay more than they should. Try to find relevant information and the recommendations on the internet to choose the right dentist. If you want to know the real prices – http://www.bestrootcanalalternative.com/root-canal-infection-and-crown/

    Have a nice day!

  • http://www.mybanktracker.com Marina


    You rock. Thanks for catching those mistakes, the story went out before fully edited (our bad). It’s been updated. 

  • Jeremani Rolleri

    You’re in dire need of a life.