root canal

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.

You know the saying, you live and learn? Well, I definitely learned through this ordeal. Hopefully, I can pass on some of my lessons updated with latest prices — universal truth: dental prices never seem to go down — 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 to 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, 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 credit card 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 through, 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.

Ask a Question

  • 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.

    • Randy,

      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.

      • Lori Lynn

        Be sure to always get a second opinion if a dentist tells you your children need fillings. As a teen, we moved to a new town so I had a check up with a new dentist. He told me I had a cavity in all of my teeth and on all three sides and was going to have to have all my teeth drilled and filled and later pulled. He called my Mom at work and asked if he could go ahead with the work. She was with a client and not really “listening” as he spoke and said yes. After he drilled one entire side (about an hour later) she called back and said, “she just finished with her client and realized what he had said and that we needed a second opinion because I had never had problems with my teeth before. She asked him to stop working and to dismiss me. We went to two other dentists and I had no cavities. In fact I haven’t had one since (this was around 30 yrs ago). He lied! Now as an adult on that one side that he drilled is where I constantly have problems. These teeth have broken, needed caps, crowns (you name it), because he drilled so deeply. It was clearly his goal to ensure they eventually break (and they did and are). In fact that is how I found your article. I’m online looking at dental plans because guess which side of my mouth is very achy right now with a super sore tooth and jaw? . One dentist years later asked if I had been in an accident bc my teeth were so nice with exception to that one side. I told myself if my child ever needed a filling, I’d get second and third opinions before I allowed anyone to touch him.

        • Yikes, sounds like it could have been a case of malpractice in the making — falsified diagnosis to operate on someone, possibly for the pure purpose of charging more.

          A second opinion is always a good idea, but people tend to not deal with the trouble because of time and fees.

          • Lori Lynn

            Time and fees should be minuscule when it comes to permanent teeth. You only get one set. I have spent way more time, money, pain and embarrassment NOW than I would have on a simple second opinion which insurance would more than likely pay for. In fact, the side he drilled is the only side I have EVER had trouble with on my mouth since and it just goes on and on and on every few years. My sister said the same thing of the four he drilled on her. The rest are just teeth to me, no problems, they just need cleaned. At the time I was a ninth grader and my sister in sixth in a brand new town, new school. The dentist had a son in my class and another son a year older. His daughter was in my sister’s class. All were very popular. My Dad wanted to sue the dentist but we begged him not to, he finally said he wouldn’t. I regret that now, I’m an adult, but at the time my sister and I were at the age when popularity is EVERYTHING to a girl. I wonder how many other children’s teeth he ruined, because we didn’t attempt to stop him. 🙁 I just beg people to always second guess a dentist, I just think it is worth it. I will add that later as an adult, I did have one dentist tell me I had a cavity several years ago in another tooth on the other side of my mouth. Without saying anything, I went to a different dentist (I learned my lesson). He didn’t say anything about a cavity. It’s been 17 years. That cavity apparently wasn’t one either.

        • Nat

          Lori, you are so right! I’m an adult who has never had a cavity, but despite that, they say you can still eventually get them from wear and tear, so I’m always waiting for the shoe to drop. I went to a new dentist about 4 years ago and was told I had 4 cavities! After them telling me the costs, I nearly passed out. I basically curled up in a ball mentally, did nothing, and didn’t go back to another dentist for a couple years. Well, guess what? I still don’t have any cavities – never did have any.

          Buyer beware! At the end of the day, people have to remember that dentists make money when your teeth go wrong, which makes a pretty interesting “catch 22”, since they’re also enlisted in keeping your teeth perfect. Try to keep that in mind when you hear news that sounds fishy. The dentist I respected the most over the years told me I had a “questionable spot” we’d keep an eye on, and then, next appointment, told me it was a false alarm. 5 STAR DENTIST.

  • 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.

  • seansimons

    I like your suggestion to shop around for doctors. Particularly with something like a root canal, which is a common procedure, you will probably be able to find multiple doctors who are well qualified and have a lot of experience with the procedure. I am glad that you were able to find someone who fit your needs well. Great advice!

  • Mosquitoes are kinder

    Dentist and doctors ảe like spider and bat

  • Susan Chang

    Hi Marina! Thank god there are people like you writing articles on dental care in NYC. I live in NYC myself, and I think I may need a root canal procedure. I’ve heard of Careington from other sites, but I was really skeptical about it. Was it easy for you to find participating dentists from Careington?

  • PatelPara

    This is such a funny story. He paid extra $70 *12 months = 840 then paid extra 600 = 1440 and claims saved 530 🙂 . Insurance scams at its best.

    • Anon

      But it’s 70 for the year bro. Not 70 a month. Where did you get that at?