How to find cheaper dental care

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Teeth are disgusting. They’re these little chunks of calcified tissue, minerals, and whatever “dental pulp” is, hiding in our faces like ashamed, albino trolls. But, love ‘em or hate ‘em, people give you weird looks on the bus if you don’t have them. So, rather than doing the rational thing and gumming your way through life Grandma-style, enjoy these three inexpensive options for keeping those pearly whites from getting amber brown.

Ways to save on dental care

Brighter.com

Brighter is the Groupon of dental care. Or maybe it’s the Uber, I’m not really sure how millennial analogies work. Either way, it allows you to search for dentists in your area. It provides photos, summaries, and even a rating system that links to Yelp. Best of all, Brighter offers substantial discounts on procedures and lets you know how much they’ll cost in advance.

Read more: 6 things you didn’t know about healthy teeth and gums

I actually used Brighter for my last visit to the dentist, and I booked a teeth cleaning appointment for less than I’d ever paid before. How’d it go? It was terrible! All visits to the dentist are terrible — what did you expect? But beyond the usual agony and bright lights and discomfort and spitting, it was no worse than any other dental visit. Brighter also offers new patient discounts on most procedures, meaning you can skip from dentist to dentist if you want to keep costs low. Now some people think building a relationship with your dentist is important, but those people aren’t poor.

Dental Schools

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Most dental schools provide dental care to a select number of patients for as little as half the cost. The only catch? A dental student will be the one poking around inside your yap trap. Yes, there will be a supervising faculty member on hand at all times, and no, I’m sure that dental student won’t be nervous at all. But, just like French kissing in high school, how can you expect to get any better without spending some serious time inside that mouth?

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In all seriousness, dental schools are supposed to provide excellent care, with standards every bit as high as any dental practice. However, treatment usually takes more time and requires more visits. An initial consultation is typically required, and it can take several days or weeks before you’re approved (or not approved) as a patient. Beyond that, the procedure itself is often slower because the instructors are teaching throughout. If you’re still interested, here’s a list of all accredited dental education programs in the U.S.

Dental hygiene schools can also offer high quality, low cost supervised care, albeit for fewer procedures. Here’s a list of dental hygiene programs. In case you’re curious about the difference, if doctors were dentists, dental hygienists would be the nurses (who do two-thirds of the same work). And if wishes were horses, then we’d be at war with a merciless army of super intelligent horses.

Free Dental Care

If you’re seriously short on cash, there are many groups dedicated to providing free dental care to those in need. For example, in Southern California (my neck of the woods), there are organizations like MEND, which offers nine dental clinics and hosted more than 4,700 patient visits in 2014, and SmileOnU, a team of volunteer dentists who also lead missions to countries like Cambodia and Nicaragua. I wish SmileOnU sounded a bit less like a threat from an evil clown, but beggars can’t be choosers. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a readily available national database of services, but you can search by city or state on Google. Or, if you absolutely must, on Bing, but honestly in that case I’d say just live with the cavity.

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Read more: Why you should stop drinking bottled water

In some cases, dentists might even come to you. If you live in Aspen, you might be lucky enough to see the MouthMobile, as long as you’re also unlucky enough to also need free dental care. The MouthMobile is a fully equipped dental office on wheels, complete with X-ray machines, treatment rooms, and that disgusting suction machine they jam into the corners of your mouth. They also sponsor NASCAR driver Danica Patrick, although make sure you’re not receiving a procedure on the MouthMobile on a day she’s behind the wheel.

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