I pinch pennies whenever possible, but I can appreciate the drastic difference between being frugal and being cheap. Frugal is when you search around and get the best price on quality goods and services. Cheap is when you pay the lowest price without regard to quality. When it comes to dental care, I’m just not willing to be cheap, which is why this winter you won’t see me following the throngs of full-time RVers who head to Mexican border towns for cheap dental care.
Earlier this year I posed the question “Are you brave enough to get your teeth fixed in Mexico?” I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say “Count me out.” Why? Mainly because I’ve heard stories about U.S. citizens getting their teeth worked on in a border town, only to arrive home and experience complications that later required the skills of an American dentist.
Nope, I’m not brave enough to go to Mexico for dental work, but I do take good care of my teeth despite lacking dental insurance (which I haven’t had for most of my adult life). Here’s how I do it as a frugal full-time RVer:
Get your teeth cleaned in Colorado, without seeing a dentist.
Almost all U.S. states require dental hygienists to work under the direct supervision of a dentist. As you know, this means that every time you want your teeth cleaned you need to pay for that five-minute dental exam in addition to the cleaning. How often do you ever find that exam to be money well spent?
After we hit the road we learned that Colorado is one of the few states (I think Alaska may be the only other one but I’m not certain) that allows dental hygienists to practice on their own, similar to how a licensed beautician can own and operate a salon.
Every year we make the trek to Colorado and have our teeth cleaned by fabulously skilled hygienists who not only offer x-rays and oral health screenings, but can refer us to partnering dentists if work is needed. We still get our dental exam about every year and a half, but we save money when we get our teeth cleaned every six months.
Go to dental schools for low-cost, affordable care.
Don’t get scared by the thought of having a student dentist work on your mouth. Medical training schools offer some of the most advanced technologies and newest protocols available because they’re training the doctors and dentists of tomorrow. Most medical practices can’t afford the kind of high-tech equipment that schools have invested in, nor can they afford to spend the kind of time that student dentists and their direct supervisors spend on their patients.
Dental schools offer excellent, closely supervised care that you shouldn’t shy away from if you’re on a budget. Check out this American Dental Association list of dental schools to find treatment centers on your route. Keep in mind that appointments are often scheduled a few months in advance, so plan accordingly.
Finally, the non-profit group Smiles from the Heart offers free dental care to those without the means to secure care, through dental care events held in locations around the country (and the world). Although the services are limited to teeth cleanings, fillings and extractions, it’s a great way to get free, basic care on your road to somewhere else.
Just because you’re on a frugal full-timing budget doesn’t have to mean that you need to skip on important health care routines like dental care. Although you’ll need to do your research ahead of time, it pays off with better health that keeps you on the road as long as you want.