The secret to cheap dental care

The secret to cheap dental care »Play Video
You may be able to cut hundreds of dollars off your dental bills, even if you have dental insurance.

Some folks around here call it a best kept secret. But this money saver is available to just about everyone.

When Marie Meadows needs dental care, she heads to the
University of Washington School of Dentistry. She's been going for years.

"I've had experiences where the dental work is not anywhere near as good as I get here," she said.

Linda Crumpacker is a new patient at the same office. She heard about it from a friend.

"And the financial end of it is so much more accommodating," she said.

As associate dean of clinic services, Dr. Daniel Chan oversees dental school operations.

"A children's dentistry, we have orthodontics to straighten out teeth. We have root canal service." said Chan.

Chan says contrary to what some people think, the dental fees are not based on a sliding scale. The costs are just lower than most typical dental offices because it's a teaching clinic.

Patients say they save 40 to 50 percent or more compared to the regular dentist, and dental students get hands on training they need.

"They're learning, but they're very good and the professors oversee the work that they do," Crumpacker said.

Meadows thinks the students are great. She says the dental school took care of all her children's needs when they were young. Now they're grown adults.

"All these years I've never really had any bad experiences, never," she said.

The biggest trade-off to dental school clinics is time. The dental students are closely supervised by experienced dentists who are School of Dentistry faculty members. Their work is double checked, and that means longer time in the dentist chair.

"You go to a dentist, and maybe the appointment will take one hour. And maybe here it will take twice as long, maybe three hours long," Meadows said.

But Meadows, Crumpacker and thousands of other patients say the added time is worth the savings.

In fact, the school treats more than 60,000 patients a year.

Like other dental offices, the UW School of Dentistry takes insurance. But because they deal in comprehensive care, you have to qualify as a "teachable" case, someone who'll be a long term patient for ongoing dental care, just like you would at your regular dentist.

"So when you come in, we don't just do one specific treatment. We look at you as a whole patient and we'll treat you from beginning to the end. And we hope you can come back every year," said Chan.