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How Much Does a Filling Cost?

June 3, 2016
Health, Medical Costs
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If you’ve just found out you need a dental filling, you probably want to know how much it’s going to cost.

Like many things in health care, it’s tough to know for sure. A filling is among the least expensive dental procedures and probably won’t set you back as much as, say, the cost of a root canal. Prices for dental care depend on where you live, whether you have dental insurance, and what your dentist decides to charge, so we can’t predict your exact cost.

We can, however, give you an idea of a fair and reasonable price for the filling and show you the national averages so you’re armed with cost information when you make your dental appointment.

Cost of the filling

A dental filling or restoration is a procedure to restore the form and function of a tooth that’s been damaged, usually by decay. After the dentist removes any decay or infected tissue, a filling is placed to prevent further damage and restore the tooth. Several materials can be used for fillings, including plastics, metals, glass resins and porcelain. Some fillings wear down faster than others, and the more durable ones tend to be more expensive.

To get an idea of the fair and reasonable charges nationwide, NerdWallet reached out to FAIR Health, a nonprofit organization that collects data on health and dental care costs. Here are the average national prices for three common filling materials for molars and the most common filling for a front tooth, which is white resin composite:

  • Amalgam (silver), back tooth: $132
  • Resin composite (white), front tooth: $155
  • Resin composite (white), back tooth: $170
  • Gold crown, back tooth: $1,123

Averages are helpful, but it’s also good to know how much is too much to spend. In general, you’ll want to avoid paying more than what 80% of providers charge, or the 80th percentile of prices for each material. Here are the nationwide 80th percentiles:

  • Amalgam (silver): $160
  • Resin composite (white), front tooth: $186
  • Resin composite (white), back tooth: $201
  • Gold crown, back tooth: $1,300

Estimates in your area will likely be different from these. Prices tend to be lower in rural areas and the Midwest. If you live in a large coastal city, you may be disappointed by a much higher estimate.

These prices reflect dentists’ full charges without insurance, so if you have dental insurance or a dental savings plan, your costs will be lower. To get an idea of charges in your area with or without insurance, you can use FAIR Health’s dental cost lookup tool.

Spend less on your dental filling

Whether you have dental insurance or not, you may be able to do more to save money on your dental filling.

  • Ask for a price match. Once you look up the fair and reasonable prices in your area, print the information out and take it to your dentist. Often, the billing staff will match the price if it’s lower than their own (but you may have to pay upfront).
  • Go to a dental school for care. Dental schools are often among the lowest-cost providers, and many take dental insurance. You’ll still be in good hands: Dental students are fully supervised by licensed dentist instructors.
  • Check daily deals websites. Sites like LivingSocial and Groupon often have deals on dental care for insured or uninsured patients.
  • Enroll in a discount dental plan. An alternative to dental insurance, these plans are like membership clubs. You pay an annual fee in exchange for a 10% to 60% discount on dental services. The annual fee varies depending on the plan and your family members, but it’s usually less than dental insurance premiums.
  • Ask for a cash-pay discount. Many providers offer a discount to patients who pay the full amount up front with cash or check.
  • Ask for a payment plan. If you will have trouble covering the cost, talk with the billing staff. They often will be open to a series of smaller payments — especially if it means a better chance you’ll pay it.
  • Use your health savings account or flexible spending arrangement. Using an HSA or FSA to pay for dental costs doesn’t directly lower the cost of the dental filling, but at least you won’t be paying taxes on that money.

» MORE: How to keep your dental costs low

If you’re still worried about the price of your filling, remember that it often pays to be proactive about dental costs. Ask about prices ahead of time, and share your concerns with the office staff, who may be happy to work something out since you’re on top of your payment game.

Lacie Glover is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @LacieWrites.