MONEY Health Care

5 Things to Know About Dental Implants

Use your flexible spending account to save money by having dental implants done over two calendar years. Illustration: Gillian Blease

These alternatives to dentures have lots going for them—but the costs are higher.

Implants are a good long-term solution to replacing lost teeth, but they’re not cheap.

1. An implant beats bridges or dentures

Bridges, dentures, and implants replace missing teeth.

A bridge requires filing two adjoining teeth, which can make them weaker and prone to decay. Dentures often have fit problems and can interfere with taste.

For an implant, a titanium screw is placed in the jawbone and a prosthetic tooth is attached. A proper implant has no physical downsides and has good longevity, says Dr. Mark Wolff, associate dean at New York University’s College of Dentistry.

2. But you’ll pay a lot more for it

The problem with implants? Cost.

Implants are rarely covered by insurance, says MacKenzie Lucas, a spokesperson for benefits consultant Aon Hewitt.

Practitioners charge $3,000 to $4,500 for a single tooth. Most dentists refer patients to oral surgeons, periodontists, or prosthodontists.

If you need an implant near a nerve or sinus cavity, it’s worth paying for a dentist or surgeon who has specialized training.

3. Not all implants are equal

Most dentists use implants made by the original Swedish manufacturer; studies have found that these implants have high success rates (90% or more), says Dr. Michael Childers, dental director for the Florida region of Dental Care Alliance.

There are also some newer, generic implants that are cheaper but may not have been studied yet. So ask your doctor what kind of implant he uses and the success rate he’s had with it.

4. There are ways to nab discounts

Join a discount plan. DentalPlans.com and Brighter.com charge an annual fee of $80 and $99, respectively, and offer a 15% to 25% discount on implants (ask about availability and pricing before you join).

Visit a school. Advanced students at some oral-surgery programs may do implants under close supervision for a fraction of the usual cost. You can find local schools at the American Dental Association.

5. Timing can also help

Implants are usually a two-part process — first putting in the implant, then covering it with a crown six to 12 weeks later, says Wolff.

If you know you need one, schedule the initial procedure at the end of a calendar year, then have the crown put on in the following year. That way you can use two years’ worth of your pretax flexible spending account at work to pay a chunk of the cost. You’ll reap as much as 30% savings if you’re in a high tax bracket.

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