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What starts out as a toothache can quickly become a full-blown root canal, which could end up costing you an arm and leg.

Dental work costs are rising faster than inflation, and many cash-strapped companies looking to cut costs are putting dental benefits on the chopping block.

“Dental insurance is an expensive benefit for a company,” said Buddy Johnson, CEO of DentalPlans.com. “As they are looking to economize, one of the first things that gets eliminated is dental insurance.”

While a trip to the dentist might not be a walk in the park, here are four ways to make it less tough on your wallet.

Prevention

Changing your eating habits could help prevent tooth decay and keep your mouth healthier.

“Products with high fructose should be avoided when possible, as well as bleached white flour and whole grain products that are not fermented,” said Ramiel Nagel, author of Cure Tooth Decay.

Nagel also suggested adding two teaspoons of cod liver oil to your diet, saying it reduces tooth decay by at least 40% by adding vitamins that aren’t in most diets.

“These small changes don’t cost a lot, but they can avoid expensive procedures down the road.”

Try a Discount Network

If your employer doesn’t offer dental insurance, look for a discount plan.

With most discount-club companies, you pay an annual membership fee (individual or family) that will provide discounted prices from participating dentists. Experts warn of fraudulent companies claiming to offer discount plans, so be sure to do your homework when picking a company to work with.

Be Honest With Your Dentist

When you hear the terms 'extraction' and 'bridge', dollar signs might flash before your eyes, so explain your financial situation to your dentist.

“If a patient of mine asks if this is something we can put off until they can get enough money I will look for temporary fixes,” said Dr. Mark Woolf, associate dean at the New York University College of dentistry.  “It might not always be possible, but at least give us the opportunity to try to come up with something, we understand times are tough right now.”

If postponement is a no-go, talk to your dentist about possibly working out a payment plan.

Go Back to School … Dentist School

Many dental schools welcome patients to come in for discounted care from dentists-in-training -- under the supervision of facility members and professionals, of course.

“The expertise you get at the school is probably more than you would get at a private practice,” said Woolf, adding that the savings are substantial “You can pay as little as a third of what a traditional dentist would charge by coming to the school.”

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