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  • Writer's pictureDr Gautam Herle

Budgeting for the dentist: Your teeth are worth a savings plan

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

For whatever reason, dental care is viewed as a luxury. However, saving for the dentist should be viewed as every other household expense.

Not everyone has or can afford health insurance with dental. It is all too frequent I have patients miss their dental appointments with me because the cost is seen as being too steep. Also common are those who don’t have dental insurance, which is often a wholly different beast to general health insurance. Some people don’t have any insurance at all. Medicare doesn’t cover a vast majority of dental work, unless you’re going in for surgery, then the anaesthetic will be covered… itself is cold comfort.

That’s going to set you back, and it can add salt to the wound, as it were (although I never use salt with my patients) if you have to fork over hard-earned money for the (not always pleasant) experience. 

Having said that, it remains important for singles, couples, and families to understand the fundamental importance of proper dental care, and work it into your household budget. 

If you can budget for your groceries, bills, rent or mortgage, plus entertainment and other extra expenses, like cigarettes, coffee or drinks at the pub, you should be able to work the cost of twice-annual dental check-ups into your budget.

If you can budget for your groceries, bills, rent or mortgage, plus entertainment and other extra expenses, like cigarettes, coffee or drinks at the pub, you should be able to work the cost of twice-annual dental check-ups into your budget.

Choice magazine has reported that in Australia, a visit to the dentist for comprehensive oral exam should cost between $51-$92, with the average cost for such a visit being $66. Choice’s team visited 35 dental clinics across the country and found the cost of a check-up (oral exam/scale and clean/fluoride treatment) varied from $150 to $305, with an average price of $231. If an x-ray is needed, you’d need to add another $89.50 for two, on average.

It adds up, especially if you have children, or if time, money and general forgetfulness have allowed your teeth to be neglected. But I want to plant the seed of a thought in your head, and let it grow from there: if you can afford coffee, cigarettes, alcohol or overseas holidays, then you can afford a pair of trips to the dentist every year.

These are your teeth we’re talking about here. Looking after them properly is a very important consideration. And it’s worth what you spend to keep them clean and healthy. 

So, let’s take a look at what you might be spending your money on and how that might be better used…


If you spend $4 a take-away coffee for every working day of the year, that’s just shy of $1000 you’re out of pocket. Seldom you’ll find someone who is ‘one and done’ when it comes to coffee, so it’s easy to see that figure double. Worth it? Perhaps, depends on how you take it.

But, if you cut down, or give it up (which is bold coming from someone like me, based in Victoria, where coffee consumption has a cultural, if not religious significance) and you’ll be significantly better off financially. Not to mention your teeth will thank you – for just as is the case for any drink that isn’t water, coffee can cause bacteria to grow in your mouth which can lead to tooth and enamel erosion. Erosion of this sort can cause your teeth to become thin and brittle.

Also, coffee has many positives, but the impact it has on your breath is not one of them. Take it from someone who deals closely with open mouths for a living!


A packet of cigarettes costs, on average $35. If you smoke two packs a week, that’s $70 you’ll be spending, or $3640 a year. Pack-a-day smokers? That’s $12,775 per year! I’m not here to tell you to quit smoking (although, I’d be wise to do that, given that smoking can lead to tooth staining, gum disease, tooth loss, and in more severe cases mouth cancer), but should you even cut your habit in half you’d have more than enough to spend on visiting a dentist twice a year…which you should be doing anyhow.


Everyone needs to get away now and again, and it’s seldom something you can do for very little money. A lot of the time I hear my patients complain about the cost of seeing a dentist, and within minutes they’ll be talking about the next exciting holiday destination they’re looking forward to.

Holidays are important, we all need time off to recharge the batteries. But if you’re spending thousands of dollars every year on a vacation, but at the same time not putting aside money for your dental work, there’s something missing from your budgetary plan.

Research by Westpac shows that the average Australian overseas holiday lasts three weeks and costs $4,679 – an average of $222.81 per person per day. A survey by CommBank backs these findings up, revealing an overseas trip costs the average Australian $4,750. At the same time, the average cost of a domestic holiday in Australia is $190.92 per person per night.

It’s a big, beautiful country. I came here from my native India in part because of what an amazing country it is, with such a wide variety of places to visit and things to do. Maybe shift your focus away from exotic global destinations and know that a true holiday can be had cheaper on your own home soil.


Now, before you start calling me Dr Buzzkill rather than Dr Gautam, these are just some suggestions where you might want to cut back, not cut out. You may like a drink as much as the next man (depending really on who and where the next man is), but let’s just take a look at the numbers.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian households spent on average $31.95 per week on alcoholic beverages in 2015-16. That’s $1661.40 per year, which ought to nicely cover your dental expenses. Especially if you combine it with a reduction in coffee intake, decide to holiday in Perth rather than Paris, and give up the gaspers. 

There’s a lot of ways you can save for the dentist, and the fact is that in the grand scheme of things, making sure you have healthy teeth and gums is a lot more important than that extra cup of coffee you probably don’t need, the pack of cigarettes you should have quit and the streaming service you have that you seldom watch. But at the end of the day, the point is that budgeting for the dentist is just as important as budgeting for your electricity bill. 

The benefits really are something to smile about.

Dr. Gautam Herle, BDS, MDS, is a principal dentist at Myers Street Dental Clinic in Geelong. He has been practicing dentistry in the Geelong region for more than a decade and is currently earning his Masters in Laser Dentistry. He also has a 5-star ThreeBest Rated status as one of the best cosmetic dentists in Geelong.

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