I come from a family with a LONG line of bad teeth. I have spent more money on my mouth than I have on either of my cars. Here are three ways to save on dental work if you need it.
#1) Shop Around. Dentists charge different fees for the same work. If you need a particular procedure done, it may help to call 3 dentists to see what they charge baseline for, say, a crown, a filling, a cleaning, etc. Many times dentists in large practices (groups) encourage more work done to your mouth than is necessary, as this is how they make most of their money. I had a dentist who recommended 4 cerac crowns, and said I had no other option as he did not do any other cheaper types of crowns. These are $800 each and insurance does not cover them. When I found a new dentist, she told me I only needed one crown, and the rest were small fillings. She "filled" me in on what other dentists do - that sometimes they recommend unnecessary work that insurance will not cover. I am so glad I found a new dentist.
#2) See if there is a "school of dentistry" in your area. These schools provide dental treatments for much less than a typical dentist. The downside is that the appointments usually take longer, because they are done by students being overseen by teachers. Before you balk at this idea, remember that many procedures done in doctors offices and hospitals are also done by "residents" who are being taught and overseen by their doctors. Two schools of dentistry in the Southern California area are the USC School of Dentistry and the Loma Linda School of Dentistry. (On a side note, I would not really recommend taking a small child to these schools as the environment can be a little scary for them, especially if it takes 3x longer for a procedure than it would at a regular children's dentist).
#3) If you don't have dental insurance, you may want to check out AmeriPlan. This is not dental insurance, but is a discounted program for dental services. You simply join AmeriPlan for a small fee and then choose one of their providers for your dental service. This is similar to an HMO. I have compared the rates with my own insurance plan and they are similar.
If you have any other tips, please let me know!