Receiving regular dental treatment is critical for not only your oral health, but also your overall health. Unfortunately, about one quarter of people in the U.S. don’t have dental insurance. This lack of coverage can put regular visits to a dental office—let alone emergency or complicated care—out of reach. In fact, dental care is the most commonly delayed or skipped medical care due to cost, according to Kaiser Family Foundation research.
A low-income dental clinic can offer people who don’t have or can’t afford dental insurance the services they need. Such clinics can and do help close the distressingly large gaps in Americans’ oral health. However, they aren’t the only option available to people who lack dental coverage.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lists a variety of possible resources for low-cost and affordable dental care:
Dental coverage varies under these three federally funded health insurance programs.
This is a program for patients age 65 and older or with specific disabilities, but doesn’t cover most routine dental care or dentures. Medicare Part A, however, will pay for certain dental services performed in a hospital, and for hospital stays occasioned by the need for emergency or complicated dental procedures. Some private Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans may include dental insurance; contact your company to find out.
This is a state-run program which sometimes provides dental benefits. Eligibility guidelines vary from state to state, but most provide limited, emergency dental treatment for patients age 21 and older. Most patients younger than 21 can receive dental services under Medicaid.
This service usually provides dental coverage to patients age 19 and younger. Exact services vary by state. At minimum, covered dental services must include relief of pain and infection, teeth restoration, and dental health maintenance.
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) provides health care to people who are geographically isolated and economically or medically vulnerable. These groups include “people with HIV, pregnant people, mothers and their families, those with low incomes, residents of rural areas, American Indians and Alaska Natives, and those otherwise unable to access high-quality health care.”
HRSA funds community-based Federally Qualified Health Centers nationwide where patients in underserved areas receive primary and preventative health care, including dental treatment. HRSA centers provide services based on a sliding fee scale. You must meet eligibility requirements to qualify.
Your state, county, or municipal health department may offer or be able to tell you about free or affordable dental treatment options, possibly including low-income dental clinics. Call these community health departments and ask. If you can, sign up for their email distribution lists. You may find an affordable option closer than you thought you could.
Patients can’t count on a clinical trial suited to their specific situations to be available when needed. Still, the National Institutes of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) does recruit volunteers with specific conditions for various clinical trials.
Participants may receive limited low-cost or free dental care related to the conditions under study. By volunteering, these patients also make valuable contributions to the advancement of oral and dental health.
Among the other causes it supports, the United Way advocates for accessible and affordable health care for all Americans, regardless of income. The organization doesn’t offer free or low-cost dental care itself. But it may be able to point you to a low-income dental clinic or other source of free or reduced-cost services.
HHS lists one more potential source of affordable dental care. It says dental schools “can be a good source of quality, reduced-cost dental treatment.” Similarly, dental hygiene schools “may also offer supervised, low-cost preventive dental care.”
Dental schools offer affordable care because tomorrow’s dentists and dental hygienists need clinical experience to master their skills. They work in these settings under the close supervision of licensed, experienced dental professionals.
Teaching clinics at dental schools are more likely than low-income dental clinics to use state-of-the-art techniques and materials. They’re certainly more likely to develop and use innovative methods, pioneered by the very professors overseeing the student dentists. Teaching clinics don’t charge what established dental practices do. Luckily, the lower cost doesn’t mean the care is lower quality.
Finally, because dental schools are permanent fixtures in their communities, patients don’t have to worry about dependability. They simply make and keep an appointment as they would at any regular dental office. Should they need follow-up care, they can go back without having to start dental treatment from square one somewhere else.
Want to know more about finding affordable dental care? Get your free copy of Penn Dental Medicine’s eBook, The Affordability of Truly Comprehensive Dental Care: How to Secure a Patient-Focused Dentist Office.