Dental services are expensive, so many Americans tend to neglect treatment. Many jobs in the U.S. also have a lack of dental coverage, which leaves low-income families struggling to find affordable dental care. Fortunately, low-income dental services are possible to find with research and patience.
Some dentists charge over $150 for a simple dental exam and teeth cleaning, which is often too expensive for the average American family.
Even if you have insurance, most dental procedures are still costly. Some dental insurance plans cover 100 percent of preventive treatment, which includes two dental exams and teeth cleanings per year. However, restorative treatment (e.g., filling and crowns) may only be partially covered or not covered at all.
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Depending on your situation and income, you may qualify for the following low-income dental services:
There are a few different types of clinics that offer dental services at reduced rates. These include nonprofit, free, and public dental clinics:
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Many dental programs at colleges around the U.S. offer discounted dental services. These programs include allied dental education programs, predoctoral dental education programs (DDS/DMD), and advanced dental education programs.
Dental hygiene schools (American Dental Hygienists’ Association) also offers low-cost, supervised dental care. The general public can visit these on-campus clinics to receive treatment from dental students, who all require hands-on training before graduation.
Often, patients end up paying half of the cost, or less, for cavity fillings and restorative treatments (e.g., crowns, implants, and bridges). Root canals, gum disease treatment, and some oral surgeries are also offered at reduced prices.
Licensed supervisors and dentists are there to guide students throughout the entire process. So you will still receive safe, high-quality dental care while also saving money.
Some advantages and disadvantages to these low-cost dental services include:
Over 15,000 volunteer dentists and dental labs across America operate Donated Dental Services (DDS). There is one program in each U.S. state. In short, the DDS provides free dental treatment to those with disabilities.
The elderly and people with chronic medical conditions are also candidates for DDS. However, people also have to meet certain criteria, including not being able to afford regular dental treatment and having no access to public aid.
The government has three financial assistance programs that provide dental care to specific individuals. You may qualify for one or more of the following programs, depending on your age and income:
There are also dental charities and nonprofit dental clinics in each U.S. state. These oral health centers provide dental care on a sliding scale, which is a payment model for patients who can't afford dental work. Some of these organizations have financial and residency requirements. Other centers only help certain groups of people, including children, the homeless, and people with disabilities.
If you have been diagnosed with a dental condition or disease that is expensive to treat, you may be eligible to participate in a free clinical trial. Although, not everyone can participate in these trials. Eligibility depends on your age and your general and oral health history.
Even though clinical trials are free, they are risky. This is because many of the medications and techniques used during the trials aren’t FDA approved, so you are more likely to develop side effects.
These effects can range from mild to severe. Therefore, they will inform you about the potential complications before beginning the trial.
If you are interested in buying dental insurance, many insurance companies offer affordable dental plans. For example, CIGNA offers three different plans. The lowest one starts at just $19 a month per person. It covers 100 percent of preventive services twice a year, which includes dental exams and teeth cleanings. This plan does not cover orthodontics or restorative services.
Other popular dental insurance companies include Delta Dental, Aetna, Humana, and United Healthcare. These companies also offer more affordable plans. Similar to CIGNA, preventive treatments are covered in full. But you typically pay for restorative treatments, orthodontics, and oral surgeries out-of-pocket.
A routine check-up, dental exam, and teeth cleaning costs between $150 and $350 without insurance. You should visit your dentist twice a year for these services, which can cost up to $700 a year per person. So, If you invest in a reduced-cost dental insurance plan (about $19 per month), you’ll save money in the long-run.
Each U.S. state has its own guidelines regarding who qualifies for free and low-income dental care.
If you do not have enough money to pay for treatment and are over 65 years of age, have a disability, or a medical condition, you may qualify for free treatment through the Donated Dental Services (DDS) program.
The Australian government does not cover most dental services. However, if you are eligible for Medicare in Australia, some essential dental care may be covered for low-income children and adults.
There are a few ways to pay for braces or Invisalign if you can't afford the total cost of treatment upfront. For example, many orthodontists allow patients to set-up payment plans. You can also use an HSA (Health Savings Account) or FSA (Flexible Spending Account) to pay for treatment. Also, ask your orthodontist if they are offering any special discounts before beginning treatment.
If you have dental insurance, check with your provider to see if orthodontic treatment is included in your plan. Orthodontic benefits usually only pertain to children under 18 years of age. Many companies offer stand-alone dental policies which include some coverage for braces without an age limit. However, these plans are more expensive.
Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Grants may offer free braces to eligible children and adults. If you qualify, your state government will pay for treatment.
Yes, getting dental work done at a dental school is much cheaper for select treatments, including preventive, restorative, and surgical procedures. Most clinics offer 50% discounts or more.
In the U.K., individuals may qualify for free NHS dental care if they meet certain criteria. Learn more here.
“Dental Care.” Medicaid, www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/benefits/dental-care/index.html.
“Dental Services.” Dental Service Coverage, www.medicare.gov/coverage/dental-services.
Digital Communications Division. “Where Can I Find Low-Cost Dental Care?” HHS.gov, 18 Sept. 2017, www.hhs.gov/answers/health-care/where-can-i-find-low-cost-dental-care/index.html.
“Eligibility.” Medicaid, www.medicaid.gov/chip/eligibility/index.html.
Find a Program, www.ada.org/en/coda/find-a-program.
“Get Access To Dental Care With Our Programs: DDS: DLN.” Dental Lifeline Network, dentallifeline.org/about-us/our-programs/.
Individual CIGNA Dental Choice. https://www.cigna.com/assets/docs/texas/844097_Dental_Choice.pdf
“Medicaid: Medicaid.” Medicaid Home, www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/index.html.
“What Dental Insurance Covers.” Https://Www.deltadental.com, https://www.deltadental.com/us/en/protect-my-smile/dental-benefits/dental-insurance/what-does-my-dental-insurance-cover.html.