Low Income Dental: Types of Services, Advantages & Costs

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Free and Low Income Dental Services

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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What Do You Do if You Can't Afford a Dentist?

Depending on your situation and income, you may qualify for the following low-income dental services: 

Low-Cost Dental Clinics

There are a few different types of clinics that offer dental services at reduced rates. These include nonprofit, free, and public dental clinics:

  • Nonprofit and free dental clinics — charities, churches, and dental organizations operate free clinics by donating dental services to low-income families. The only downside is that free dental care clinics are hard to find and typically have a long waitlist.  
  • Public dental clinics — these dental clinics are funded by taxpayers. State or local health departments must receive grants from the federal government to run them. At public clinics, people can expect to pay fixed, low prices on many types of dental treatments. These include cavity fillings, crowns, implants, bridges, x-rays, tooth extractions, teeth cleanings, and dental exams.

Dental Schools

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:

PROS of dental schools
  • Dental health services are cheaper for select treatments, including preventive, restorative, and surgical procedures. Most clinics offer 50 percent discounts or more.
  • Professional supervisors with extensive training in dentistry check each step in the process during treatment. This ensures everything is done “by the book.”
  • All of the schools are accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). 
CONS of dental schools
  • Appointments take longer than they would at an established dentist’s office.
  • The students are in training, so there is a higher risk for mistakes to occur. Although, since they have supervisors, these mistakes are rare. 
  • The treatments can only be completed on-campus, and many colleges are located in busy cities. You may have to commute farther if you don’t live close to these schools.

Donated Dental Services (DDS)

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. 

Government Assistance Programs

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:

  • Medicaid — this program is funded by the federal government and each U.S. state. It provides dental and health coverage to eligible low-income Americans, including people with disabilities, children, adults, pregnant women, and elderly people. 
  • Medicare — this program provides health insurance to people 65 years of age and older and those with specific disabilities. Although, dental care coverage through Medicare is restricted. In particular, it does not cover dentures and routine dental services, including teeth cleanings, x-rays, and dental exams.
  • CHIP — similar to Medicaid, this program provides dental coverage to children under 19 years of age. Coverage varies from state to state. Other eligibility requirements include:
    • The child has to be uninsured and determined ineligible for Medicaid
    • The child must be a resident of the state
    • The entire family must meet CHIP’s low-income requirements
    • The child must be a U.S. citizen or meet immigration requirements

Low-Fee Clinics

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.

Clinical Trials

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.

What is The Best Dental Insurance For Low Income?

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.

Common Questions and Answers

Who qualifies for free dental care?

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.

Does Centrelink help with dental costs?

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.

What to do if you can't afford braces?

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.

Can you get braces for free?

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.

Is it cheaper to get dental work done at a dental school?

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.

Who qualifies for free NHS dental care?

In the U.K., individuals may qualify for free NHS dental care if they meet certain criteria. Learn more here.

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Resources

“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.

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Updated on: October 20, 2020
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Alyssa Hill
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