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The U.S. government defines a person with disabilities as someone who:1
Some programs that may provide low-cost dental care for such people include:
Donated Dental Services (DDS) is a program the Dental Lifeline Network offers. This nonprofit organization offers education and dental care access to people who cannot afford it or have disabilities.
This nationwide program has a network of over 15,000 volunteer dentists. It offers comprehensive free care to people who cannot afford standard treatment fees.
Healthy Mouth Movement, provided by Aspen Dental, helps people who struggle with accessing dental care (whether because of a disability, lack of funding, or both). They also focus on dental care for disabled veterans.
Aspen Dental has a dentist office on wheels called MouthMobile. It travels the U.S. to provide free dental services to veterans living in remote communities.
Schools like the University of Washington (UW) School of Dentistry train dentists and providers to offer specialized dental care to people with special needs. Private donations partly support the UW School of Dentistry’s DECOD clinic.
They care for people with acquired or developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy (CP) and multiple sclerosis (MS).4 Another school that offers this program is the New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry.
This school dedicated its oral health center to providing support and sensitive essential care to people with disabilities. The school’s dental clinic is fully equipped to accommodate the needs of caregivers, patients, and families.
The Illinois Foundation of Dentistry for the Handicapped, through the DDS programs, offers free or very low-cost dental services to the elderly and people with disabilities.
Qualified applicants must be:
Some community dental clinics offer low-cost dental services. Your local hospital may refer you to one, or you can search the internet for “community dental clinics.”
Disability insurance primarily protects a portion of people's monthly income in case of a disability occurrence that prevents them from working. However, it typically doesn't offer dental coverage.
The U.S. government provides people with disabilities three options for health insurance through the government:
However, these insurance options don't usually fully cover adult oral care services.7
Medicaid only covers some dental services for children and adults under 65 with disabilities. Medicare has some plans that offer partial dental insurance coverage. The ACA provides dental insurance coverage for children.
Some insurance, like Basic Social Security Disability Insurance, will provide dental coverage. However, most Medicare and Medicaid enrollees lack comprehensive health insurance covering routine dental care or other dental services.2
Depending on the type of insurance and the insurance company, some coverage comes with a waiting period. In 2005, the Social Security Administration (SSA) funded MDRC, a nonprofit social policy research organization. It carried out a project called Accelerated Benefits (AB) Demonstration.
The AB Demonstration was designed to determine the benefits and costs of altering the waiting period for Medicare, particularly for disabled people.5 Its findings include:
Special care dentistry (SCD) is a branch of dentistry that offers dental services to people with disabilities.3 International organizations like the Special Care Dentistry Association (SCDA) are made up of dental professionals dedicated to promoting the oral health of people with special needs.
Those qualified for special-care dentistry are people who need free comprehensive dental treatment. This includes:
In most countries, the elderly comprise a significant part of the disabled community. They mostly live alone in their homes or nursing homes for special care.
Many dentists can treat people with special needs. However, some people with certain disabilities may require specialized dental services.
Although dental professionals are trained to provide comprehensive care to anyone, there are programs designed to improve assistance for people with special needs. This includes programs like MSc in Special Care Dentistry.
There are also dental clinics that prioritize oral health care for disabled adults. These clinics work with volunteer dentists. They offer affordable dental care for adults with disabilities.
Disability living allowance (DLA) is a tax-free benefit. It typically comes in monetary form and is meant for people with disabilities who need extra care, support in their daily lives, and help with mobility.
A DLA might not provide access to free dental work, but it can reduce the cost of prescriptions and doctor fees. You might also be eligible for other free benefits, including:
People with intellectual and developmental disabilities tend to have more dental problems and poorer oral health than those without disabilities.6 This is due to a few reasons:
If a dentist accepts Medicaid, it usually means they make less money on the charge. This becomes a problem for many people with disabilities, who usually have dental coverage through Medicaid. It becomes difficult for people with disabilities or special needs to access affordable and quality dental care because dental clinics sometimes refuse their insurance.
Some dental clinics cannot provide dental care for people with disabilities because their staff lacks proper training or equipment.
This may prevent a clinic from accommodating the special needs of people with disabilities. It could even lead the staff to compromise their care.
Dental professionals always recommend seeing a dentist at least twice a year. But this can be hard to accomplish for people with disabilities, especially those with severe physical disabilities.
It may also be difficult to find a dental clinic specialized in caring for people with disabilities or special needs.
If you are looking for a special-care dentist, the first step is to ask around. Ask your local dentist, family members, friends, or even disability services. They might know a clinic with a dental team that provides special care to people with disabilities.
Aside from getting referrals and recommendations, here are more tips to help you find a special-care dentist:
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