How to Find Affordable Dental Care?
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Table of Contents
- Does Health Insurance Cover Dental?
- No Coverage
- Programs for Children
A lack of affordable dental care is one of the reasons people often neglect their teeth and ignore small dental-related problems, like a minor toothache, occasional bleeding gums, or getting regular cleanings. Except these small problems can turn into painful major problems that cost a whole lot more to fix than the initial small problems.
Having access to affordable dental care makes it easier for people to keep up with their dental health, getting regular checkups, X-rays, and cleanings, and fixing minor problems, like small cavities, plaque removal, or the beginnings of recessions on your gums.
There are several different ways to find affordable dental care, including through health insurance, government programs, dental clinics, nonprofits, and even just asking your regular dentist for some assistance. This article will cover a few of those different methods for you and help you figure out which ones suit your particular needs.
Do All Health Insurance Plans Cover Dental Care?
Of course, one way to cover your dental costs is through health insurance. But not all insurance plans cover dental care.
In fact, it's safe to say that most insurance plans don't provide dental coverage, so don't assume that yours does. To find dental insurance in a regular health insurance plan, you generally have to ask for it at the time you purchase your insurance. Whether you get insurance through work, or purchase your own private health insurance, ask your agent about your available dental coverage.
If you get health insurance through Obamacare, some of the health insurance plans found on Healthcare.gov offer dental coverage. You can see which plans have it by doing a comparison on the Healthcare.gov website.
The benefit of folding your dental coverage into your health insurance is that your insurance premium covers both sets of coverage. But if you choose a stand-alone dental plan, which is also available on Healthcare.gov, those premiums are paid separately.
If you have private insurance, you can speak to your insurance agent about dental coverage. They will undoubtedly have plans that include dental coverage, but there's a higher premium. You can also buy supplemental dental coverage from insurance providers like Aflac, which sell separate dental plans. Plus, you can buy dental insurance if you don't have regular health insurance.
Where Can You Go for Help if You Don’t Have Coverage?
Medicare and Medicaid are other options for dental coverage, although Medicare doesn't offer routine dental coverage. It does cover emergency dental care in some cases, but it won't cover regular checkups and cleaning.
In fact, according to a 2019 Kaiser Family Foundation study, 65% of Medicare recipients do not have dental coverage. That's nearly 37 million people who lack dental insurance, which means both emergency visits and maintenance visits are out-of-pocket costs.
If you're a Medicaid recipient, there are some cases where dental benefits are available to eligible individuals and families. Each state sets its own eligibility guidelines, so you'll want to check your state's Medicaid website. Be sure to check the Medicaid website to see what kind of benefits they provide.
There are also dental savings plans, which seem like insurance on the surface, but they're very different. With dental insurance, you pay a premium to have certain procedures paid for, up to a certain amount. With a dental savings plan, you typically get a discount of anywhere from 10% to 60% off dental services from dentists.
A plan can cost anywhere from $75 to $200 for an individual and between $150 to $250 for a family. And best of all, you can buy a dental savings plan just a few days before you need some work done. Just make sure the dentist you choose is in the savings plan network.
There are other options if you don't have any kind of dental coverage or a dental savings plan. Because even a big discount on a hefty dental bill is still a lot of money. So where else can you look? Options include:
- Local Dental Schools
- Local & National Charities
- State Resources
- Talk to Your Dentist
Local Dental School
Nearly every state has one or two dental schools. Usually they’re associated with one a public or private colleges or university. For example, there are dental schools at Indiana University, Ohio State University, UCLA, University of Florida, University of Kentucky and the University of Texas-Houston. In fact, there are 66 dental schools in the United States.
There are also dental hygienist schools, although many of them are not associated with the dental schools or universities. Some may be at for-profit institutions, but they're still viable schools that graduate thousands of hygienists a year.
At dental school and dental hygienist school, students are learning to become dental professionals, and often get the opportunity to practice on live patients. (Under professional, licensed supervision, of course!) As a result, they offer greatly discounted rates on their services for things like cleaning, fillings, root canals, and so on.
On the downside, your appointments will take longer because the supervisors will check each step as they go along. However, that means that each one will be done correctly according to the latest techniques and procedures.
Local & National Charities
Another place to find free dental clinics is through local and national charities, faith-based groups and even professional dentists who will donate their time and expertise to people in need. There may be income requirements, meaning you might make too much money to quality, and there could be a long wait before you're able to get in to see a dentist. You can use the Health & Resources Services Administration's Find a Health Center page at HRSA.gov.
There is also a free two-day clinic run by each state's American Dental Association called Missions of Mercy (MOM). You can find the locations and dates by visiting the ADA's Action For Dental Health map.
For anyone who's 65 or older or living with a disability, the Donated Dental Services program is a volunteer network of 15,000 dentists throughout all 50 states. You can go to their website to find their qualification guidelines and an application for your state.
There are also public dental clinics that are paid for with taxpayer funds and are run by local or state health departments, or community health centers that operate on federal grants. These clinics have sliding fee scales that take your income into account to determine your fees, or they have lower fixed prices. The clinics offer most basic services, including cleanings, fillings, root canals, and surgical tooth extractions. Look for a free dental clinic near you at the Free Dental Care website.
Your local or state health department may also know of different programs, clinics, or schools in your area that offer affordable dental care. If nothing else, just call your health department and ask if they know of any programs.
You can also call the Health & Resources Services Administration hotline at (888) ASK-HRSA or visit their website at FindaHealthCenter.hrsa.gov to find your local health centers and dental centers. The dental offices may be a public clinic, a low-cost dentist, or even a mobile dental clinic, but if it's in the system, you'll be able to find it.
Ask Your Dentist
Finally, just ask your dentist. You may have fallen on some tough times and haven't been to your regular dentist in a while. Call the office manager and ask about a payment plan or reduced fees. Your dentist’s office may already be a part of the Donated Dental Services network, or it may provide free services for a few patients. Be upfront about your needs and see if they're willing to help you.
If the office can’t help, representatives may know about a clinic, nonprofit, or member of the Donated Dental Services network.
Also, ask your dentist about adjusting your dental care plan. Maybe you can turn your twice-a-year checkup into an annual visit, or maybe you can put off X-rays for a year.
Programs for Children
Most dental care programs that we've discussed are for families, unless they're specifically for people who are 65 and older, such as the Donated Dental Services network. They'll include children in their coverage. However, there are a couple children-specific dental care services.
For example, children are covered by Medicaid's dental coverage if they're enrolled in CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program. You can find information about dental benefits for children on the same page they provide for adults.
There's also the Give Kids A Smile program, which usually happens every February. You can call (844) 490-GKAS to find the nearest Give Kids A Smile program. You can also visit the American Dental Association's Action For Dental Health page to find both Give Kids A Smile locations and Mission Of Mercy locations.
Finally, you can reduce the need for expensive dental care just by taking excellent care of your teeth. Cut down on sodas and sugary drinks, brush at least twice a day, floss once a day and use a fluoride mouthwash every day.
While those tips won't reduce the cost of dental care, following them should help lessen the need for expensive procedures.
Drilling Down on Dental Coverage and Costs for Medicare Beneficiaries. Medicare. (March 13, 2019). Kaiser Family Foundaton. Date fetched: July 25, 2021.
Dental coverage in the Marketplace . (July 2021). HealthCare.gov. Date fetched: July 22, 2021.
Dental Care. (July 2021). Medicaid.gov. Date fetched: July 24, 2021.
U.S. Dental Schools. (July 2021). America Student Dental Association. Date fetched: July 24, 2021.
Find a Health Center. (July 2021). U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Date fetched: July 22, 2021.
Find Free Dental Care. (July 2021). Free Dental Care. Date fetched: July 22, 2021.