Free Dental Care: Understanding Your Real Options
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Table of Contents
- Putting Off Dental Care
- Free Dental Care Options
- Finding Free Dental Care
- Free Dental Insurance
- Low-Cost Care & Insurance
Dental care in the United States can be expensive, especially if you do not have dental insurance. Fortunately, for those in the most need, many charities and nonprofits offer free dental clinics, free treatment with certain dentists, and some emergency services.
You may also be able to get free dental treatment coverage with Medicare or Medicaid, depending on your age and needs. If you make too much money to qualify for free treatment, you may still qualify for low-cost dental treatment or a dental insurance plan through an Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace.
Putting Off Dental Care Leads to Higher Costs
[A report published by the American Dental Association (ADA)](https://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Science and Research/HPI/OralHealthWell-Being-StateFacts/US-Oral-Health-Well-Being.pdf?la=en) found that 77 percent of adults said they were going to go to the dentist for treatment within the next year; however, about 37 percent of adults actually visited the dentist. For some, this could be due to hesitancy or dental phobia. For others, it could simply be forgetfulness or being too busy.
Many American adults avoid going to the dentist as long as possible because of fear over the cost of dental treatment or being unable to afford dental insurance to offset the cost. This means that they may put off important cleanings, pain treatment, and even fillings. Problems like gingivitis can become serious infections, which can damage the teeth.
For those who are worried about the cost of dental treatment but want to get a healthy smile, there are some free dental care options. However, these options may not cover important services or the types of treatment you want, like some types of orthodontics.
Free Dental Care Treatment Options
If you are unemployed, underemployed, or low income, you may qualify for charity dental care through your city or state government or a local nonprofit organization. Unfortunately, the waiting lists for many of these community centers, clinics, or charitable groups can be quite long.
Signing up for routine dental care when it’s available might be good for you in the long term, but if you need immediate dental treatment, they are not likely to be able to help.
Here are some specific charities that offer free dental care:
- Mission of Mercy (MOM): This organization offers mobile clinics that provide health care, including dental treatment and prescription medications. The charity notes that for many of their clients, MOM is the only option for health care access.
- Remote Area Medical (RAM) Volunteer Corps: This charitable organization runs on volunteer support, offering free medical and dental pop-up clinics across the US. During the COVID-19 pandemic, RAM also began offering telehealth support, which can be very useful for people who might qualify for low-cost dental treatment but are afraid or unsure if they should visit an office.
- Dental Lifeline: This group provides comprehensive, free dental care for the most vulnerable people in the US, including those who are medically fragile, elderly, or have permanent disabilities. There are different program options in each state.
- America’s Dentists Care Foundation (ADCF): This organization offers two-day pop-up dental clinics in cities around the US. These clinics focus on adults and fill up quickly.
- Dentistry from the Heart: Another organization of dentists volunteering their time at free dental clinic events around the US. Their calendar lists upcoming clinics, so check for updates if you need an examination and basic treatment.
How to Find More Free Dental Care Options in Your Area
Free, charity or nonprofit-based dental treatment options will vary by region. Your city may not offer many, but your county may offer more, for example. To find a potential charity option, United Way keeps a list of dental charities, so you can search by region.
The ADA also keeps a clickable map of free, high-quality dental clinics based on area. You can click on your state to find potential charity or nonprofit aid organizations offering dental treatment.
Another useful website is the National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics (NAFCC), which keeps an updated list of several charitable, free, and nonprofit groups that offer a range of medical treatments to those in need. Enter your zip code to find the nearest options, which can include dental treatment.
You can also use the HRSA Data Warehouse Find a Health Center website, maintained by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Free Dental Insurance
Both Medicare and Medicaid offer some limited coverage for dental services for those in need. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) also offers coverage for people up to age 19, which means that teenagers and even some early college students can get support for dental needs like braces or wisdom tooth removal.
- Medicaid is administered by state governments, so each state may have slightly different rules or options for dental care access. Most states offer emergency dental treatment for people ages 21 and older, while a few states offer comprehensive dental coverage for people who are out of work, unable to work, or low income. There are several options for children’s dental coverage through Medicaid too.
- Medicare is a federal health care program for older adults, ages 65 and older. The program does not cover comprehensive dental treatment, but it will cover costs associated with removing teeth in preparation for radiation treatment of the jaw and for severe injuries like reconstructing the jaw.
Low-Cost Dental Care & Insurance
Many people make enough money that they may not qualify for free dental coverage or treatment, but they may instead qualify for low-cost options. There are several options available, depending on your location.
For example, a dentist’s office near you may offer sliding scale or low-cost treatment to certain patients, so you can call and ask what services they provide. If they do not offer financial support, they may be able to recommend a dentist, charity, or nonprofit group that does.
You are likely to find basic treatment options through a nearby dental training program at a college or university in your area. Dental students are supervised by their teachers during cleanings, extractions, root canals, and other procedures, so you can get good service to address oral health problems like cavities or tartar buildup. You can look at your local higher education groups’ websites to see if their dental programs need volunteer patients, or you can visit:
- The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) page on the ADA’s website to look up high-quality dental schools near you.
- The American Dental Hygienists Association (ADHA) page to search for schools near you that need volunteers to help train their students.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces offer dental insurance based on your income level, if you do not have a dental plan provided by your employer. Everyone needs routine dental care to maintain a healthy mouth, and the best way to get that care is with dental insurance. You can find a plan that offers what you need, in a price range you can afford, through your state or the federal marketplace.
Oral Health and Well-Being in the United States. (2015). American Dental Association (ADA). Date fetched: June 7, 2021.
Who We Help. Mission of Mercy. Date fetched: June 7, 2021.
Clinic Schedule. Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps. Date fetched: June 7, 2021.
Our Programs. Dental Lifeline Network. Date fetched: June 7, 2021.
Attend/Volunteer. America’s Dentists Care Foundation (ADCF). Date fetched: June 7, 2021.
Upcoming Events. Dentistry from the Heart. Date fetched: June 7, 2021.
Find Your United Way. United Way. Date fetched: June 7, 2021.
Action for Dental Health Map. American Dental Association (ADA). Date fetched: June 7, 2021.
Find a Clinic. The National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics (NAFCC). Date fetched: June 7, 2021.
Find a Health Center. HRSA. Date fetched: June 7, 2021.
Dental Care. Medicaid. Date fetched: June 7, 2021.
Medicare Dental Coverage. (November 2013). Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Date fetched: June 7, 2021.
Find a Program. American Dental Association (ADA). Date fetched: June 7, 2021.
Grow Professionally. American Dental Hygienists Association (ADHA). Date fetched: June 7, 2021.
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