Whether it’s a routine cleaning or an intensive root canal, finding a low-income dentist can be a challenge.
But rest assured, there are many options for low-income dentists and affordable dental services that exist across the United States.
In this article, we’ll discuss dental care in the U.S., things to consider when looking for a low-income dentist and what options exist for you to find affordable dental care.
Dental care in the U.S.
Unfortunately, many in the United States do not have dental insurance. About 22 percent of Americans — roughly 74 million people — have no dental insurance coverage, according to the National Association of Dental Plans.
Certain subgroups are overrepresented in that data, particularly low-income seniors and children.
Sixty-five percent of Medicare beneficiaries — nearly 37 million people — do not have dental coverage, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis. Forty-nine percent of Medicare beneficiaries did not visit a dental visit in the past year. Older Americans also spend more on their dental care as 19 percent of Medicare beneficiaries spent more than $1,000 in out-of-pocket expenses in 2016.
Children in low-income families — those with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level — are also less likely to receive dental care, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
While there are many imperfections with U.S. dental care, there are a variety of options for low-income dentists or discount services that people can access with relative ease.
Talk to your dentist
A simple first step in your search to find affordable dental care is to talk with your dentist.
Many dental offices have low-income or membership savings programs. A membership-savings plan typically charges a fixed amount on an annual basis, covering particular procedures at no extra charge and offering discounts on other services. If you’re evaluating a savings plan, carefully inspect what the program covers before agreeing to it
Check to see if your dentist’s office offers free or low-cost service days. It’s also worth asking your dentist for recommendations of any local options on where to find low-income dental services. To find a dentist, check out the American Dental Association’s Find-a-Dentist tool.
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Federally-qualified medical centers
Many federally-qualified medical centers offer dental services.
Families and individuals with incomes 200 percent or lower than the federal poverty level — $49,200 per year or less for a family of four — are eligible for discounted services. Prices will vary based on your income and family size.
Check out this tool to find a federally-qualified medical center near you. Once you find an option, call the office to ask if they offer low-income services. If they do not, ask them where to find the nearest federally-qualified medical center with dental services.
For young people, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) may help. CHIP provides low-cost health coverage to children in families that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance coverage.
Each state offers CHIP coverage and works closely with its state Medicaid program, according to U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. To learn more or apply for CHIP, click here.
Dental schools in your community
Many cities have dental schools where supervised students and faculty offer care at a reduced cost. Check to see if your community may have such an option.
For example, the University of California at San Francisco offers a public clinic led by supervised dental students providing such services as pediatric dentistry, orthodontics, oral surgery, root canals, crowns, and fillings.
To find a dental school in your community, check out this search tool from the American Dental Association. The American Dental Association provides a list of dental schools across the United States, including information on the school’s services, address, and phone number.
Be aware that dental schools may have their own processes for serving low-income communities, including specific days, scheduling options, and or limited capacity.
Affordable Care Act marketplaces
Affordable Care Act insurance marketplaces may be another avenue to find dental insurance coverage. These marketplaces are required to offer dental coverage for children but may vary in the insurance coverage offered to adults.
Check out healthcare.gov to learn more about dental coverage provided in the Affordable Care Act marketplace. This article from Mouth Healthy provides additional information on choosing a dental plan within the Affordable Care Act.
Charitable dental organizations
There are many organizations around the United States dedicated to providing free or discounted dental services.
The United Way and its many chapters around the U.S. maintains a list of charitable organizations, including low-income dental services. Use this tool to find your local chapter of the United Way. Contact the office and ask for information on low-income dental services.
America’s Dentists Care Foundation runs free dental clinics in many cities around the United States. The clinics are typically only for adult patients. Check their website lists upcoming dates, locations, and services provided.
Dentistry from the Heart partners with dentists to host free dental events at dentist’s offices around the United States. The organization offers a free basic cleaning, one extraction, or one filling. Check out the organization’s events here.
America’s Toothfairy — formerly the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation — works to increase access to oral health care by supporting nonprofit clinics and provides funding for low-income families to access dental care.
For seniors and people with disabilities, Donated Dental Services is a program that helps provide people oral health services. The Dental Lifeline Network provides a national database of Donated Dental Services options and more information on the program.
Finding a low-income dentist
There are many organizations and people around the United States that offer free or discounted dental services. If you’re feeling lost or discouraged in your search, your best option may be to pick up the phone and ask your dentist’s office your questions directly or to ask another medical provider.
We hope through this article you’ve learned more about dental care in the United States, some of the things to consider when looking for a low-income dentist and what options exist for you to find affordable dental care.