Did you know that your mouth actually reveals a lot about your health? It’s often the first part of your body to show symptoms of an illness, so keeping your chops in check is essential to maintaining overall health and wellness.
Our teeth and gums play an essential role in our lives— they’re necessary for chewing and digesting food, help us speak clearly, and even shape our face. That’s why having access to proper medical professionals is so important to keep your mouth happy and your pearly whites sparkling. We know that this can be difficult for many people in our community because of the costs involved, which is why we compiled a list of low-cost or even free dental care options.
Where Can I Find a Free or Low-Cost Dentist?
There are several programs and institutions throughout the U.S. that provide either free or reduced-cost dental services to low-income people. Some of these programs and agencies are run by the federal government, others by state governments. Other programs are even funded by private community support organizations. Here are some options you might find useful.
Local health departments
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is a program that provides health services, including dental care, to people who need them. Because they’re sponsored by the federal government, these services are provided at affordable prices or sometimes even for free. To find one of these clinics, you can use the HRSA online search engine. Just enter your zip code or the name of your city and set a distance radius for your search.
Many dental schools offer free or low-cost services so their students can practice their skills. Worried the rookies aren’t up to snuff? Don’t worry, there’s always at least one qualified, licensed dentist supervising the students' work and assisting them if necessary. If you just need a dental cleaning and check-up, dental hygienist schools also offer similar practice services.
Some examples of dental and dental hygiene schools that offer free or low-cost dental services are:
- The University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Dentistry. At UNC's community clinic, they offer free diagnostics, cleanings, fillings, and extractions. Appointments are only available on select Wednesdays from 6 PM to 9 PM. For more information or to make an appointment, visit their website.
- University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) School of Dentistry. Their dental center offers low-cost dental services performed by third and fourth year dental students. You can also choose to be seen by a resident (a trainee graduate student) or by a faculty member (the professors), however these options come at a higher cost.
- Dallas College School of Dental Hygienists. Their dental hygiene clinic offers various free services such as prophylaxis (deep teeth cleaning), fluoride application, and denture cleanings, among others. The only service they offer with a cost is teeth whitening ($75).
- The University of Illinois Chicago College of Dentistry. Their clinic offers a sliding scale fee with three levels, from least to most expensive. The cheapest fee is undergraduate student dentists, followed by residents, and then faculty members, which charge the highest fee. In addition, its multicultural group of specialists offers services in different languages, including Spanish.
- South Florida State University School of Dental Hygiene. This clinic offers dental cleanings, fluoride applications, and x-rays, among other services. Prices for each of their services range from $2 to $50. At this clinic, dental hygiene students practice to become licensed professionals under the direct supervision of a certified dentist and licensed dental hygienists. Keep this in mind when booking an appointment, because sometimes they can last up to three hours.
- New York University School of Dentistry. The NYU dental clinic also offers low-cost dental health services. They are available by appointment only and have two locations: one in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn. More information on how to schedule an appointment and the services they offer can be found here.
If you’d like to find other dental schools near you, please visit one of the following sites:
- To search for dental schools: American Dental Association
- For dental hygiene schools: American Dental Hygienists' Association
Participating in a clinical trial is another way to receive free dental health services. These programs are a part of scientific research studies that test new ways to prevent, detect, and treat diseases. In the United States, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research located in Bethesda, Maryland, is the agency in charge of conducting clinical trials in dentistry. For more information about this option and to search for available clinical trials, visit this site.
Medicare is a government-sponsored health insurance program for people over 65 and people with certain disabilities. If you’re a Medicare beneficiary, you’re probably wondering if your coverage includes dental services. Unfortunately, the original Medicare program doesn’t cover routine dental care such as cleanings, fillings, and extractions. However, some emergency dental procedures requiring hospitalization may be covered by insurance.
When you have this type of insurance, you also have options for additional dental coverage, such as enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan with dental benefits (which costs extra). Note that not all Medicare Advantage plans offer dental coverage, but many do.
Medicaid / CHIP
Medicaid is a federal and state program that provides health care coverage to vulnerable communities such as low-income families, pregnant women, children, and people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Thanks to the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), all states must provide dental health care for children that qualify for Medicaid.
Unfortunately, the federal government does not require any dental coverage for adults on Medicaid, so the degree of coverage you can get depends directly on the state in which you live. In this document you can find a table summarizing the dental coverage provided through Medicaid in each state.
United Way is a global community-based association that supports people in need of assistance in many areas, including dental healthcare. United Way has a telephone service that will help you find free or low-cost dental clinics by simply calling 211.
NeedyMeds is an online resource that provides information on assistance programs for people who can’t afford their medications and healthcare costs. All information is free, easily accessible, and updated regularly. No registration is required, and no personal information is requested. To find a free or low-cost dentist near you, visit this page and enter your zip code or search by state.
Dentistry From The Heart
Dentistry From The Heart is a nonprofit dental organization based in New Port Richey, Florida that organizes events with dental providers to provide free dental care to those who need it most. Dentistry From The Heart has donated over $25 million and has helped over 500,000 people through these events. To find out if the organization will be holding a campaign near you in the near future, keep an eye on their calendar of events.
The Donated Dental Services (DDS) program, which is part of the nonprofit Dental Lifeline, provides free comprehensive dental treatment to some of the country’s most vulnerable communities. This program offers services to those with disabilities, people over the age of 65, or people in poor health due to pre-existing medical conditions. The program operates through a volunteer network of 15,000 dentists and 3,400 dental laboratories throughout the United States. DDS operates a separate program in each state with different qualifying conditions. Click here to find both qualification criteria and an application for your state.
SABEResPODER's PODERsalud membership is another excellent option for accessing dental services at a reduced cost. This program is designed with the U.S. Hispanic community in mind and offers dozens of benefits and discounts on general health services, including dental care. By subscribing for only $16.95 per month, you can save 15% to 50% on your dental visits and procedures.
When you join our program, your spouse and any children under 26 will also receive access to discounts on your personal medical and dental care. Even better? You don't need to have prior medical insurance or dental coverage to enroll in PODERsalud!
Something to Smile About
There are many ways to reduce your dental care expenses, but choosing the one that’s best for you depends on the programs for which you qualify, your location, and even your age. As always, if you have any questions on this topic, feel free to contact our team of experts through our chat. We'll be happy to help you find an option that fits your needs and preferences.