Good dental care is not simply cosmetic -- it's essential to your overall health. Yet according to the PBS TV program “Frontline,” one-third of people in the U.S. lack proper access to dentistry, often because they have difficulty affording it. If you are in this situation, you have multiple ways to seek out free or reduced-cost dental care.
Daily Preventive Care
You can often prevent expensive, otherwise miserable problems through a good daily dental care routine, such as the one the Mayo Clinic recommends. You might be able to lessen the cost of basic preventive dental supplies. A local organization that serves the poor, such as a food or clothing bank, may have a hygiene closet that distributes toothpaste and toothbrushes. Annie Berthold-Bond’s book “Better Basics for the Home” includes recipes for inexpensive, easy-to-make toothpastes, tooth powders and mouthwashes.
If you have a commercial health insurance plan, examine whether and how much it covers for dental expenses. If you are uninsured, explore government health plans such as Medicare, Medicaid or SCHIP, the State Children's Health Insurance Program. While Medicare gives few dental benefits, a privately purchased “Medigap” or supplemental insurance policy might offer them. Medicaid programs in all states cover both comprehensive and emergency dental care for recipients under 21 years of age, but they vary in their dental benefits for adults. In many states, children on SCHIP have dental benefits.
If you have one, try negotiating lower fees or more flexible payment plans with your current dentist. Otherwise, ask a dental school, dental hygienist program,state or local health department, community health center or free clinic for a referral to free or reduced-cost dental care. If you have a condition such as diabetes or HIV/AIDS that makes good dental care especially urgent, contact a group that advocates for people with your disease and ask whether it knows of an appropriate dentist. Learn about your legal rights to emergency room treatment, regardless of your ability to pay. If a dental problem sends you to the emergency room, the hospital might have money for charity emergency care.
Discount Dental Plan
With a discount dental plan, you pay an annual or monthly fee for access to a network of dentists who are contracted to provide their services at discounted rates. The fee itself is often less than the cost of dental insurance premiums.
The federal government website ClinicalTrials.gov runs a searchable database of health care studies that are currently recruiting participants. You might receive free dental care if you take part in an oral health study.
Tips & Warnings
- Preventing the problem is cheaper than fixing it. Brush your teeth twice a day with a toothpaste containing fluoride. Floss and use a fluoridated mouth wash everyday.
- Use a straw when drinking sugary drinks, or drink water.
- Student dentists have to have their work checked by several people, so the treatment can take much longer than with a regular dentist.
- 1Dental.com: Free Dental Care Finder
- Better Basics for the Home; Annie Berthold-Bond
- DentalPlans.com: Compare Dental Insurance & Discount Dental Plans
- Health Resources and Services Administration: Find a Health Center
- HealthCare.gov: Find Insurance Options
- Insure.com: Emergency Room Care—Know Your Rights
- Mayo Clinic: Oral Health--Brush Up on Dental Care Basics
- Medicaid.gov: Dental Care
- National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics: Find a Clinic
- National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research: Finding Lowcost Dental Care
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images
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