One minute, life is cruising along and the next, you've been injured on the job and must rely on disability insurance to pay the bills until a doctor signs off on your return to work. Of course, this is about the time your car dies and you discover a broken tooth. The first is no big deal since your cousin is a whiz at engine repair, but with no dentist in the family, it's time to get creative and find a pro bono dentist. After all, you'll need that smile once you're back at work.
Check with the folks administering your disability payments to find out if they have resources at their disposal to refer you to a practitioner willing to undertake dental work gratis or for a reduced fee. There may also be resources and links on the disability administration's website to point you in the direction of a dentist. If you come up empty, check the phone book and call social service agencies and organizations like United Way. Many churches allocate special funds to help congregation members pay for medical and dental services.
Contact university-based dental schools in your area of the country. The majority of dental schools operate clinics where senior dentistry students undertake restorative and emergency work under the supervision of practicing dentists. Most dental school clinics offer a variety of payment options, from a sliding scale based on family income to free help, but be forewarned: Free clinics usually have long waiting lists, so if you have an emergency, this may not be of help.
Explore your state's resources for free dental care. For example, the state of Wisconsin posts a web page called the Consumer Guide to Health Care. It's updated regularly and consists of links to clinics, dentists and dental specialists. Typical resources posted on this site are the Wisconsin Dental Association, the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile and clinics operating under the auspices of the state's Department of Health Services.
Turn to the U.S. government if your state's resources have dried up or you don't qualify for them. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHS) funds, operates and is otherwise associated with dental clinics in many states; search the Internet under the USDHS to turn up a lead or a list of free and reduced-fee clinics in your community or a nearby town. Consider the resources of the Bureau of Primary Health Care as well, as this agency also funds community health centers.
Access the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) website. This agency operates under the auspices of the National Institute of Health. While this facility is on the cutting edge of oral health research and doesn't sponsor free clinics for folks unable to pay for services, their website tracks and posts free and reduced-fee dental care clinics. Alternatively, if you volunteer to be a participant and are accepted into an NIDCR study, you'll receive free dental care for the duration of the study -- even after you're once again gainfully employed.
Tips & Warnings
- Each time you approach a clinic or another resource, bring along your disability papers, proof of income and household expense list so you don't have to return at a later date with these documents.
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