Medicare – the primary health insurance for most seniors – doesn’t provide dental coverage. Unfortunately, not all elderly can afford the cost of dental insurance or to pay for dental care out-of-pocket. Most dentists provide some kind of charitable dental care for elderly patients, according to a 2007 American Dental Association survey. In general, dentists provide discounted care to more than half of their at-risk elderly patients and free care to about another 15 percent.
In some states, the elderly have access to Medicaid dental benefits, although dental care may be minimal or only available in certain counties. Check with the Health and Human Services Department in your county to find out if dental care is covered. As with Medicaid programs in general, income eligibility requirements apply. Government-funded dental assistance programs typically target low-income children and young adults, whereas dental care available to older adults is usually limited. While it’s up to individual states as to whether they provide Medicaid dental coverage to adults, fewer than half of all states provide it. Most states provide emergency dental services.
Local senior centers are another possible resource where you can get information about free dental clinics in the area. Some senior centers have dentists who periodically visit and provide free dental care to elderly individuals with low incomes or health problems. Your local Area Agency on Aging may be able to help by giving you referrals to dentists who offer discounted fees to seniors.
In some communities, dentists offer services to elderly individuals who cannot afford to pay for dental care. Contact your state’s dental association or your local dental society to inquire if there are dentists in your area who provide free or low-cost care to seniors with limited income and no dental insurance. Volunteer dentists sometimes visit residents in nursing homes and rehabilitation centers who are physically unable to travel to a dentist’s office.
Schools of Dentistry
If you are fortunate enough to live near a college or university that has a school of dentistry, you may have access to free or low-cost dental care. School dental clinics often offer dental services at reduced rates – sometimes half of what a private practice dentist would charge for the same dental procedures. Specific eligibility requirements may apply. While some clinics only offer basic dental care, other advanced programs offer more comprehensive care. The fees for advanced program clinics may be higher than those for basic care programs, but are still cheaper than what you would have to pay a dentist in private practice. Some dental schools also offer emergency dental care at low cost.