If you're in pain because you need dental work you can’t afford, are fearful for your health or ashamed of your smile, don’t despair. And please don’t feel ashamed. Your are not alone.
Few are covered by dental insurance. Millions fail to see a dentist due to cost or other issues like transportation or not getting necessary time off from work. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) says 25% of Americans older than 65 have lost their teeth! And a third have serious untreated problems.
The American Dental Association estimates that in 2014 over 181 million people in the U.S. did not even go to a dentist, let alone get serious dental treatment. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says 108 million don’t have dental insurance. Sadly, more than 8000 in the U.S. die of dental/oral related cancers each year.
There is help available - even free dental care. It can be difficult and confusing to find. We sort it out so you can get the help you need.
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Update December 2017 November has gone by but it’s worth noting that in several areas free dental services were offered to veterans in honor of Veterans Day. For example, the Illinois State Dental Society gave a “salute” along with the Chicago Dental Society and some other Illinois dentists. Services offered included free basic exams. teeth cleaning, restoring teeth and fillings, removing teeth and other types of dental care. Many similar promotions and tributes were offered across the country so it pays to be on the lookout and keep checking to see if such and event might be coming up near you. There are many of them and they’re not all just for veterans.
News October 2017
The Journal of the Michigan Dental Association recently published a report detailing results of a short term program that offered free dental care to people who did a specified amount of volunteer work. Adults were offered $25 worth of dental work for each hour they served participating non-profits. Eligible patients were given a one-hour class about caring for their teeth and gums and then got an initial assessment dental exam. Then a plan of care was developed along with its cost and the number of volunteer hours that would be required. To participate people had to have incomes less than 250% of the local poverty level and did not qualify for Medicaid. Most participants liked the program and said they thought it improved their oral help. But some found it very difficult to accomplish the required hours of volunteer work since they were juggling them with work and family obligations. However it’s an interesting model and we hope that other organizations and partnerships might be formed to offer dental care.
Update June 2017 The Veterans Health Administration has announced that qualifying veterans have access to outpatient dental care. the details of services included vary according different “classes.” Depending on your eligibility you can get the services provided in a particular class. To receive the dental benefits you must not have a dishonorable discharge. However, you might be able to qualify for some of the benefits if approved by your VA Regional Office. Check benefits.gov to get more details and see how you can apply directly online. Or, simply go to a VA Medical Center or clinic. If you have questions you can also call the VA’s toll free number at 1-800-1000.
Important Update May 2017 Always be on the lookout for local free dental clinics if you and your family can’t afford the dental care you need. For example, If you’re in San Antonio, listen up quick! The children’s dental clinic called Kool Smiles will provide free care on Sunday, May 28. The service is intended for those families that don’t have dental insurance and/or can’t afford to get routing dental care or special treatments. There will be a limited number of spots available so you are urged to register right away if you are interested. Treatments will include regular exams, some emergency care, tooth extradition and restorative help. Children 18 and under are eligible. Register online at mykoolsmiles.com.
News April 2016 : Free Dental Clinics happen frequently in many different places so it’s wise to search frequently to see what’s happening in your area. Coming up soon are several clinics, one of which might be near you — or worth traveling to! The first one happens May 13, in Bolivia, North Carolina at the Coastal Cosmetic Family Dentistry at 3071 Southport-Supply Road. They expect to treat about 200 people. Doors open at 7:30 a.m. but the line may start at midnight the previous night so start planning! On Cape Cod, Massachusetts a free clinic will take place on April 30 at the Bay State Court office in Brewster. They’ll offer service starting at 8 in the morning and the first 100 people are guaranteed to be treated - but only those 18 and older. Finally, in Fontana, California several clinics will be provided between April 19 and May 5 as part licensing exams for graduating students at Loma Linda University School of Dentistry. Services will be offered at no cost and will include fillings and cleanings. For more information about specific days and times you can call 909-558-4222 or see the April 15 post in the Fontana Herald News.
Dental care should not be taken lightly, regardless of your age. Less than ten years ago a boy just twelve years old died because of a tooth infection. He had not been to a dentist because his mom could not afford it. She probably did not realize – as many don't – just how serious tooth and gum infections can be. It's estimated that over a third of people in the U.S. don't see a dentist in any given year. And there has been an increase in the number of dental problems brought in for emergency room visits. So going to see a dentist may sound scary, but the alternative could be scarier. Even if you don't have insurance, and don't have a lot of money to spend, you may be able to find free or inexpensive care. Please review the services and programs outlined below and do whatever you can to see a dentist soon.
News July 2016 More Dental Care Help for Kids : America’s Tooth Fairy is a national foundation working to prevent serious dental problems for kids who are “at-risk.” They help kids get education about dental care as well as dental care services with a goal of ensuring that no child has to have preventable tooth decay. They provide their services through a network of non-profit organizations as well as professionals and students working toward their dental degree. Your kids can join their free Kids Club to get information about dental are and its importance, tips about taking good care of your teeth and even personal letters to children from the Tooth Fairy. The monthly Kids Club newsletter provides fun activities for kids and also suggestions for parents and caregivers to help make dental care fun and effective. Learn more and sign up for the Kids Club at ncohf.org.
More Help for Kids October 2016 The American Dental Association also maintains a resource page to help you find dental care for your children. It’s called “Give Kids a Smile” . They don’t guarantee that they can find you free or discounted care but they do their best to keep access to potential care providers updated. These are providers who provide care all year, not just at special free dental care clinics. You can find the ones closest to you by following the prompts in the first paragraph of the Give Kids a Smile page. It will take you to a map so you can choose your specific location.
Medicare is for people over 65 as well as for some people with disabilities. It typically doesn’t cover routine dental care such as cleanings, fillings or dentures. However sometimes it does cover dental related work so it might be worth contacting if you are eligible. You can search the Medicare website but it might be quicker and easier to just give them a call at 1-800-633-4227 (1-800-MEDICARE).
CHIP is specifically for children in households that don’t qualify for Medicaid but aren’t financially able to pay for private dental insurance or to pay directly for the dental services they need. CHIP is run by individual states and services that are covered will vary by state. In general they cover dental care for kids up ’til age 19. Contact them at 1-877-543-7669 (1-800-KIDS-NOW).
Medicaid is also a state-run program so services vary by state. It covers medical care for eligible families and some states include some level of dental care. Get more information about your specific need and what help is available at 1-877-267-2323.
Bureau of Primary Health Care: Did you know there are community health centers that are federally funded? These centers, available nationwide, provide health care services on a free or income-based basis. The majority of them include dental care. You don’t have to have any health insurance to receive care — and that includes physical checkups for those who are well, medical treatment if you’re sick, complete prenatal care, children’s services like checkups and vaccines, dental care, prescription drugs, and special help for problems related to mental health and substance abuse. You only pay what you can afford. There are actually quite a lot of these centers and it’s pretty straightforward to find and reach them. You can locate the centers near you by calling 1-888-Ask-HRSA (1-888-275-4772).
Dental Care for Nursing Home Residents: Those in nursing homes face extra challenges getting and paying for dental care. The community health centers described above are available to these residents, and a tool called the “eldercare locator” can be used locate the nearest Area Agency on Aging. They can typically provide transportations services or give you a referral to someone who can. With regard to paying for services, many do not realize that IME, or the Incurred Medical Expenses program can be used for dental care. It is often used for glasses and hearing aids, but it’s apparently little known that it is available so that long-term care residents can get dental help and the providers of dental services can get paid.
Benefits You've Missed: There are so many government benefits available it's next to impossible to know about them all. But there is a website that lets you fill out a questionnaire that will tell you what you might be missing. Discover more tips about government benefits that might surprise you!
Clinical Trials: This could be a long-shot, but if you your condition warrants you might be able to participate in a clinical trial. Visit the nidcr.gov website and click on “Clinical Trials” for more information.
State Programs: In addition to federally funded options, many states run their own dental care service programs. Each state has its own Health Department and that is the best place to start to look for resources. Just do an internet search for the name of your state and “Health Department” and that should get you to the right place. If there are no state-sponsored programs they may be able to refer you to free or lower cost dental care.
There are also private and non-profit organizations (and individuals) that offer dental care assistance or who have a network of dental care providers who offer some free services to low income patients or to those who are elderly or “medically frail.” Some that you might try are the following — just search for them in your town or county:
Dental Lifleline Network: If you are over 65 years old, have a disability, or are considered “medically fragile” and you cannot afford dental services, you may be able to find dental care through the Dental Lifeline Network. This is a nonprofit that operates nationally through a network of volunteer dentists and laboratories. They have a staff which coordinates with their volunteers and matches them with those who need care. To see if they can help you just go to their website dentallifeline.org and in the boxes toward the top click on “State Programs.” This will take you to a map of the United States —- click the one where you live and you will go to a page that lets you apply for help. The page also provides contact information for a coordinator in your state.
Mission of Mercy is a non-profit that provides free health care, dental care and prescriptions for those who have no health insurance or too little. They started in 1994. Since they don't get any funding from the government those who seek their services do not have to prove that they have poverty level incomes or document where they live. They provide care to more than 25,000 people every year. Their website currently says that they serve folks in Arizona, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Texas with their mobile clinics. However, we know they provided care in 2014 at a clinic in Hartford, Connecticut. The Wall Street Journal reported that more than 2200 people were provided care at that clinic, with about 250 dentists volunteering their services. So it's worth doing an internet search to see if they might be coming to a city near you.
Comfort Dental is a national company that operates through franchisees. In addition to offering a wide range of dental services their corporate office and all their francis locations are dedicated to being a positive part of their communities. They do this in many ways but one of the most impressive is their Christmas Eve Card Day. On this day all of their offices provide free dental care to those who can’t afford to pay for dental care or insurance. They also provide special services at other times of the year. So check out your local area and see if there is a Comfort Dental office near you. Put it on your calendar for next Christmas Eve and stay tuned all year to see if they offer a special event to provide free dental care.
The United Way sometimes can provide referrals, just call a local office near you.
Dental Schools and Dental Hygiene Schools often provide services conducted by students with expert supervision at low or no cost, definitely worth checking out. Many dental schools operate clinics so that students can get hands on experience as they learn. Patients receive care either free or at greatly reduced cost. And you’re not just put into the hands of someone inexperienced. Licensed dentists with plenty of experience supervise activities closely. In addition to dental schools, there are also dental hygiene schools where those training to be dental hygienists get experience. This would be a great resource for taking care of your teeth on an ongoing basis with periodic, professional cleaning and preventive care. Check out the American Dental Association and the American Dental Hygienists’ Association tp good for clinics in your area.
City Team Ministries is a non-profit service agency that has dental care offices where dentists and hygienists periodically volunteer their services.
State and Local American Dental Associations often include “find a dentist” tools on their websites, including for free services.
The Academy of General Dentistry can be reached at 877-292-9327
Private dentists sometimes offer free care as well. If you live in Manhattan, New York you should check out Smile Design Manhattan. The dentist who founded it is also an artist. He sells his art at the Smile Design Gallery and matches the dollar amount sold with free dental care. As of June of 2015 the Wall Street Journal reported he had provided free care to over 500 patients. So his art must sell pretty well!
What About Dental Insurance?
Unfortunately we haven't heard a lot of good news about dental insurance plans. There are a number of options – the best of which is a group insurance plan, ideally partially paid for by your employer. If this is an option at your place of work it will almost certainly be your least expensive option even though you probably have to pay part of your expenses as well. If you opt for a private dental insurance plan the place may range anywhere between about $20 and $60. They often require a one year minimum and sometimes don't cover major expenses until you have been a customer for a specified period of time.
Still Need Help? If none of these options look like they will work for you, check out article about Free Money — some of the (totally legit) options there might surprise you…