Adult dental care consists of preventive measures, such as X-rays, exams, and cleanings, as well as additional services, such as fillings and root canals, if needed.
If you need dental care and don’t currently have dental coverage, paying out of pocket at a private dentist’s office may be challenging. However, there are numerous options that provide reduced-cost options to adults in need. Some services may even be free.
Consider the following options that may help provide the dental care you need.
Medicaid is a state-run program that offers health and sometimes dental insurance for individuals and families who meet certain income and other eligibility requirements.
Medicaid may cover preventive dental care, such as cleanings and X-rays, but emergency services are more limited under these plans if you’re over the age of 21.
If approved for Medicaid, you’d use the coverage at a dentist’s office, just as you would with private dental insurance. Over 40 percent of dentists in the United States take Medicaid, but you’ll want to ask the office whether they accept your coverage before going to your appointment.
If you’re a veteran, you may be eligible for dental benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Once you apply for VA dental care benefits, you’ll be notified which services may be covered if you’re approved.
Depending on your status and service, you may qualify for one-time benefits, partial care, or even full coverage. Read more about the benefits and eligibility requirements here.
You may also qualify to receive care from a VA dental clinic in your area.
If you don’t qualify for Medicaid benefits, you may still be able to access reduced-cost dental services by getting cleanings, X-rays, and fillings done at dental schools.
In order to complete their training, aspiring dentists and dental hygienists need to perform such services on real patients. All services are supervised by licensed dentists. By accessing these services, you not only receive professional care, but you also pay far less than you would at a private dental practice.
You can find a list of dental schools and dental hygiene schools in your state with contact information. You’ll need to book an appointment in advance. It’s also important to ask about any fees up front, as they’ll likely vary between schools and region.
Aside from dental schools, community health clinics are other possible options for accessing reduced-cost dental services. These clinics are managed by the national Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) with a goal of offering health services to low-income individuals and families.
Depending on the location, a community health clinic may offer reduced-cost cleanings and other preventive services.
Appointments tend to book up in advance, so you’ll want to find a clinic near you and call them as soon as you can. For additional help, you can also call the national hotline at (877) 464-4722 (ASK-HRSA).
While community health clinics offer reduced-cost dental care, community dental events may provide these services for free.
These are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis and are performed by volunteer dentists. Depending on the event, you may even receive complementary dental supplies and educational materials to help you keep your mouth healthy.
The downside to community dental events is that they may only be offered on an occasional basis. You may be able to inquire about upcoming events in your area from the United Way by calling 211.
For your local chapter location and information, click here.
The Dental Lifeline Network is a nonprofit organization that operates in all 50 states. With the help of donated dental services, the mission of this nonprofit is to help provide free dental services to those who can’t afford it and have a disability, or are over the age of 65, or are medically fragile.
Click here to learn more about services and eligibility requirements in your state. While you may be able to access preventive care, the Dental Lifeline Network doesn’t provide emergency dental services.
Ideally, you should try to schedule dental X-rays once a year, and cleanings and checkups twice per year. It’s also important to see your dentist if any suspicious symptoms arise. Don’t ignore any signs of an oral health problem, as these can quickly worsen.
See a dentist if you experience any of the following:
- tender gums
- tooth pain
- bleeding gums
- pain when eating or drinking
- mouth sores that won’t go away
- chipped or lost teeth
- swellings in your mouth
Aside from seeing a dentist regularly, it’s important to do your best to take care of your mouth at home. You can keep your teeth and gums healthy by:
- brushing your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste
- using a soft-bristled toothbrush to gently clean your teeth, gum line, and tongue
- flossing daily
- considering a mouthwash if you have gingivitis or develop frequent cavities
- reducing the amount of sugary foods and drinks you consume
- drinking plain water as much as possible
Dental insurance helps cover part of your dental care needs, but there are still ways you can access reduced-cost — or even free — services if you don’t currently have coverage.
First, you may see whether you qualify for dental coverage benefits with state programs, such as Medicaid. You may also be eligible for services at local health clinics or through nonprofit organizations. Dental and dental hygiene schools also offer reduced-cost services.
No matter which option works for you, it’s important to see a dentist and get your teeth cleaned on a regular basis. In between visits, be sure to stay on top of your oral hygiene to help prevent future problems.