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Dental financial assistance programs can make your oral care more affordable if you do not have insurance or the money to fix your teeth. However, it is not easy finding the right resources.

The federal government does not provide grants to individuals for personal use. Charitable organizations have limited funding and strict qualifying criteria. Free services are rare and require some level of self-payment.

Penniless adults need to follow a road map to find help paying for major dental work without insurance because the opportunities do not come with a clear label.

Dental Work for Adults Without Insurance

In general, the majority of adults who have no insurance will have to look to private companies to help them afford dental work. Most public and charitable options for financial assistance (free care and grants) support very few of the people who lack the cash to pay for treatment.

Financing

Request a personal loan here. (Affiliate Link) Financing is the primary way that adults without money or insurance can pay for expensive dental work.

If approved, a private lender will deposit the funds directly into your checking account. Dentists are more likely to offer zero-fee services or lower prices when you have a demonstrated ability to pay.

Shop around for the best deal without the constraint of finding a provider that offers “payment plans” or “in-house financing.” The reality is that most practices will refer your application to a third-party company.

Reversing the process puts you in control.

New Coverage

Dental insurance without waiting periods could make future oral care more affordable for adults without coverage already in force. However, you should read the fine print before signing up and take advantage of hidden cost savings.

Plans without waiting periods often include provisions that limit claims during the early periods of the policy.

  • Graded benefits limit the amounts paid for major services
  • Missing tooth exclusions means the plan will never cover replacement

Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) and Dental Maintenance Organization (DMO) plan designs include negotiated in-network rates that save money right away for members. An explanation of benefits statement reveals this hidden advantage.

  • Provider Charges: the higher fee the general public pays
  • Allowed Amount: the lower fee plan members pay

Getting Free Dental Care

Many people with no insurance or money in the bank search for free dental work. However, there are many practical limits to this approach for financial assistance.

Often, practitioners will provide a single service at no charge or complete treatment at a reduced cost. The patient then needs to pay the remainder, which means you need the financing or insurance, as noted above.

Services

Breaking down dental services by category can sometimes reveal ways to obtain free care for some treatments. Keep in mind that getting one procedure at no cost does not mean everything will be on the house.

Consultation

Finding a dentist offering free consultations or exams is easy. Just like your local car repair shop that provides a multi-point inspection at no charge, they expect to find all kinds of problems that you need to have fixed. It is a marketing tool.

Consultations get patients into their office where they can review your health history and examine your mouth for cavities, gum disease, cracked teeth, and other problems. Then, they can present a treatment plan – along with the associated costs, to complete the work.

Cleanings

Finding a nearby dental office that offers free cleanings should also prove simple. In addition to being a common marketing tactic, student hygienists often need to hone their craft on local residents needing periodic prophylaxis.

  • Dentists frequently send mailers to homes in their service area advertising cleanings at no cost to bring new patients into the office. Look in your mailbox or visit online coupon sites for similar offers.
  • Dental hygiene schools educate students who could perform prophylaxis at steeply discounted rates. The American Dental Hygiene Association maintains a web-based database of programs worth researching.

Emergency

People in a crisis also have several avenues for finding free emergency dental care. Consider one of these three options when severe pain requires immediate treatment.

  1. Medicaid covers emergency dental work for low-income households across the country (see the section below)
  2. Private health insurance pays for urgent oral care resulting from non-biting accidental injuries, and treatments stemming from a covered illness such as cancer
  3. Hospital charity programs help the uninsured pay for emergency treatment after a non-biting accident to relieve pain or clear an infection

Implants

Advertised free dental implant programs do not cover the entire bill for this multi-step tooth replacement option. Do not be fooled by clinics, schools, or websites touting a no-cost option. The practitioners and students can donate a portion of their time and services.

However, the patient still has remaining charges that are quite substantial.

  • Computer Tomography Scan (CT) measures bone depth, width, and density
  • Extractions of remaining teeth needing replacement
  • Oral surgery for bone grafting and body placement
  • Third-party labs make temporary crowns for the healing phase
  • Outside labs create permanent abutments, bridges, and dentures

Insurance

Medicaid is the primary source of free dental insurance for low-income adults. The federal and state-funded program covers emergency treatment throughout the nation.

Many Medicaid recipients do not contribute towards the premium costs and bear no responsibility for copayments or coinsurance when using a participating dentist.

Each state determines income eligibility based on the percentage of the federal poverty level for households, and the types of non-emergency services to cover.

Treatment # of States
Preventive 27
Dentures 25
Crowns 26
Oral Surgery 24
Implants 0
Root Canal 18
Periodontal 26
Orthodontia 2
Cosmetic 0

Also, low-income parents who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid can purchase private health insurance on the state exchange that must include dental coverage for children. The government provides subsidies to make the plan affordable.

Discount Cards

Free dental discount cards are an example of a potentially misleading headline. Families can sign up to download or get a card mailed to them at home – at no charge.

However, you will need to pay a monthly fee to activate the discount card and use it at a participating dentist. On the other hand, many find significant savings without a waiting period.

Discount cards leverage the negotiating power of a large organization to lower prices. The company promises higher patient flow to the practice. Each member benefits from the bargain rates – even though they must pay a fee to use the card.

Clinics

Looking for free dental clinics online can be an exercise in frustration. Many headlines promise to lead you to a local resource, only to bombard you with advertising and links to sites you already visited.

Have the correct expectations going into the process. You probably will not find a clinic that will provide every needed service on a complimentary basis. If you have no insurance and no money, you may have to prioritize treatment – and expect to wait in a long line.

Also, stick with trusted resources wherever possible.

Needy Meds

NeedyMeds is a 501(c)(3) national nonprofit that connects people to programs that will help them afford their medications and other health-related costs. Their website includes a database of 4,096 clinics that offer dental care at a reduced price using a sliding scale based on income.

Use the NeedyMeds database to find a clinic in your local area.

Dental Schools

Try not to invest too much time chasing after local dental schools that perform work for free. Many online resources include headlines suggesting this is true across the country. However, when you follow the links, you will find that most clinics charge patients – with perhaps some consideration for their ability to pay.

Dental schools do recruit residents so their students can practice their craft under the supervision of faculty. However, each college-based clinic determines fees and the eligibility criteria for any discounted work.

The American Dental Education Association publishes a state-by-state list of accredited programs. Use this trusted resource to find a nearby clinic. Below are three examples that illustrate the diverse ways each school interfaces with the public.

UNC

The University of North Carolina (UNC) Dental School provides the following free services:

  • Screenings/Diagnosis
  • Cleanings
  • Fillings
  • Extractions
UCSF

The University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Dental School has a student-run clinic that offers free treatment on Wednesday evenings only. Each week, the UCSF students can treat 18 – 20 patients from a city with a population of 884,000 people.

Tufts

The Tufts Dental School in Boston, Massachusetts, publishes a price list to illustrate the potential cost savings of getting treatment from a student versus a faculty member.

Procedure Student Faculty
Cleaning (D1110) $75 $117
Filling (D2391) $99 $265
Root Canal (D3320) $464 $1,224
Crown (D2752) $695 $1,989

Charities

Many charitable and nonprofit organizations may operate via free dental clinics. Keep in mind these entities depend on the generosity of their donors, so their ability to support may be limited to a tiny number of people.

  • Dentistry From the Heart: provides treatment during specialized fairs at no cost
  • Charitable Smiles helps Indiana residents who can’t afford treatment get the care they need by pairing patients with participating dentists who volunteer their chair-time

Dental Grants for Individuals

The federal government awards grants to universities, state agencies, and nonprofit organizations – not to individuals. Therefore, you need to look under other rocks if you need to fix your teeth, and you have no insurance or monetary resources.

Individuals are more likely to find indirect forms of financial help if they belong to a protected class: a group of people viewed by the general public as disadvantaged in some way.

Single Mothers

Single mothers in search of dental grants can look for programs helping low-income individuals instead. Solo parents often live near the poverty level because the household has only one wage earner, and mom needs reduced work hours to supervise her children.

Therefore, single mothers with low incomes often find government-based financial support in other vital areas, releasing resources to pay for oral care.

  • Medicaid pays for dental work in half the country (see the section above)
  • Housing assistance programs subsidize rent payments
  • Food stamps reduce costs for groceries

Veterans

Veterans seeking dental care grants can tap into direct government support as an alternative. Also, fellow citizens appreciate the sacrifice made by the individuals who served in our armed forces: Army, Navy, Airforce, and Marines.

  • The Department of Veterans Affairs does provide low-cost oral care to select former service members with different classes of benefit.
    • Service-connected disability
    • Former prisoner of war
    • Aggravating a service-connected medical condition
    • Complicating a medical issue currently under treatment
    • Engaged in vocational rehab
    • Homeless and receiving benefits
  • Nonprofit organizations often help veterans with their oral care needs. Donors may support these entities, and licensed practitioners could offer pro bono services.
    • Everyone for Veterans (E4V) supports servicemen and women (and spouses) who have returned from combat areas and who are struggling financially

Disabled

Disabled adults and their guardians researching dental grants can sometimes find other help in the form of government support. Meanwhile, charitable organizations often lend a hand to individuals with special needs.

  • Social Security Disability recipients qualify for two possible health programs that could lower oral care costs.
    • Medicaid pays for some dental work (see the section above) and covers all SSI recipients, and SSDI beneficiaries for the first two years
    • Medicare does not pay for dentistry (unless enrolled in an Advantage Plan – Part C) and covers SSDI people after two years
  • Charitable organizations offer support for dental work to people with disabilities because they want to serve others in need.
    • Dental Lifeline Network is A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that nationally provides access to treatment and education for people who cannot afford it and:
      • have a permanent disability or
      • who are elderly: age 65 or older or
      • who are medically fragile

Seniors

Senior citizens without insurance searching for dental grants can take advantage of a government assistance program – if they need nursing home level aid. Older individuals certified by their state can benefit from the Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE).

PACE helps senior citizens live safely in their community instead of a nursing home. Dually-eligible Medicare and Medicaid recipients can take in these support services at no additional cost.

Here a sampling of the services PACE covers:

  • Adult day supervision
  • Dentistry
  • Emergency services
  • Prescription drugs

Addicts

Recovering addicts hoping to find dental work grants will have fewer alternatives for financial assistance. While meth mouth and other oral maladies brought on by past drug use are unhealthy, the public has less sympathy towards individuals with self-inflicted conditions.

However, greater awareness of the opioid epidemic could bring change in the future.

  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration(SAMHSA) is a government agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. SAMHSA publishes a grant awards archive that enables addicts in recovery to identify local programs that received awards. However, most of this funding goes towards substance abuse prevention and treatment.
  • Regional charities are popping up to provide help with oral care to former drug users. For example, Wally’s War Against Addiction restores smiles for affected people in the Concord, New Hampshire area.