Free Dental Insurance for Low-Income & Unemployed Adults

How do you get free dental insurance? Apply for Medicaid and hope your state supports comprehensive oral care benefits. 

Medicaid frequently provides dental insurance at no cost to low-income families, many of whom may be going through a bout with unemployment.

Children frequently qualify because the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) benefit provides comprehensive oral care for recipients under 21 across the country.

However, each state determines the types of dental services it will cover for adults over 21. Therefore, your ability to find free coverage depends on where you reside and the kind of treatment needed.

Free Dental Insurance for Low-Income

Medicaid offers free dental insurance for many low-income families living below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). FPL includes two critical components you want to research before applying to your local county agency.

  1. Modified Adjusted Income (MAGI): do not overstate
  2. Number of Household Members: do not understate

The federal government suggests a 133% PFL eligibility cutoff. However, some states have lower thresholds and different rules for specific populations such as pregnant women, senior citizens, and the disabled.

Senior Citizens

Medicaid provides free health and dental insurance for millions of seniors over 65 who are dual-eligible with Medicare, which does not cover oral care. The senior citizen must meet the low-income qualifying criteria established by their state for relevant programs.

Free dentures for seniors on Medicare hinge on your ability to also qualify for Medicaid in a state that supports benefits for replacement teeth.

  1. Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB)
    1. Income less than 100% of PFL
    1. Resources below three times the SSI limit
    1. Covers Part A and Part B premiums (free health insurance)
    1. Eliminates deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments
  2. Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB)
    1. Income between 100% and 120% of PFL
    1. Resources below three times the SSI limit
    1. Covers Part B premiums (subsidized health insurance)

Disabled Individuals

Medicaid often provides free dental insurance to low-income disabled adults deemed eligible for Social Security disability benefits. However, the coverage works differently for the two primary programs when counting MAGI.

Dental grants for low-income adults frequently go to disabled individuals when private practices want positive publicity for doing good deeds in their community.

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are countable towards MAGI, meaning a recipient could earn too much to qualify as the monthly amount depends on previous FICA contributions. SSDI beneficiaries become eligible for Medicare after two years.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is non-countable towards MAGI, and recipients automatically qualify. SSI helps aged, blind, and disabled people with little or no income and provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.

Pregnant Women

Medicaid provides free dental insurance for low-income pregnant women most frequently. During pregnancy, oral care is critical because the hormonal changes make your gums more vulnerable to bleeding and infection (gingivitis).

Medicaid can deny coverage to pregnant women, but this happens less frequently as the eligibility criteria are more lenient in two critical areas.

  1. Each state lifts the maximum percentage of qualifying PFL, ranging from 144% in Utah to 380% in Iowa
  2. Each unborn baby counts as an additional household member, meaning each fetus adds $4,720 to the limit

When eligible, some states expand the types of oral care services available during pregnancy. See the next section below for examples.

Free Dental Insurance by State

Free dental insurance through Medicaid does not work uniformly across the country. The federal government establishes the basic parameters, allowing the states tremendous leeway in the types of oral care to support.

The dental services covered by Medicaid vary by state, ranging from emergency care only to comprehensive benefits.

Arkansas

ARHOME supports free dental insurance for adults living in Arkansas but with limited benefits. The coverage will pay for standard services such as cleanings, x-rays, fillings, crowns, etc.

ARHOME is the state brand name for Medicaid (Arkansas Health & Opportunity for Me), and the dental coverage includes critical limitations.

  • $500 yearly maximum benefits
  • No coverage for tooth extractions or dentures

California

Medi-Cal provides free dental insurance to adults and children through Smile California with the most comprehensive listing of covered services.

  • Diagnostic and preventive dental hygiene
  • Emergency services for pain control
  • Tooth extractions
  • Fillings
  • Root canal treatments (anterior/posterior)
  • Crowns (prefabricated/laboratory)
  • Scaling and root planing
  • Periodontal maintenance
  • Complete and partial dentures
  • Orthodontics for children who qualify

Florida

Florida provides free dental insurance through its Medicaid program, but the benefits vary for children, adults, and pregnant women.

ServiceChildrenAdults Over 21Pregnant Women
ExamsXXX
X-raysXXX
CleaningsX X
SealantsX X
FillingsX X
ExtractionsXXX
DenturesXXX
BracesX  

Maryland

The Maryland Healthy Smiles Program offers free dental insurance through its Medicaid initiative to specific individuals with an annual benefit limit of $800.

  • Children under the age of 21
  • Former foster care recipients under 26
  • Pregnant women over 21
  • Adults enrolled in the Rare and Expensive Case Management (REM)

Michigan

The Healthy Michigan Plan provides free dental insurance through Medicaid for adults over 21, children, and pregnant women. The state publishes a breakdown of covered services.

All RecipientsChildren OnlyExcluded
Exams & X-raysResin crownsBite guards
FillingsStainless steel crownsBraces
Extractions & DenturesTemporary denturesTMJ treatment
Cone-beam CT Cosmetic dentistry

Ohio

Ohio provides free dental insurance to eligible adults and children through its Medicaid program, better known as Buckeye Health Plan. The oral care benefits supported include these services.

  • Checkups and cleanings
  • Dentures
  • Fillings, extractions, and crowns
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
  • Root canals

Tennessee

Tennessee does not offer free dental insurance for non-pregnant adults through its Medicaid program called TennCare, although enrolled children under 21 have comprehensive oral care benefits.

Tennessee also provides comprehensive dental benefits to pregnant women over 21 when carrying a baby and twelve months postpartum.

Tennessee and thirteen other states restrict adult coverage to emergency dental work exclusively. Examples include procedures necessary to control bleeding, relieve pain or eliminate acute infections and services required to prevent “pulpal death” and the imminent loss of teeth.

States Supporting Emergency Care Only 2022

AlabamaArizonaGeorgia
HawaiiIdahoKansas
MaineMississippiMissouri
New HampshireOklahomaTexas
UtahWest Virginia

,Texas

Texas does not offer free dental insurance for adults through its Medicaid program, although children enjoy comprehensive oral care benefits.

Texas and fifteen other states restrict coverage to emergency dental work exclusively but pay for some treatment under the health insurance component.

The dental procedures covered by health insurance are medically necessary; to treat a bodily injury disease or its symptoms. Examples include the following:

  • Bone-impacted wisdom tooth removal
  • Oral surgery to correct broken jaw and teeth

Washington

Apple Health provides free dental insurance for children and adults over 21 through Medicaid. Washington State also sets aside extra benefits for people with developmental disabilities because individuals with special needs often do not floss or brush their teeth adequately.

Washington State Dental Coverage

CoveredLimitedNon-Covered
Routine examsPeriodontal (gum disease)Bridges
Cleaning (prophylaxis)Root canal (front teeth only)Crowns  
X-raysDentures/partialsImplants  
Fillings  Oral surgeryOrthodontics
Fluoride application  
Nitrous oxide  

Developmentally disabled adults in Washington State receive extra benefits to help overcome their poor oral hygiene. For instance, they get one additional annual exam, prophylaxis (cleaning) three times per year, topical fluoride an extra two times annually, and stainless steel crowns.

Free Dental Insurance for Unemployed

Medicaid provides free dental insurance to unemployed adults less frequently because they do not automatically meet the Federal Poverty Level (PFL) criteria. Unemployment compensation is countable towards MAGI; therefore, the monthly amount and expiration date affect eligibility.

Unemployment Amount

The size of your weekly unemployment check factors into whether you might qualify for free dental insurance through Medicaid. Because these benefits count towards MAGI, you might earn too much to be eligible right away.

For instance, the average weekly unemployment check of $350 per week equates to $18,200 annually. Meanwhile, the FPL for a two-person household is $18,310, putting you perilously close to the suggested 133% cutoff.

  • Single mothers might qualify when their children do not earn money
  • Married couples might be ineligible while the other spouses work

Unemployment Expiration

Other unemployed individuals might qualify for free dental insurance through Medicaid after their benefits run out. After twenty-six weeks, many states cease making payments now that the special pandemic rules have expired.

You should re-apply after the payments expire if your unemployment benefits made you ineligible because your MAGI was too high. Your current income will be much lower if you are still out of work.