How To Find Dental Schools and Dental Assistance Programs

Dental care can be expensive. In fact, many people put off dental treatment due to high costs.

Whether you're holding back due to a lack of insurance or high co-pays and benefit caps with your dental insurance plan, there are options for free, low cost, or sliding scale dental care.

A dentist with her patient on a sunny day
Dean Mitchell / Getty Images

It's important to note that the availability of these services will depend on where you live. While some options are open to everyone, others depend on your income level or eligibility for government programs.

This article outlines a few possible options for lower-cost or free dental work.

Dental Colleges and Hygiene Schools

Dental schools are a popular option for many people. Student dentists perform work at a reduced cost and sometimes offer care for free. This option is usually open to everyone, regardless of income.

Dental students work under the guidance of their professors, who oversee procedures to make sure they are performed properly. When you receive dental care at a dental school, trainee dentists get the opportunity to learn a procedure while you get dental work at a fraction of the cost.

In addition, because every step is monitored, a procedure that normally takes two hours when performed by a private dentist can wind up taking five hours. This is because every step is monitored and approved by the professor before moving forward.

The American Dental Association maintains a full list of dental schools that you can search to see if there is one near you.

There are potential downsides to being treated at a dental college. Most dental schools are located in major cities. If you live far from a dental school, the travel time may be prohibitive. Some schools may also have long waiting times to get assigned to a provider team and get care, so it may not be an option if you need emergency treatment.

Dental hygiene schools are also a source of low-cost preventive dental care, such as cleanings. Like dental schools, treatment is provided by trainees under instructor supervision.

Popular Dental Schools in the United States

Some well-known and top-ranked dental schools in the United States include:

  • University of Michigan School of Dentistry
  • University of California, San Francisco School of Dentistry
  • Harvard School of Dental Medicine
  • University of North Carolina Adams School of Dentistry
  • New York University College of Dentistry
  • University of California, Los Angeles School of Dentistry
  • University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine (Philadelphia)
  • University of Washington School of Dentistry (Seattle)
  • Columbia University College of Dental Medicine (New York City)
  • Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine
  • Ohio State University College of Dentistry
  • Tufts University School of Dental Medicine
  • University of Iowa College of Dentistry

Government Programs

Government programs include some level of dental care. These programs include:

  • Medicare (for people over age 65): The coverage you get with basic Medicare is extremely limited. It doesn't cover most routine dental care or dentures. Some Medicare Advantage plans (also known as Medicare Part C) offer dental coverage.
  • Medicaid (for people living below a certain income level): Medicaid is administered by each state and it varies as to what is covered and who is covered. Most states cover dental services for those under age 21. For those over age 21, they may provide comprehensive services or only limited emergency dental services.
  • Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP): CHIP also varies from state to state but in most cases covers dental services for children up to age 19.

Veterans who are eligible for care through the Veterans Administration (VA) may be able to receive dental care as part of their VA benefits. The VA runs more than 200 dental clinics around the country to serve veterans.

If you qualify for any of these programs, ask about which dental options may be available to you.

In addition to Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP, the federal government also funds health initiatives—including dental care—in more than 59 states and jurisdictions through the Title V Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant. More than 60 million people accessed care supported by this grant in 2019.

Community Health Centers

The federal government's Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), runs federally funded community health centers (CHC) across the country that provide free or reduced-cost health services, including dental care.

Your costs will depend on your income level so you will pay what they believe you can afford. You can search for a nearby CHC on the HRSA.gov site.

Discount Passes

Some insurance companies offer discount passes to members who have limited (or no) dental coverage or those have used up their yearly benefits. These are typically offered through a third-party group. Most discount passes are inexpensive (as low as $20). They can save you anywhere from 20% to 50% in costs, depending on the work you have done.

After purchasing a dental discount pass, you typically have a certain amount of time (such as 30 days) to use it, and you'll need to see a provider in that company's network to realize the savings.

Some restrictions may apply with discount passes. For instance, you can't normally use a discount pass when you're using your insurance benefits. It's important to note that your dental provider may not be enrolled in the company's provider network, so check before you buy the pass if you aren't willing to go to another provider to have a procedure performed.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials may offer additional options, especially if you have an underlying condition that is causing dental or oral health issues. These trials are free, but in return, you're assisting in the research process.

For example, you might be able to have your wisdom teeth removed as part of a clinical trial, but you may be allowing practitioners to try out new techniques or untested medications that have not yet been approved by the FDA.

As a participant in a clinical trial, you may be at risk of side effects, and these will be explained to you during the informed consent process.

The Clinicaltrials.gov website provides information about all clinical trials in progress, along with information about who qualifies for which trial and what is required of patients who are enrolled.

Summary

If you are in need of dental care and worried about how you'll pay for it, you're not alone. Fortunately, dental schools, community health centers, and even clinical trials can help you make oral health affordable. Programs like Medicare and Medicaid may also provide dental benefits if you're eligible.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where can I get low-cost or free dental work?

    One place to start is by searching for a nearby dental college. Most of them are located in major cities, but it may be worth looking at the American Dental Association site just to be sure. A dental hygiene school is another source of low-cost preventive dental care. Take a look at the American Dental Hygienists’ Association site for programs near you.

  • Does a local health department offer low-cost or free dental care?

    There are a number of federally-funded community health departments in the U.S. that offer low-cost or free dental care. You can search for a nearby location using the HRSA.gov website.

  • How do you find out if dental schools accept new patients?

    The easiest way to find out if dental schools are accepting patients is to call them. You'll be able to ask questions about what services are available, basic information about costs, and whether they take insurance (if you have it).

  • Do free dental clinics offer cleaning and implant surgery?

    Some free dental clinics offer preventive services (like cleanings) and others also perform advanced procedures, such as implants. The best way to determine whether a clinic near you performs free implant surgery is to contat them.

  • What is a cheaper alternative to dental implants?

    Alternatives to tooth implants include dental bridges, partial dentures, and full dentures. Though implants are the most expensive option to replace lost teeth, dentures and bridges also have costs attached. You may be able to have these created for you at a dental school clinic.

  • How can you get dental insurance through your employer?

    If you are employed and eligible for benefits offered by your employer, you'll be able to enroll in dental insurance (if it's offered) when you sign up for other benefits (like medical or life insurance). It's important to note, though, that you may be able to enroll in a dental plan on your own if your employer doesn't offer it.

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13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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