Where Can You Get Free or Low-Cost Dental Work?

Female dentist with young male patient Indoor shot of female dentist with young male patient in the dentist chair

Dean Mitchell / Getty Images

Many people put off dental treatment due to lack of insurance or high co-pays and caps with dental insurance plans. Fortunately, there are options for free, low cost, or sliding scale dental care. You may be surprised that these options include some of the best practitioners in the country.

Here are a few of your possible choices for lowering your dental bills. It's important to note that the availability of these services will depend upon your location. While some options are open to everyone, others depend on your eligibility for government programs or your income level.

Dental Colleges and Dental Hygiene Schools

More and more people are turning to dental schools to have their dental work done at a reduced cost, far less than what is charged in the community, or may even be offered for free. This is an option that is usually open to everyone, regardless of income.

Dental students are always working in the presence of professors who are scrutinizing and judging their work constantly. The idea is that students get the opportunity to learn a procedure while you get dental work at a fraction of the cost. You are probably at your safest when getting treated at a dental school where each step is checked and monitored, whereas you have to trust that your private dentist knows what he or she is doing. You can search for dental colleges and programs on the American Dental Association site 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. 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. Some schools may also have long waiting times to get assigned to a provider team and get care.

Dental hygiene schools are likewise a source of low-cost preventive dental care where you are treated by students who are supervised. Programs are listed on the ADHA.org site.

Government Programs for Low-Cost Dental Care

Three government programs that provide some level of dental care include Medicare (for people over 65), Medicaid (for people living below a certain income level), and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). If you qualify for any of these services, ask about dental options.

  • Medicare: The coverage you get with Medicare is extremely limited. It doesn't cover most routine dental care or dentures.
  • Medicaid: 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.
  • CHIPCHIP also varies from state to state but in most cases covers dental services for children up to age 19.

Community Health Centers Dental Services

The federal government's Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), runs federally funded community health centers 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.

Clinical Trials

If you are suffering from a particular condition that is causing dental or related issues, you may be able to enter a clinical trial. Clinical trials are free—but for good reason. When you enter a clinical trial, you are allowing practitioners to try out new techniques or untested medications that have not yet been approved by the FDA. You may be at risk of side effects. You'll be informed about these before you enter the trial, but because of the research nature of the trial, new ones may be discovered. The 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.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources