Grants and Resources For Free Or Low-Cost Dental Care


Dental problems are a leading health concern in this country. Particularly common in low-income adults, untreated dental problems are known to contribute to both heart problems and premature births.

In 2005, the American Journal of Preventative Medicine issued a report that related heart disease with tooth loss, with the risks going up as the number of missing teeth increased.

However, dental problems are not only a health risk. The reality is that it’s also a cosmetic issue that can affect your ability to get certain jobs, and certainly effects how you are perceived by others.

I know all this because for many years, I had dental problems that I couldn’t afford to fix. As a single mom with no extra money, who often went months without a child support payment, I just didn’t have the money to fix it. By the time I finally broke my two front teeth and had to fix it, it cost thousands of dollars to fix them.

Such a quandary! I got lucky and found a dentist who worked with me. He let me make payments on what my dental insurance didn’t cover, but even then, I couldn’t afford to do everything. I got only the two front teeth fixed that were so bad, and that hurt so much. I knew that I had to fix the rest of them, and began an ever increasing search for free or cheap dentists.

Medicaid For Dental Care

The first and best coverage for dental care is Medicaid. However, most states do not cover dental care for adults. When they do, they might limit it to emergency services or inpatient services. If you’re lucky enough to live in a state that covers everything for adults, get as much done as possible as soon as you can. That’s because you might not have Medicaid very long, and sometimes it takes a while to find a good dentist, and to get everything you need finished.

Sliding Scale and Free Dental Clinics

Most states offer at least one dental clinic that runs on a sliding scale. Typically, they will have grant money already available to you, and will certify you based on your income and family size. However, given that the number of people in the United States who need this type of help has increased dramatically, you may find a waiting list or higher co-pays at some of these clinics. That’s what happened to me, they could see me and they would pay for everything, but the waiting list was over six months. I went on the list, and kept looking. To look for free or sliding scale dental clinics in your area, look here: http://www.freemedicalcamps.com/

Dental Schools

One resource that many people don’t know about is the dental school. Virtually any dental school offers less expensive treatments, simply because you’re agreeing to be worked on by students. However, some schools, especially the bigger ones have funds available to make it very, very inexpensive or free, because the students have to have practice. This is most common with bigger procedures, like dentures. A very dear friend of mine got two dental implants, which would typically cost thousands of dollars, for less than a hundred dollars. I got two root canals, a few fillings, and a cleaning for less than two hundred dollars. It actually cost me more than that out of pocket, because the dental school was three hours away, and I had to go twice. I spent the night after the actual procedure in a motel, because I was worried I wouldn’t be able to drive home.

Dentists Who Offer Help

Although not technically grants, there are a few dentists who are occasionally willing to offer their benefits for free. To find them, you may very well have to sit down with the phone book, call every dentist that is listed, and ask if they do pro-Bono work. There may not be anyone in your area who does that, or they may already have done their free procedures for the year. If their volunteer work for the year has already been performed, always try to ask when they’ll do it again, and call back before that date. To the best of my knowledge, no dentist has to do free work, they may do it to be nice or because they recognize an unmet need.

Churches, and Their Financial Aid

Churches offer a variety of different programs. Some programs offer assistance with medical needs, and if your dental problems are severe enough, you may qualify. As with any type of voluntary program, you may need to call many different churches to get the help you need, and they may not be able to pay all of what you need. You may be asked to pay part of it yourself, or you may have to look for other help.

Hospitals, the Final Hope

You should not hesitate to go to the hospital or emergency room, if your dental problem has progressed to an emergency situation with:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • infection
  • fever

In the emergency room, even if you do not have or cannot afford medical care, they have to see you in most states. Any physician should be able to provide you a prescription for antibiotics or pain relief if appropriate, and the social worker at the hospital may have additional resources for grant money that I do not have here. Yes, you might have a bill, but if necessary, you should be able to make payment arrangements. Additionally, because you’re in the hospital, you may be eligible for grants to help you pay that medical bill.

And I learned something not too long ago. The trauma center that is closest to our home has an oral surgeon on staff. What that means is that if you live near a hospital that has an oral surgeon on staff, and have a true emergency, you should go to the regular hospital for care You do not have to find an emergency dentist in the phone book, or wait till a regular dentist or clinic opens. This is especially important because most free dental clinics are not equipped for, nor can they handle, an emergency. This may also mean, that if you are lucky enough to have an oral surgeon, or any dentist, in a regular hospital near you, you might be able to negotiate payment arrangements or grant. The social workers at the hospital should be able to help you, and you would only be able to receive emergency services there.

Adequate dental care is an important part of maintaining your own health. Although finding grants or assistance with it can be incredibly frustrating, it will be worth it when you still have a beautiful smile.