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9 ways to get free or cheap dental care

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Dental care is critical to your and your family's health, and a healthy smile can make a difference in whether you get a job or advance in your career.

Unfortunately, this expensive care is hard to afford for many families. Even before the pandemic, a third of adults under age 65 had not had a dental exam in the preceding 12 months, according to a federal study.

There are many options throughout the country for free or cheap dental care for low-income individuals and families.

Here are nine ways you can find free or cheap dental care in your area:

  1. Search “free clinic near me”
  2. Search for “community health clinic near me”
  3. Call your county health department and ask about the local free clinic
  4. Check FreeDentalCare.us or NeedMeds.org
  5. Search for “dental schools near me”
  6. Search for “dental hygienist school near me”
  7. Check United Way’s 211.org
  8. Ask if your local dentist has a sliding fee scale
  9. Aspen Dental free dental care (for veterans and their families)

1. Search “free dental clinic near me”

An initial search for free or cheap dental care in your area can help you find accessible and affordable services for yourself and your family.

Search “free dental clinic near me” to bring up clinics closest to your current location. For example, someone in Marion County, Florida who searches those terms can find a link to FreeD.O.M. Clinic USA, which offers free dental care to those who qualify.

When searching for clinics in your area, you can sort your search results by distance and go through the list to determine how to receive free or reduced-cost dental care from each provider. 

Sometimes the reviews listed under the location can give you more information about how to obtain free dental care if that information isn’t listed on the provider’s website.

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How to select the right clinic for you for free dental care

Depending on where you live, you might find several options for cheap dental clinics nearby, so you can be more selective about which one you choose. It’s important to check with individual clinics to learn about any location or income restrictions they might have.

To find the best clinic for you, consider the following:

  • Transportation needs – Do you have transportation, or would you need to rely on public transportation to get to your appointments? Do you need to find a clinic within walking distance of where you live? Determine how you will get to and from appointments, and choose a clinic that is the most accessible.
  • Free or sliding scale – Many dental clinics offer free care or charge for services on a sliding scale, depending on your income level and other factors. If cost information isn’t readily available online, call and speak with a clinic representative to better understand expected costs before you make an appointment.
  • Availability – If you work or are otherwise unavailable at certain times during the week, check each clinic’s operational hours to select one that works for your schedule.
  • Services needed – The American Dental Association recommends adults and children receive cleanings and exams twice a year. If you need additional dental care — like fillings, crowns or other work, discuss your needs with the clinic to find out what they offer and at what cost, if any.

2. Search for “community health clinic near me”

A community health clinic is a nonprofit or not-for-profit agency that offers health care services to the medically underserved and is generally staffed by medical professionals and governed by a board of directors.

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Dental care at a community health clinic

In addition to a host of medical services, many community health clinics offer dental care, either for free or on a sliding scale. For example, HopeHealth in Kingstree, S.C., offers routine dental checkups, such as cleanings and exams, for free or at a nominal cost. The clinic also offers:

  • Oral health education
  • Deep cleanings
  • Dental x-rays, fillings and single-unit crowns
  • Root canals
  • Extractions
  • Fluoride and sealant applications

Search for community health clinics near you, and check which ones offer free or low-cost dental care. 

3. Call your county health department and ask about the local free clinic

The function of a county health department is to maintain a healthy community by providing services, programs and information to those in need. This includes dental care.

How county health departments can help with free or cheap dental care

County health departments often operate clinics that offer free or low-cost dental services. 

For example, the Orange County (California) Health Department offers basic dental care for children and emergency dental services for adults.

In Tennessee, local health departments offer dental clinics in 53 of 89 rural counties and in four of the six metropolitan regions.

County health departments can also help residents locate legitimate free or cheap dental care options outside of the government agency.

4. Check FreeDentalCare.us or NeedMeds.org for a list of clinics in your state

There are several websites that maintain a state-by-state listing of dental clinics, including:

How to navigate a national website to find local free or cheap dental care

Visit one of the websites listed above, and locate your state or search by zip code. From there, choose clinics near you. Contact information is available for each clinic. Visit the website for each clinic to learn more details about what is offered through each program.

Learn more about where to find affordable dentures

5. Search for “dental schools near me”

Some dental schools offer free or cheap dental care to give students real-world experience in their field of study.

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How to choose a dental school for free or cheap care

Some dental schools will only work with patients whose needs fit within their curriculum. For example, before a patient can book an appointment through the dental program at the University of Florida Health, a screening process is required to ensure that the patient’s dental needs are compatible with the educational needs of the students.

Contact dental programs in your area to determine if you are a candidate for free dental care.

Vocational programs that offer dental care

Another way to get free or cheap dental care is through a vo-tech institution. High school career and technical schools offer vocational training to students, as well as additional programs for those 18 and older. Dental assisting is offered in many of these schools. Check with your local vocational program to see if they offer dental services to the public.

6. Search for “dental hygienist school near me”

Dental hygienists study to earn an associate or bachelor’s degree before becoming licensed health care professionals. They work independently or with a dentist and typically are responsible for cleaning and assessing oral health, among other things.

Some schools for dental hygienists, like Dixie State University in Utah, offer a clinic for eligible patients with discounted dental services paid with cash, check or credit card. At Dixie State, a child’s cleaning costs $13. 

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How to select a dental hygienist school for dental care

Visit the websites of schools within your search area to find answers to the following questions:

  • Does the school offer public service dental care?
  • What is the cost of the care?
  • What are the eligibility requirements for patients?

7. Check United Way’s 211.org

Part of the United Way’s nonprofit work involves connecting folks with the health services they need, and that includes dental services.

How can the 211 service help find free or cheap dental care

United Way’s 211 program is a free service that connects those in need with local organizations that can help them. You can call 211 to talk with someone about your dental care needs, or you can visit the United Way website to search for services in your area.  

8. Ask if your local dentist has a sliding fee scale

Whether you are an existing patient or looking for a new dentist (and even if you aren’t insured), chat with the dentist about your financial concerns. Dentists may offer a sliding fee scale, with the price of the service based on your ability to pay. Several factors may be considered, including:

  • What services you need
  • How much money you make
  • Your family size

What are other ways a dentist can help reduce dental costs?

If the dental office you visit does not have a sliding fee scale, talk with the dentist about your options. Some procedures may cost less than others. For example, discuss the price points of extractions versus root canals. Be upfront about your financial limitations so your dentist can find ways to help you out.

9. Aspen Dental free dental care (for veterans and their families)

Military veterans and their families in need of dental care can find help through Aspen Dental’s Healthy Mouth Movement. The initiative offers oral health care and information to those who qualify one day a year at participating Aspen Dental locations across the U.S.

Dental services brought to you

Aspen Dental also offers MouthMobile, a dental office on wheels that travels the country with medical professionals who offer free care to veterans. The mobile dental lab includes two treatment rooms and an X-ray machine.

Free dental care FAQs:

What do I do if I can't afford a dentist?

Oral hygiene is important to your overall wellness. According to the Mayo Clinic, poor dental care could contribute to various diseases and medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease and pregnancy and birth complications.

If you can’t afford a dentist, try:

  • Reaching out to clinics or dental schools that offer free or reduced-cost care
  • Talking with a dentist about payment plans or sliding fee scales
  • Charging visits to credit cards with a low-interest rate to make payments
  • Taking out a loan to pay for care

Good oral hygiene can help you avoid dental visits between your preventative care appointments. Talk with your dentist about how to best take care of your teeth and gums to avoid problems that could require additional care and money.

Is there any government help for dental work?

Medicaid is the federal and state government health insurance for low-income individuals and families. According to the federal Department of Health & Human Services, the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) benefit requires that each state make available dental services to Medicaid-eligible people under the age of 21.

It is up to each state to determine whether those services are part of the Medicaid plan for adults over the age of 21.

To find out if your state offers dental care for adults through Medicaid, visit the “states overview” tab at Medicaid.gov.

It’s also important to note that dentists are not required to accept Medicaid insurance, so check with your office before scheduling an appointment.

How can I fix my teeth with no money?

The most important part of your dental care is having a healthy set of teeth and gums. But if you are hampered professionally or personally by discolored, broken, missing or crooked teeth, it could lead to other hardships, especially when you’re searching for employment.

Home tooth-whitening kits may help with stained teeth.

If you are struggling to secure a job or promotion because of bad teeth and don’t have the funds to get them fixed, try reaching out to nonprofits like Dress for Success, which often partners with dental practices to provide free or affordable care to clients.

Other ways to find helpful and free resources for low-income families and individuals:

Free housingFree school supplies
Free laptops$500 monthly single mom grant
Free clothesScholarships for single moms
Free carFree Christmas gifts
Free smartphoneGovernment assistance for single moms
Free wifiFree and low-cost prescriptions
Free formulaFree diapers
Free gasFree toys
Free daycareDumpster diving
Free prescription glassesFree money
10+ charities that help single mothersTutoring and homework help
Free or low-cost after-school programsHealth insurance
Cash for carsFree food
What do I do if I can't afford a dentist?

If you can’t afford a dentist, try reaching out to clinics or dental schools that offer free or reduced-cost care or talking with a dentist about payment plans or sliding fee scales.

Is there any government help for dental work?

According to the federal Department of Health & Human Services, the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) benefit requires that each state make available dental services to Medicaid-eligible people under the age of 21.

How can I fix my teeth with no money?

If you are struggling to secure a job or promotion because of bad teeth and don’t have the funds to get them fixed, try reaching out to nonprofits like Dress for Success, which often partners with dental practices to provide free or affordable care to clients.

Carla Dempsey is a writer and editor living in the beautiful Laurel Highlands region of southwestern Pennsylvania. She has worked in journalism for more than 25 years, producing and managing content for both print and online publications. She has been instrumental in launching numerous content products during her career, including an award-winning weekly entertainment magazine for a Pittsburgh-area newspaper. She also managed several magazines for readers looking for more information about health and wellness, caregiving, and wedding planning. She is a graduate of Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, and has also studied Italian Renaissance Art in Italy. She lives with her husband, Gary, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, and two amazing children, Mason and Julia.

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