What if I can't afford dental insurance?

Dental insurance actually often may provide only limited amounts of benefits per year due to the annual maximum and benefit levels. If your mouth is healthy, paying for care as you need it may in fact be less costly than purchase of dental insurance. If finances are a concern, government facilities, dental school clinics, special programs offered by dental societies, free clinics and dental training facilities and schools may be options to be considered.

Local and state dental societies often have lists of low cost or free dental care facilities. Don't hesitate to contact them.

One thing that you don't want to do is not go to the dentist. Even your cheapest dental insurance will cover your cleaning and exam twice a year. People tend to let whether they have dental insurance be the determination whether they get in for their re-care visits or not. The absolute worst thing you can do is just stop going to the dentist because you think you just can't afford to go. You can't afford not to go.

This is part of the partnership that you have with your dentist in your healthcare. Just like flossing and brushing well at least one time per day, (preferably four times per day), is your responsibility. If you lost your toothbrush and floss would you just quit brushing and flossing? I think not.

Dental insurance is not a necessity to have like health insurance where your care can be so expensive. In fact with the cut backs stemming from the poor economy, you are going to see more and more employers cut back on dental insurance.

It is a matter of what value you see in your health. My opinion is the two most priceless you have is your health and your happiness. There is nothing that you use more than your teeth but we spend thousands of dollars on things that are less meaningful. Most dental offices have payment plans and will work with you on payment.

Most dental insurances are just an aid to help you to be able to afford your dentistry anyway. I think that medical insurance is associated with dental insurance. Nothing could be further apart. If you have a serious illness it could lead you to financial ruin in order to stay alive. Most dental treatment has to do with quality of life more than life and death situations. That is not to say that dentistry is not intimately associated with health in the forms of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and many other aspects of your health. Nutrition and the ability to eat healthy foods are very intimately associated with good health. Oral cancer exams and the ability to detect cancers in earlier stages can be lifesaving services which your dentist performs at little or no charge. There is so much necessity and value in your dental visit that you cannot afford to skip them.

The dental procedures which your dentist recommends you may not elect to have them because of financial reasons, but that is your choice. Not everything has to be done at that time and if you know what you preferred treatment is. Your dentist knows when you can you will do what's best.

If you can't afford dental insurance, you're not alone. One option may be to see if you qualify for Medicaid, a joint and voluntary program between the federal government and the states that provides health insurance coverage to certain categories of low-income families, pregnant women, disabled individuals and the elderly. Comprehensive dental coverage is required for children enrolled in state Medicaid programs, however, there is no such requirement for adult dental benefits.

If your family makes too much to qualify for Medicaid and you are seeking dental treatment for your child, check to see if your state participates in the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). CHIP, formerly known as the State Children’s Health Insurance Program or SCHIP, provides health insurance benefits, including dental benefits, for children with family incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid but too low to afford private health insurance coverage.

If you don't qualify for dental Medicaid or CHIP, try contacting your local or state dental society to see if there are any upcoming treatment programs such as Missions of Mercy (MOM) or Remote Area Medical (RAM) events in your area. Another option for lower-cost dental care is dental school clinic. Generally, dental costs in school clinics are reduced and may include only partial payment for professional services covering the cost of materials and equipment.

Dental disease is almost entirely preventable and untreated dental disease can lead to serious health problems such as infection, damage to bone or nerve, and tooth loss. Infection from tooth disease can even spread to other parts of the body and in rare cases, can lead to death.You can practice preventive dentistry on yourself by adopting these healthy habits: Always remember to brush your teeth twice a day, floss between teeth.

Stephen P. Simpson, DDS
Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics

Most dentists offer "in house" dental payment plans that can make even complex dental treatment affordable. In addition, there are several third party companies that will finance dental care for a nominal additional fee. While dental insurance is a definite aid to affording dental services, most dental care involves some "out of pocket" cost to the consumer, so making financial arrangements with a dental  care provider is not unusual nor should it be a barrier to quality dental treatment alternatives.

Josh Berd, DDS

If you can't afford dental insurance, you are not alone. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, over 45 million Americans do not have dental coverage! This is an alarming statistic, fortunately there are several groups dedicating their time and efforts to provide free dental care to those in need. One of those efforts is Project Homeless Connect in San Francisco. Every 2 months 1,000 community volunteers partner together to meet the medical and dental needs of San Francisco's estimated 8,000 homeless people. Another amazing group is Remote Area Medical. RAM's volunteer dentists provided relief to thousands of patients across the U.S. To learn more about volunteer dental clinics contact your local dental society or 

To read more about volunteering in dentistry visit and see blog titled: Philanthropy in Dentistry-Creating a Career by Helping Others

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

There are two government programs that provide dental insurance for those who can’t afford it: Medicaid and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program). What exactly is covered and what percent of costs/charges will be paid for by the plan varies from state to state. To see if you or your family qualifies, contact your state’s Medicaid or CHIP office or call 1-800-MEDICARE.

You can also contact the Bureau of Primary Health Care, which is part of the Health Resources and Services Administration. It helps finance community health centers that offer free (or low-cost) medical and dental care.

Your other options include seeking out local dental schools and dental hygienist schools. These schools have clinics where students (supervised by trained professionals, of course) gain experience treating patients.  The services they offer are significantly discounted.

Finally, remember that some of the best ways to take good care of your teeth are things you can do at home without a dentist’s help: make sure you brush well twice a day (for two minutes), floss, and eat nutritiously avoiding the five food felons. Also, drinking water fortified with fluoride is a great way to prevent tooth decay (note: two-thirds of public water supplies are fortified with fluoride!).

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.