When I got divorced, dental insurance was the last thing on my mind. Though it wouldn’t have changed anything, I had no idea how expensive the out-of-pocket costs would be. A teeth cleaning alone would cost me upward of $100, and I don’t even want to talk about how much for a crown or filling.
To make matters worse, every time you turn around, they want to see you more often. For many years, my dentist asked me to come in once a year for a cleaning. These days, they request I visit every six months. I’ve even heard of some dentists who recommend three or four appointments every year, depending on the severity of your dental plaque or other issues.
Approximately two-thirds of Americans seek care from a dentist regularly, according to the American Dental Association (ADA).
That leaves one-third of us without regular dental care. There are a variety of reasons individuals forgo the dentist, with one of the more common reasons being that he or she is among the more than 37 million Americans without dental insurance.
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How to Find a Cheap Dentist Without Insurance
There are a few solutions to the rising cost of dental insurance. New providers like Spirit Dental seek to disrupt the traditional insurance model, providing free quotes based on your needs, offering three cleanings a year, and letting patients choose their own dentist. And some uninsured individuals have even turned to Groupon to find deals on dental care.
That said, not everyone can afford insurance to cover the dental care they need, and some folks are seeking out the most affordable treatment available.
One solution to find a cheap dentist without insurance? Dental schools.
Many community colleges and universities have dental programs in which students provide inexpensive dental care. Making a simple phone call or doing a Google search of dental schools in your area will help you determine if there are any close to home. Plus, you can use the ADA’s web search to filter colleges by location and services offered to find one nearby.
As luck would have it, there is a dental school near my house. It provides a number of services for incredibly low prices, including:
- Scaling, root planing, and tooth polishing
- Oral examination and oral cancer screening
- Dental X-rays
- Application of preventive fluorides
- Individualized oral health care instruction
- Nutritional counseling for the prevention of dental diseases
- Pit and fissure sealants
What does all of this cost? The price ranges by location, but I was able to find a $10 cleaning for adults and a $6 cleaning for kids 12 and under.
I couldn’t believe it when I first heard about it. That’s nearly a 90 percent discount on the regular cost. Of course, a student will do the cleaning, but don’t worry — a professor will supervise them the entire time.
Why Schools Are Great Options for Cheap Dental Care
The best part of getting your teeth cleaned locally is that it’s a huge help to students who need the practice. At the school near me, I get sealants for an additional charge of only $3 per tooth — another bargain when compared with the average of $399 per person spent annually on teeth cleaning, according to the ADA.
Current dentists can testify to how helpful local volunteers were during their schooling.
“Throughout my entire education as a hygienist, it was my personal responsibility to fill my chair,” says Elexa Richard, a recently graduated dental hygienist.
“My school would schedule appointments, but it was difficult for them to find volunteers. Ultimately, it fell to the students to make sure the patients they saw helped them meet each semester’s requirements.”
During their first year of school, students learn how to clean the teeth of someone who’s had regular dental care. “As the semesters progress, so do the requirements for complexity and diversity,” Richard says. “Therefore, a wide variety of patients are needed and welcome.”
It took a lot of time and effort for Richard to come up with the right types of patients week in and week out. She couldn’t have just anyone come in. The patient had to have specific problems so that she could demonstrate proficiency in that area.
Other Ways to Find an Affordable Dentist
If there’s no dental school within a reasonable distance, there are options still available for those without insurance.
Your next best bet for cheap dental care is likely to look in your community health centers and the services they offer. Funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), these local centers provide reduced-cost primary care, with some of them offering dental services.
Use the HRSA’s directory to see if there is a location in your neighborhood, then call ahead to see what services are offered, and for how much, before making an appointment.
Besides federally funded options, there are a handful of nonprofit organizations that offer discounted or free dental care. Many are run by dental professionals volunteering their free time to those without insurance or who cannot afford hygienic services. You can use United Way’s database to find nonprofit health providers in your area.
The Bottom Line on Finding Cheap Dental Care
The next time you’re due for a cleaning but don’t have the extra cash lying around, do yourself and a dental student a favor and book an appointment at your local school. The students will thank you, and so will your wallet!
Additional reporting by Connor Beckett McInerney