Good oral hygiene is vital, both for physical health and self-esteem. However, especially in the absence of insurance, dental care can seem prohibitively expensive. Many resources are available to make oral health accessible for people with limited means.
Finding Free Dental Work Charities
Free or low-cost dental care is widely available. In most cases, all it takes is a little guidance to find a good match for your needs.
Ask Your Local Dental Association
The best starting point for finding free, high-quality dental care is usually your state dental association. A clickable map of state initiatives and their websites is available at the American Dental Association Action for Dental Health page. The Mission of Mercy program, in particular, is to offer free clinics with volunteer dentists. Local programs may also be available through your state dental association's website.
Free health clinics and other independent organizations also offer free or low-cost dental care. FreeDental.org provides a database searchable by state or ZIP code of free dental care services in your area. The National Association of Free Clinics also provides listings of free clinics on its website, including contact information for programs that may not have a web presence. Not all free clinics offer dental services, but even those that don't may be able to provide a referral or contact information for a service in the area that does.
Community Health Centers
Community Health Centers frequently provide free or low-cost oral care services. These federally funded centers are located in rural and urban areas throughout the United States. Use the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Find a Health Center page to locate a Community Health Center near you.
The United Way
Your local chapter of the United Way keeps track of social services available in your community. If free or low cost dental service programs exist, they will be able to direct you to them. You can find your local chapter on the United Way website or by calling 2-1-1 or visiting 211.org.
For Special Populations
Several nonprofits and foundations offer free dental services to children, senior citizens, the disabled or other special groups.
- Through America's Toothfairy, the National Children's Oral Health Foundation provides multiple services through its affiliates, all directed at improving oral health in the young. These include:
- Stand-alone clinics
- Comprehensive community health and dental facilities
- Hospital clinics
- Dental universities and oral hygiene schools
- Mobile oral care facilities
- School-based dental programs
- Communities partners
- Give a Kid a Smile (GKAS) is a national program of the American Dental Association (ADA) that works to make quality dental care available to every child. They provide online information and toll-free phone support to help clients find local services that meet their needs.
- CHIP is a federally funded program for children 19 and under who do not have any other form of health insurance and meet other eligibility requirements. The program provides medical and dental services. Services will vary by state and you can find out what CHIP covers in your location using the InsureKidsNow.gov website. Medicaid will also cover dental services for individuals under age 21.
- America's Dentists Care Foundation runs free two-day dental clinics in cities around the U.S. These clinics generally treat only adults, although some will accept children depending on the service needed. Their website lists upcoming dates, locations and services provided. You do not need to provide proof of income or eligibility to use these clinics and they operate on a first come, first served basis.
- Dentistry From the Heart is a charitable organization that sets up events around the U.S., and internationally, to provide free dental care. Dentists provide donated dental services at these events. A listing of all of their upcoming events and locations are listed on their website.
- Mission of Mercy is another charitable organization that provides healthcare, including dental care, to people who cannot afford dental care that is not covered by their insurance, or who have no insurance. They operate in Arizona, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Texas.
- The Cosmetic Dentistry Grant Program is run by The Oral Aesthetic Advocacy Group. They provide up to one million annually in grants for dental work to individuals in need of cosmetic dentistry. Applying is free, although you will need to have a dentist perform an exam first at your cost as part of your application, and any basic dentistry related to the procedure cannot be covered by the grant. Participating dental practices are also only located in California and New York, so you'll need to travel to have the procedures done.
Seniors or Disabled Citizens
Donated Dental Services (DDS) is a program providing oral care to those who are permanently disabled or to senior citizens. Patients visit a volunteer dentist in the dentist's office. Each state has some type of DDS program, usually organized through the state dental association. Dental Lifeline Network keeps a state-by-state database of Donated Dental Services options.
Domestic Abuse Survivors
The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) also sponsors a Give Back a Smile program dedicated to providing free dental services to people with oral needs due to a domestic violence situation. Applications and further information are available at the program website.
Veterans can get free dental work or services at reduced rates through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Eligibility requirements must be met for this program. Otherwise, the VA has their own dental insurance program that offers comprehensive insurance at low rates. There is also an option to receive a onetime program of free dental care if you are a veteran who recently served 90 days or more and you apply within 180 days of your discharge.
Discounted or Reduced Fee Services
If none of the listed programs meet your needs, don't give up. Even in places without widely available charity dental services, other organizations exist that provide low-cost oral health options.
Colleges, Universities and Trade Schools
Colleges and universities often offer clinics where qualified students provide low-cost treatment. Both four-year universities and community colleges offer dentistry and dental hygienist programs, and many such programs provide low-cost dental services so their students can gain practical experience. Each school has different requirements and schedules. For a list of accredited colleges and universities and their websites, check the ADA website for participating dental schools and the ADHA website for dental hygienist programs.
Local Dentist Offices
Many dental clinics have free or low-cost options available. Talk to local dentists and explain your situation. Ask if services can be provided at a reduced cost or if they're willing to do pro bono dental work. Be patient, as it may make take several calls to find a dentist willing to work for a reduced fee, but a large variety of such options are available.
Health and Human Services
Check with the local government health and human services office. They may have programs or lists of dentists who will provide the needed care. HHS may also be able to direct you to charities, churches and other organizations in your community that either provide dental services or help with medical costs. Charitable organizations can also be found in the Yellow Pages or on the Internet.
Medicaid and Medicare
If you meet eligibility requirements, you can get some of your dental services covered by Medicaid. Treatment options vary by state and although most cover emergency services, fewer than 50% of states provide a full set of dental services under Medicaid for adults. The majority of states will cover comprehensive dental care for people under 21. Medicare has very limited coverage options for dental care but will cover them if they're related to a medical procedure, such as tooth extractions that are necessary for jaw surgery or radiation treatments.
If you have a specific dental condition, you can sometimes find clinical trials looking for participants to try out new treatments, medications and surgical interventions. These trials are used to further research and offer participants free or low-cost services in exchange for volunteering. The National Institutes of Dental and Craniofacial Research lists clinical trials seeking volunteers on the ClinicalTrials.gov website.
Discount Dental Plans
Another option if you don't have dental insurance is purchasing a Discount Dental Plan. These are not insurance plans, but rather provide you access to services at a reduced cost in exchange for a monthly membership fee. You can locate providers of these membership plans through DentalPlans.com and Aflac.
Improve Your Smile
There are many opportunities to find a free dental work charity to provide oral care. Finding a place where you can get your teeth fixed for free may take persistence, but good dental care is vital to your lifelong health.