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Home » Health, Health Insurance

How to Get Cheap Dental Care without Dental Insurance

Last updated by on 12 Comments

Ahhh… the dentist…

30 awkward minutes of staring at the ceiling in order to avoid eye contact or looking directly into a blinding light while answering small talk questions as a complete stranger sticks their fingers and pointy tools into your mouth.

To continue the awkwardness, the dentist comes in to say hi and take a quick peek (if you’re lucky), and then you are sent on your way with a little white plastic bag filled with dental hygiene goodies and a paper appointment card that you will inevitably lose before they call to remind you in 6 months.

At least we all know what to expect.

Despite the awkward predictability, having your teeth looked at once or twice a year is a good idea, if for no other reason than preventative checkups to get a head start on fighting the development of periodontal disease, gingivitis, tooth decay and removal, etc., and the expensive treatments and/or surgery that could follow.

So why doesn’t everyone do it? It’s usually one of three reasons:

  1. They are scared of the dentist.
  2. They just don’t give a damn about their teeth or hate acknowledging a problem might exist.
  3. They do not have dental insurance to cover the visit and don’t want to pay out-of-pocket.

Unfortunately, I can’t do much to help you with #1 or #2 other than simply telling you to “get over it”.

#3 is a big problem in the U.S. Only about 50% of Americans have dental insurance. And according to an ADA study, “Six in 10 Americans who have not visited a dentist in the past year (60%) say the cost of dental insurance is one of the primary reasons they do not visit a dentist.”

cheap dental care

A Cheaper Alternative for those without Dental Insurance

For those folks without dental insurance, there may be a cheaper alternative to the costly dentist.

Credit goes out to my wife, who is attending nursing school at a local community college and discovered this awesome hack. The dental school at her college offers cheap dental care via visits to students enrolled in the dental hygiene program. A quick look around showed that a number of community colleges and vocational training schools offer the same service. Because they don’t have an advertising budget, the only way one might find out about these services is word-of-mouth.

I know what you’re thinking… you may shiver at the thought of having a student-in-training put pointy objects in your or a loved one’s mouth. Fortunately, their work is carefully supervised by licensed dental hygiene faculty and a clinic dentist. As a result, you might even get a better cleaning and more attention than at a normal dental office because the students are being graded on their performance. And with the primary goal of a dentist visit being preventative checkups, you will have a professional dentist looking at your teeth closer than any dental office, to meet that goal.

How cheap is the dental work? As an example, her college’s dental school offers the following rates:

  • Oral health screening: $0
  • Comprehensive dental hygiene care: students, seniors, & children: $25, adults: $40-60
  • Dental health instruction: $0 (part of hygiene appointment)
  • Panorex or full-mouth X-rays ($35)

That is probably cheaper than what those of us with dental insurance are paying in premiums, ironically.

Restorative dentistry (fillings), oral surgery (removal of teeth), orthodontics (braces), or denture services are typically not offered, but the goal here is preventative health more than anything else, so that hopefully you can avoid those expensive procedures.

For those without insurance, this could be a sufficient and cheap alternative to the much riskier (and costlier down the road) avoidance route.

Have you had dental school work done? How was your experience?

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12 Comments »
  • Trevor says:

    My aunt has had to have oral surgery, but found that her dental insurance didn’t cover very much of the cost for what was required. She was able to take advantage of the dental program at UofM for less than it would have cost with her insurance. So people may want to check into a major university to see if that is possible if they do need more than preventative care that many community colleges offer.

  • This trick works for a lot of things, not just trips to the dentist. Some others that come to mind are haircuts from cosmetology students and gourmet Thanksgiving dinners at culinary schools.

  • Joseph says:

    I’ve been using the services at Lansing Community College for a couple of years and love it.

    “.. their work is carefully supervised by licensed dental hygiene faculty and a clinic dentist. As a result, you might even get a better cleaning and more attention than at a normal dental office because the students are being graded on their performance.”

    Exactly, it’s better attention to detail. At any other dentist office, it seems very rushed through. My recent trip, she scraped w/ her utensils, used the hydro cleaning tool.. and then she had to wait for the grade. While waiting, she went back through all my teeth again. The best cleaning I have ever had. $40, w/ fluoride treatment.

    GenY, I just visited the Barber College today.. $6 haircut. :)

    • kim scott says:

      I have military Delta Dental but cannot afford the deductible to have my teeth worked on that have completely rotted in my mouth I need somebody who’s willing to take my insurance and have me not pay anything out of pocket unless its something very low because I just can’t afford do. If you know anybody any dentis that would be willing to work with me and help me. I live in Rocky Point North Carolina my phone number is 910 795 3677

  • Melissa H. says:

    The only problem I’ve ever encountered from using schools for discounts (that includes massage schools, hair salon schools, and yes, dental schools) is that you have to basically plan to be there for an ENTIRE day. When I was a student, this wasn’t such a big deal, but once I start my job… kind of a pain in the butt.

    I guess the plus side is that once I start my job, I’ll have money to go to the dentist (dental health is included in my job package.)

    So that’s something to keep in mind!

  • Mary says:

    It’s seemed to be popular around here for local dentists to post deals for cleanings and checkups on Groupon. I’m not normally a big fan of Groupon but a few friends who don’t have dental insurance have found it to be a good way to get a cheap cleaning.

  • My community college used to do cleanings for $1. While I think it’s great that everyone can get access to oral care thanks to dental schools, I’m still not trusting a newbie with a metal pick with my tender gums.

    But, should desperation set in, I’ll be scheduling an appointment.

    • Joseph says:

      At the community college I go to.. The 1st and 2nd year students don’t touch the public. They work on each other and dummy systems for their first 2yrs. Then they are allowed to work on the public as junior and seniors. I personally wouldn’t consider someone a newbie on their 3rd yr of training.. and from my experience w/ multiple juniors, they have been far from newbs. My best cleanings have been at LCC.. At the local dentist, I’m rushed thru like cattle. They take their time and are very thorough.. they are graded on it!

  • mike says:

    There are many free and low income dental clinics nationwide. The dental schools and community college route is really good for free dental care, but it is not the only option. Do some searches on google and you can find some good free clinics.

  • VictoriaStacy says:

    There are many free and low income dental clinics nationwide. The dental schools and community college route is really good for free dental care, but it is not the only option. Do some searches on google and you can find some good free clinics.

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