How to Get Cheap Dental Care without Dental Insurance

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 50.2% 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 to Dental Work 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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