Have you ever wondered what the biggest barrier to American dental care is? If so, you’re not alone. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) conducted research on the topic (as cited in this American Dental Association brief) from 2003-2004 and again from 2011-2012. During each two-year period NHANES surveyed approximately 10,000 Americans and asked them to identify their reason for not obtaining needed dental care.
Respondents could choose from the following 11 reasons for not obtaining dental care:
- Could not afford the cost
- Insurance did not cover procedures
- Afraid or do not like dentists
- Did not want to spend the money
- Too busy
- Unable to take time off
- Office not open at convenient time
- Expected problem to go away
- Dental office is too far away
- Another dentist recommended not going
Do you know which reason ranked highest both times the survey was conducted? You probably guessed it: could not afford to go. Financial barriers, not access to dental care, are the root cause of many Americans skipping the dentist.
Dental care for low-income families
The research also found that the largest percentage of respondents who indicated financial barriers as their number one reason for not obtaining dental care was low-income adults ages 21 to 64. Low-income was defined as those with a gross income less than 133% of the Federal Poverty Line.
When money is extremely tight and you can only afford necessities, it makes financial sense to not buy dental insurance. But that doesn’t mean low-income households should have to sacrifice dental care. There are actually several ways for you to get dental care for little or even no money.
Get low-cost or free dental care
There are a number of not-for-profit organizations that offer free or low-cost dental care throughout the U.S.
- Freeclinicdirectory.org is a national database of free and affordable dental and medical clinics. You can sort by state and then refine by county to find the dental clinic nearest you. Each listing also contains a snapshot of all the services offered at the dental clinic. Rest assured that all dental services are performed by licensed professionals, so you’re in good hands.Be sure to call in advance to find out if the dental services are in fact free or provided on a sliding-scale fee.
- A core focus of theUnited Way is building healthier communities and improving the quality of health care through partnership with a number of community organizations, schools, government programs, and agencies. Visit Unitedway and then click “Find Your United Way” to get touch with the branch nearest you. If they are unable to directly assist you with free dental care, they can more than likely put you in contact with another organization than can help.
- Mission of Mercy is a non-profit organization that provides completely free dental care,healthcare,and medication across Arizona, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Texas via medical mobile clinics. All services are performed by active and retired medical professionals ensuring quality of care.
- Remote Area Medical® (RAM®) is a volunteer-led organization providing free dental care, medical care and vision to those can’t afford it or lack access to it via mobile medical centers. The organization is not currently national, so be sure to check their clinic schedule to find out where they will be.
- HRSA is the website for the Health Resources and Services Administration, which provides health care services based on what you can afford. Some HRSA health centers also offer oral health services among other things. You find a health center near you here.
Dental savings plan
If you’re unable to find a free dental clinic nearby or you want the peace of mind knowing you have dental coverage, check out a dental savings plan. A dental savings plan is a low-cost alternative to dental insurance that allows you to save anywhere from 10% to 60% off most dental services. Some dental savings plans even come with additional benefits, like discounts on prescription drugs and vision and hearing exams and devices,all at no extra cost.
The cost of an individual dental savings plan starts at just $80 for the whole year, or you can get a family dental savings plan starting at around $130. The family dental savings plan is a great option if you have a spouse, dependents or permanent residents at your home.
Most dental savings plans require you to pay upfront, versus a little each month the way dental insurance does. However, if you can put aside a few dollars each month, you can quickly save up for a dental savings plan. Another advantage to a dental savings plan is that there is no waiting period; it is effective within 72 hours or less or joining. That means you can start using your dental savings plan right away, which is especially important in a dental emergency.
Dental care on a shoestring budget
As you can see, there are a number of organizations you can contact for free or low-cost dental care, as well as affordable alternatives to dental insurance. Don’t let being uninsured or tight on money prevent you from getting the dental care you need and deserve.