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How to Get Affordable Dental Care Without Insurance

By Kalen Smith

dentist officeCan’t afford a trip to the dentist? You’re not alone. The cost of dental care has consistently risen by nearly twice the average rate of inflation over the past half-century. In addition to rising dental costs, the number of consumers with access to dental insurance decreased 5.7% from 2009 to 2010 alone, leaving only about 45% of Americans with dental insurance.

The price may be high, and you may be among the majority who lack insurance. However, there are a number cost-saving measures you can attempt to save money on quality dental care.

Tips to Save Money on Dental Care

You shouldn’t despair if you don’t have access to dental insurance and lack the money to pay out-of-pocket. There are many ways you can save money on dental care, including the following methods:

1. Participate in Medical Studies
Many universities and organizations research specific dental conditions and treatment methods. For example, clinical trials are often developed to test the quality of new treatment drugs, and in order to evaluate the drugs, researchers require volunteers. Therefore, you can consider participating in a medical study in exchange for free dental care, such as a cleaning or having a wisdom tooth extracted.

However, you must be aware that the nature of the care you receive is often relevant to the field being studied, so be sure to find a clinical trial that is willing to provide the type of work that you require. You can find a list of clinical trials in your area via The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

visiting the dentist

2. Use Free or Low-Cost Dental Providers
Many dentists provide services to patients who lack insurance, and operate on a sliding scale, meaning they will set their rates according to your income.

There are several ways you can locate dentists that operate on a sliding scale. Contact your local branch of United Way, a coalition of charitable organizations that helps improve local communities. Another option is to contact your state’s dental association; their contact information may be found on the website of the American Dental Association (ADA).

If you do not locate or can’t afford a dentist who operates on a sliding scale, you may be eligible to receive service from a free medical clinic. Eligibility is generally restricted to low-income patients.

3. Search for Online Coupons and Savings
If you are trying to save money on dental care, be sure to check daily deals websites. These sites occasionally provide coupons and deals on dental care services, such as cleanings or fillings. Visiting these sites can be a lifesaver if you don’t have insurance, considering that a dental bill can total hundreds – or thousands – of dollars.

4. Enroll in a Discount Dental Plan
For a yearly membership fee, you can enter into a discount dental plan, which allows you to get significant discounts (between 15% and 60%) on dental costs, provided that you use dentists that accept these plans. Search for plans in your area on DentalPlans.com to see if this is a good fit for you.

5. Use the Services of Dental Students
Dental students need to acquire experience before they can graduate and be licensed. You can help them gain experience while simultaneously receiving dental care at a significantly reduced cost – and students operate under the supervision of a licensed dentist or dental hygienist. Visit the ADA online to find dental schools in your area.

6. See If a Discount Is Available
Many dentists understand that some patients are uninsured. In the interest of not turning away paying customers, they may be inclined to help you out, especially if they sympathize with your position. Therefore, inform the dentist of your insurance or financial situation, and try to negotiate your bill ahead of time. Using good negotiation techniques and, if possible, booking an appointment during a slow period of business may increase your chances of receiving a discount.

7. Be Willing to Pay Upfront
This is a little tip that can earn you regular discounts. According to a study conducted in California, most dentists are willing to drop the price by 5% if patients are willing to pay in advance.

dentist woman

8. Engage in “Dental Tourism”
Traveling to other countries can be very expensive, but it may be worthwhile if you need a very expensive operation. However, receiving dental treatment overseas can be complicated – in addition to the travel arrangements you will need to make, you also need to consider the regulations and standards of care offered abroad. If possible, consult with a dentist in the United States to decide whether traveling to another country for dental service is a wise decision for your particular needs.

9. Offer to Barter Services
If you have a unique skill-set, bartering may be an option. If a dentist owns his own practice, then he may be in need of someone who can help the business gain exposure or run more efficiently. For example, if you are a qualified accountant, web developer, graphic designer, or marketing consultant, then you may be able to exchange your services for dental care. Search bartering websites to find potential opportunities.

10. Find a Part-Time Job With Dental Benefits
Although many jobs require you to be a full-time employee to receive insurance benefits, others are more flexible. You may want to look into getting a part-time job with health insurance benefits. As long as you meet the minimum number of hours worked required each month, you can qualify for dental and health insurance.

11. Use Government Resources
Many governmental organizations are set up to help low-income and uninsured people receive the medical attention they need. These organizations include the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which is the primary resource for uninsured citizens or those who are at high risk of developing health problems to find help. The HRSA provides listings of low-cost dental providers in your area you may be eligible to use.

If you are a parent, you may be able to take advantage of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP Medicaid), which will help you pay for dental and medical care for your children.

12. Get a Second Opinion
You may not always be able to save money on your dental bills. Therefore, you should seek a second opinion in the event that your dentist recommends major or expensive work. You can save a great deal of money simply by not paying for something that isn’t crucial.

13. Visit a Nonprofit Organization
There are a number of registered nonprofit organizations that offer free dental treatment. For instance, Dentistry From The Heart hosts events in which dentists donate their time and equipment to provide dental treatment to those who can’t otherwise afford it.

Mission of Mercy is another nonprofit organization that offers free dental treatment (along with free medical care and free prescriptions) to those who do not have enough dental insurance coverage, or no dental insurance at all. However, Mission of Mercy’s services are limited to patients in Arizona, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

teeth money bills

Final Word

While it is great to save money on dental care, your priority should be to take care of your teeth on a daily basis. Although many dental problems – such as impacted wisdom teeth and the occasional cavity – may be unavoidable, you can minimize the likelihood and cost of most problems by using preventative care practices.

However, it is important to remember that you should attend to dental problems whenever necessary in an expedient manner. The last thing you want to do is let your problems get worse by ignoring them – this may cause long-term suffering and additional health problems, and will likely cost you a lot more in the long run.

What tips do you have for saving money on dental care?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Kalen Smith
Kalen Smith has written for a variety of financial and business sites. He is a weekly contributor for Young Entrepreneur and has worked as a guest blogger on behalf of Consumer Media Network. He holds an MBA in finance from Clark University in Worcester, MA.

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  • Charlie

    I would advise against seeing a dentist that won’t see you due to lack of insurance in any case. A true professional will treat you and work out the terms of payment.

    The best way to save money on dental care is to bear in mind that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Stay away from sugary snacks, brush and floss, and don’t miss your regularly scheduled check-up and cleaning!

    • Anonymous

      I agree Charlie. Also I would be surprised if you would be denied if you can show that you have the means to pay for it. Dental insurance doesn’t cover everything and many people just don’t get the insurance because it seems cheaper. I have a friend who never got dental insurance, but he had a six figure income and told the dentist he was ready to pay six hundreds dollars in cash the moment he walked in. Dentists want your business and as long as you can show you have means to pay I would be surprised if they would turn you away. But you’re right in that you always have other options.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pamela-Kennedy/100001233602883 Pamela Kennedy

      You forgot one important one: to the victims of domestic violence out here: don’t associate with MEN, or even your own family, then you won’t get beaten up and lose your front teeth that way. Sure, right. That’s “prevention” for you.

      • Khjohnswifey1

        i wish i could tripple like your response hun. If it wasnt for the 16 different times my jaws was broken my teeth wouldnt be falling out now.

      • Acall

        Way to hate half the population. You people make me sick.

  • Mrs. Middleclass

    Sadly…again…the middle class pays taxes, taxes and gets nothing. Even worse to be self-employed! Eeking out middle class income, can’t dump de-valued home without great loss, can’t afford insurance, but can’t get any assistance because we are not low-income. Best not to work so hard, file bankruptcy or let the teeth rot. Nice choices.

  • megscole64

    I’d also recommend paying the money for checkups. Most dentists will negotiate a cash payment plan and it can save a LOT of money in prevention.

    It’s VERY hard to find individual dental insurance that is affordable. Aflac actually has four different levels of dental policies available to people who need insurance. (And yes, I am an Aflac associate, but unless you’re in Washington State I can’t sell you anything.) It’s VERY affordable – the basic plan starts around less than $20 a month.

    Anyway…I go to the dentist twice a year and it really is important – it can affect the rest of your health as well if you don’t keep up with maintenance.

    • Anonymous

      I agree as well. Prevention is definitely the cheapest way to go. It will also save you the pain and misery of a major surgery and the time you would spend out of work. Checkups won’t save you from all conditions (such as an impacted wisdom tooth) but they will definitely prevent many things.

  • http://www.animalsdinosaursandbugs.com/The-Future.htm Peter Legrove

    I was in Guangzhou China for their big trade fair and I broke a tooth so I got a translator to take me to a dentist. In China the dentist is part of the hospital so you go to a hospital not a dentist clinic. They just took me to an ordinary hospital not a dentist hospital and there was a very big dentist hospital over the road from my hotel. The dentist had a phd in dentistry and he was good. He spoke a little English. In China you pay first that is the way they do it. I can’t remember how much it cost but it was next to nothing. They don’t use silver fillings they use some white stuff. he wanted to change a few of my fillings. Anyway it was very good now I only go to the dentist in China.

  • Dr Joe

    The American public has been believing in “Dental Insurance” along with the Tooth Fairy for far too long. By its very nature, the need for dentistry is not insurable and what passes for “Dental Insurance” is really reduced service coupled with limited access to care with a guaranteed profit to the insurance company. The economic reality is that “Dental Insurance” trades your $1 of premium for $.65 worth of care. The only real Dental Insurance is getting an electric toothbrush, using it and flossing a few time a week to keep you out of the dental office for the treatment of a preventable disease.

    • Kalensmith

      Thank you doctor. We appreciate your advice and you taking the time to share with your readers.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mike.saboro Mike Saboro

      Sort of get your point, but as an American with Dental insurance, I would disgree. Dental insurance has the same shortcoming as regular Medical insurance. Both cause prices to inflate because insurance companies reimbursement rates are 50% of billed rate. docors continue to increase rates in order to get better reimbursement rates……so where doe that leave cash paying customers……getting billed at the full rate that those with insurance pay on 50% of.

  • charoxzen

    Thank for this post.

  • http://smilereef.com/ childrens dentist

    Some of the local dentists do volunteer their time to take out teeth for people with no insurance or you can go to community health centers in you case because they care for you even if you have no health insurance.

  • Grannylebouef36

    I am looking for a cheap Dentis I am singal and I broke my two front teeth and they want me to pay 50000to fix them I don’t have that kind of money I know they have a Dentis out their that would help people like us so if anybody know of someone please please let me know

    • Grannylebouef36

      Someone help me

    • Grannylebouef36

      Someone help me

    • Peg

      I have broken teeth too and a quick fix that no one will notice is the Imako beads. Clean the broken tooth area, then apply gorilla super glue and I take 3-5 beads and place them in a spoon and then slowly place it in boiling water until the beads turn clear (this is plastic when it hardens and looks exactly like teeth! I have been doing this for some time now, because my bridge fell out and a tooth cracked and I couldn’t afford to get a new one. I’m a teacher and need to have teeth in front of students. I also take the back of spoon and place it in hot water to smooth down the tooth if it did not come out right. Believe me, this dries to a clear hard plastic and will last at least a week. This is the only alternative I could find that works.

  • DARK CLOUD

    I have the most pathetic dental situation you will EVER hear of. You will love and appreciate your life after having read about my dilemma. Due to an imperative medication I MUST have, my teeth have literally started rotting at the ROOTS (mostly my top & lower back chewing teeth). (Wish I could PROVE it and SUE the manufacturer). I don’t get cavities like NORMAL people (in the actual tooth itself)- NO! I get them starting in the gum line, which is more expensive and ALWAYS requires crowns & root canals.

    Not only THAT, but I have NO income, am living with relative whom I can’t stand, am disabled (yet still in process of GETTING disability due to no $ for lawyer), have both medical AND mental issues- not to mention severe depression due to my situation, have former unpaid bills, car has over 200,000 mi and is about to bite the dust, and far FAR more. My life SUCKS and now my last dental visit gave me estimate of needing about $10,000 of dental work done. Lovely. I’ve already HAD several thousands of dollars worth of work in the last 5 years, when I was married and DID have dental insurance. It only paid for maybe 1 procedure a year… so my teeth had to wait their turn until the next year came and the allotted insurance allowance turned over again. By the way, even the BEST of dental insurance plans (even those through companies) are inferior and don’t pay/cover nearly enough if you are one of the extremely unfortunate like me and need several thousands of dollars of work each YEAR. That’s how fast my teeth are going downhill. I can get 2 checkups a year, and sure enough there will be new cavities in the making. Unbelievable.

    Nobody will help me either, being unemployed with no income and credit that SUCKS. It’s not happening. I wish there were help for people like me. Oh sure there are poor clinics that make you wait 4-5 months for an appointment. BUT they only do EXTRACTIONS and check-ups, xrays. Now I know why all these people are walking around with rotten or missing teeth!!!!

  • DARK CLOUD

    Continued: So, for ME it’s either book SEVERAL appointments at different charity clinics that do dental, and start getting them PULLED (since none of these free or sliding scale clinics offer to actually SAVE teeth by doing root canals, crowns, etc). Or let the rotting continue hoping that something will miraculously come up which will allow me to actually get the proper dental procedures that I need instead of just getting them PULLED. All the while, risking serious infection and/or heart issues due to the ongoing decay. What a choice, huh? Like I said, now I know the story behind all these people I see walking around toothless. They had no choice BUT to get them pulled. Who can afford an estimate of $1000 PER TOOTH just to ‘save’ it (root canal + crown)? Especially when there’s more than ONE tooth that needs addressing?

    My issue is that my teeth went downhill SO FAST, that there wasn’t enough dental $ allowance annually to cover all of the affected teeth. By the time the year was up and the dental allowance started over, my teeth were worse by then and likely needed MORE expensive procedures done. There was just no way to keep on top of it. The thing is, I had NEVER had issues with my teeth before these last few years…and RARELY had even a cavity! And I have not changed a thing with my dental hygiene. I love (or “loved”) my teeth… I even had BRACES in high school! My mouth is dry at night (I have Sleep Apnea) and my gums are receding now. I wonder if that is contributing?

  • Zinnamongirl

    By the time a person is middle aged, and to the point of a dental crisis, the “prevention” lecture serves as nothing more than a “bend over, you’re about to get totally screwed” red flag. Why do people have missing teeth an neglected dental care? Just check the pay UP FRONT dental bill for the answer. Here the billing person stands in front of you, with two bills. One is for $165.00 to humanely pull your tooth, and the other bill is for $2,500.00 to save the tooth. And that is with dental insurance! Then there is the weeks worth of antibiotic therapy and pain pills, and you’re good go for a few more months. So what are you going to do, what with rent to pay, kids to feed … Like people who can shell out $2,500.00 up front per tooth – wouldn’t already be doing that! I read that the first thing most people do, when they win the lottery, is to go to the dentist for that million watt smile. Duh!! Everything hinges on that smile! Oral health is a crucial part of overall psychological and physical health, and should be covered by health insurance, in the same manner as health insurance. Why is it that health insurance will cover the cost of open heart surgery, yet dental insurance only covers basically … squat. Especially since poor dental health and associated low grade infections, will lead to heart attacks. If you’re battling cancer, nobody will lecture you about having been a smoker for 40 years.

    • overitall9742

      You are so right on!!
      This country is so backwards.
      They put this sugar substitute in all the food except the organic food.
      And who the hell can afford that crap.
      I have no insurance and I used to be a dental assistant. I know about good hygiene. But do to the economy I have to work as a bartender to make ends meat.
      $10.00 hour as a dental assistant here in Florida is a joke.
      I am currently suffering from 3 infections.
      And just paid off a care credit card over 13,000.00
      Wth
      Bad genetics? Or bad country putting crap in our food?

    • Guest

      This is so true! Very well said.

    • MizHead

      Wow you hit it on the nose. I am on a chemo drug and a steroid, my teeth are really ruined from them. I have dental insurance but other then xrays, might as well not even have it. They wanted up front 1780.00 to drill and fill one two and put a partial crown on it and the one next to it, up front. Yeah right… now I am lucky to have 4 good teeth in my mouth, I am up most nights hurting with my teeth and my RA. Can’t find any help. Maybe if I was in jail or a pet in a animal shelter I could. Good for the pets… :(

  • fooked

    unfortunately lower middle class people suffer the most as usual.We make too much to qualify for any financial breaks so we end up putting off dental care until we are in bad pain and put the money on a card hoping we can pay it back somewday
    …but gotta love that the poor get free dental care and criminals whenever they need it

    • Nygi

      Well that is BS, I am lower income and I do get their “free dental care” all they pay for is pulling teeth, other than that I am S.O.L.

    • Alisher Y.

      Where did you get the idea that the poor get free dental care? I am poor and I get absolutely nothing for free, including dental care. I went to a state clinic once for extraction hoping to get it done at low cost. Since I work full time (even min wage), I was charged a full price ($50) for consultation. I could probably get a free consultation with a private dentist. Anyhow, I got barked at by an incredibly rude dentist who basically told me to go to dental surgeon since the state clinic doesn’t do surgical extractions. Total waste of money. Once I applied for food stamps. Again, I got denied because apparently being single and working full-time for pennies makes you ineligible for food stamps. I never got anything free from the government. You probably watch too much Fox News and got brainwashed into believing that the poor get all the freebies and live in luxury. Think twice before posting something stupid.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mike.saboro Mike Saboro

    Dentists who get reimbursed via insurance only get 35% of the billed amount with the paitent making up the other 20-50% depending on the procedure. So if I am a CASH paying patient, I want to pay the same rate of the person on insurance. For example, if a filling is $100 and hte paitent pays $20 as part of their co-pay and the insurance company pays $30 for a total of $50, then as a cash paying customer, I want to pay $50. And actually, the dentist is making more from the cash paying customer as there is no insurance billing overhead and delay in accounts receiveable. Dentist that market same rate for CASH customers as insurance patients would attract more customers.

    • RMCDANNELL

      Your not taking into consideration that the dentists are in the insurance plans because the insurance company gives them all the patients they want. So I don’t feel sorry for the dentist’s, we need to pray for them to have a heart and help those of us thst can not afford to have dental services. I’m disabled and my medication has ruined my teeth to the point the infecoins are making me more ill and I can not find 1 dentist that will allow me to make payments with a signed contact. I pray that my Heavenly Father keeps me safe and does not allow me to die because dentist wants the mighty dollar (which I’m Willing to make payments ). I gave children that need me . Is there anyone out there that can help? I once had beautiful teeth and worked as a dental assistant. Until medications that doctor’s gave me ruined them. I know how a dental office works. Dentists that have been in practice a long time can afford to help those less fortunate. Please help,

  • http://www.digimaxdental.co.uk/ dental website design

    mMay be unavoidable, you can minimize the likelihood and cost of most problems by using preventative care practices.

  • cindy

    I am on a chemo drug and a steroid, my teeth are really ruined from them. I have dental insurance but other then xrays, might as well not even have it. They wanted up front 1780.00 to drill and fill one two and put a partial crown on it and the one next to it, up front. Yeah right… now I am lucky to have 4 good teeth in my mouth, I am up most nights hurting with my teeth and my RA. Can’t find any help. Maybe if I was in jail or a pet in a animal shelter I could. Good for the pets… :( I always pray [I know you’re not suppose to pray for money] to win the lotto big time so I could open a dental fund to help people like myself who fall thru the cracks, that can’t afford to pay out of the pocket, or don’t qualify for government help. I know how it feels. I wish I could get celebs interested in doing a benefit for a dental fund for people like us. Sorry to all of you who have to suffer, I know the pain.

  • John

    It is just beyond belief how middle class families such as mine are treated. I’m not looking to be treated as a movie star or receive a movie star’s smile. My wife and I are just trying to receive essential care that we both need but even that is way out of reach. Something really needs to be done.

  • http://www.facebook.com/TheRobology13 RoBoLoGy

    Very informative article, exactly what I was looking for, thank you!

  • http://www.newlywonted.tumblr.com Hayley Reed

    Hey! Want free dental care? Get arrested for a drug related crime and choose drug court over jail time. ALL DENTAL WORK IS 90% OFF WITHOUT INSURANCE! Kiss those meth-teeth goodbye!

  • Alana Komer

    Is there nothing for ppl in South Carolina?? I have been searching off and on for the last year and can not find help anywhere!

  • Sunny555

    There is absolutely nothing if you are uninsured and have no money and need certain services, like that of an oral surgeon. I have three infections, an abcessed tooth, need several root canals partial or crowns, and could in time become sick from these infections. These infections could cause serious health problems and even end up being fatal if left untreated. I need thousands of dollars worth of dental work and at present have no way to get it, although I am pursuing trying to barter. If I can last a few more years it is possible I might be able to go abroad and get dental care but right now I don’t even have the ability to do that. I hope that eventually I will be able to afford it, but don’t see that being a reality anywhere in the near or mid future. I once waited 24 hours in line , sleeping on the cement floor in a holding area while it was freezing cold out and raining, to get access to a mercy dental mission. The next morning i was told they didn’t do those kinds of root canals.

    I am waiting day by day with this abcess knowing it could flare up at any time and Iw ill have no way to address it.

    Other countries have solved these issues with the health care system but it will never happen in this country for political reasons. If it does it will be a long time down the line. Shame, shame, shame on us that we allow this to happen in our country. It’s an embarrassment and a disgrace.

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