How to Pay For Dental Care If You Are Poor

Excerpted from the National Institutes of Health

Dental care for the poorPaying for dental care is a concern of many. Not everyone can afford dental insurance and not all employers offer dental benefits. Below is information about paying for dental care if you have insurance, and paying for dental care if you need financial assistance.

If you have a dental insurance plan:

What’s covered by your dental plan is based on how much your employer pays into the plan. Usual, customary and reasonable charges (UCR) are the maximum amounts that your plan covers. These standards are set by your insurance company. Any portion of a dental bill not covered by your plan is your responsibility.

If you need to finance your dental costs:

Financing may involve the use of a credit card. Make sure you understand what the monthly payment requirements will be before you decide on this option. Typically there are two types of financing offers:

Deferred Interest: Sometimes called “No Interest” plans, these payment plans are more commonly offered by healthcare credit cards. They typically offer a promotional period, usually between six and 18 months, where you won’t be charged interest on your purchase. With these plans, you must pay at least the monthly minimum during the promotional period, if you do not, interest charges will be added to your purchase. Also, if you have not paid off your balance when the promotional period expires, interest charges will be added to your purchase.

Reduced Interest: Sometimes called “Low Interest” plans, these payment plans are typically longer term, often between one and five years. To receive the reduced interest rate on your purchase, you must agree to make a set monthly payment. The agreed upon monthly payment is usually a fixed percentage of your original purchase. Failure to pay at least the agreed upon monthly payment will result in you being charged the full interest rate.

Make sure you understand how credit finance plans work before you decide on a specific plan. Only finance what you can afford, pay on time and make sure you read, fully understand and keep copies of anything you are asked to sign. Take the time to understand your options and obligations and you can improve your financial and oral health.

If you have questions about Medicaid:

Many states significantly limit dental coverage for adults enrolled in Medicaid. States have flexibility to determine what dental benefits are provided to adult Medicaid enrollees. While most states provide at least emergency dental services for adults, less than half of the states currently provide comprehensive dental care. There are no minimum requirements for adult dental coverage.

If you are looking for low-cost or charitable dental care:

Assistance programs vary from state to state. Go to to find available assistance programs. Another possible source of lower-cost dental care is a dental school clinic. Generally, dental costs in school clinics are reduced and may include only partial payment for professional services covering the cost of materials and equipment. Your state dental society can tell you if there is a dental school clinic in your area.

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If you have a dental insurance plan:

Your plan may want you to choose dental care from a list of preferred providers (dentists who have a contract with the dental insurance plan). “Preferred” refers to the insurance companies’ choices. If you choose to receive dental care from outside the preferred provider group, you may have higher out-of-pocket costs.

Specialized Dental Care

If you’re looking to find a dentist you may notice that while most are listed with a “DDS,” some may be listed as “DMD.” They both mean the same thing—your dentist graduated from an accredited dental school. The DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) and DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine) are the same degrees. Dentists who have a DMD or DDS have the same education.

The majority of the 164,000 practicing dentists today are general practitioners. The remainder (about 20 percent) are dental specialists, who have continued on with two or more years of education to earn one of the nine ADA recognized dental specialties.


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