How to Find Dental Schools for Affordable or Free Dental Care

dental student learning how to clean teeth with dentist

Trying to find out how to get free dental care? Yes, it’s possible. Many people choose to go to dental schools for free dental work or at least significantly reduced treatment costs. While you might have some hesitations about going to dental schools for free dental treatment, rest assured that the clinical care the students provide is being supervised by highly experienced general and specialty licensed dentists there in the room with them. And in most cases, the students already have a bit of experience (from working on each other) before they see people like you as a patient.

How To Become A Patient At A Dental School

1. Find a school that expects patients.

The first way to find local dental schools that take patients is to visit your State Board of Dental Examiners website. Every state has a licensing and credentialing board that oversees both dentists and dental schools. On the website, you’ll be able to look up a list of all credentialed dental schools in the entire state. Depending on where you live, you might want to consider looking in neighboring states based on how far you’re comfortable traveling for treatment.

2. Get on the list.

Second, call the dental school closest to you and let them know that you are a patient who would like to receive treatment at their facility. Keep in mind that it may take several days, weeks, or months to get in for an appointment. They might even put you on a waiting list. When you call will play into how quickly you see a dental student, as most schools follow traditional semester scheduling for their coursework.

3. Get free or low-cost dental care.

Thirdly, complete the intake process. Since dental students provide free and reduced-price dental work, there is a bit of a screening process that takes place. Typically, you’ll go in for an examination, X-rays, and a treatment plan workup. At this point, they will know which treatments you need and which students need to perform those procedures for a grade. Depending on your care plan, they will schedule you for each of those procedures on a separate date. Yes, this can be a time-consuming process and require multiple appointments. But it’s one of the best ways to get reduced or free dental care near you.

Remember, you can also receive teeth cleanings, oral cancer screenings, periodontal evaluations, periodontal therapy, and X-rays from dental hygiene schools. Like dental schools, hygiene programs are also listed on your dental state board website. Sometimes hygiene schools are in the same location as dental schools; other times, they are completely separate institutions.

Find a Dental School Near You

The map below is a list of all accredited dental schools in the united states. Most dental schools offer some type of free dental services program but you will have to call to find out more information.

Top Rated Dental Schools & Hygiene Programs 

There are currently 70 accredited (Commission on Dental Accreditation) dental schools in the United States. Some states have more than one; others have none at all. If you’re more of a visual person, you might find this map (above) of US dental schools easier to locate one near you, as opposed to combing through your state dental board website.

You can also look up dental hygiene schools near me to find a Bachelor's or Associate’s degree program in your area offering preventative care for all ages. At the time of writing this, there are currently 112 dental hygiene schools in the US.[1]

Top 10 Dentirisy Programs In the United States

  1. University of Michigan School of Dentistry
  2. University of California, San Francisco School of Dentistry
  3. Harvard School of Dental Medicine
  4. University of North Carolina Adams School of Dentistry
  5. New York University College of Dentistry
  6. University of California, Los Angeles School of Dentistry
  7. University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine (Philadelphia)
  8. University of Washington School of Dentistry (Seattle)
  9. Columbia University College of Dental Medicine (New York City)
  10. Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine

What Dental Services Do Dental School Or Hygiene Programs Offer? 

Dental Schools

Most programs offer all or most dental procedures and services, including:

In some cases, you may even be able to complete more complex treatments like dental implant placement or cosmetic veneers.

Dental schools that take patients often have to spread appointments out based on their class schedules, which procedures students are currently working on, and the complexity of the case. It’s important to know that the tradeoff for getting low-cost or free dental work may be a bit more of a time investment on your part. But if that doesn’t matter, you’re in luck; you can save hundreds to thousands of dollars on dental treatments by choosing to have your care completed at a local dental school. These institutions typically don’t take dental insurance or offer payment plans, so if the costs are reduced you may need to be able to pay upfront for the procedure.

Dental Hygiene Schools

Dental hygiene students provide preventative care services such as:

Dental hygienists also take X-rays and perform screenings for oral cancer, tooth decay, and gum disease. If you need a deep cleaning but are worried about the cost, you can normally get low-priced or free periodontal therapy at a dental hygiene school. Even if you do have to pay for treatment, it’s typically less than half the price of what you’ll find in a traditional dental office.

How To Get Free Dental Care

If you’re trying to figure out how to get free dental work, the number one rule is to be patient. Unfortunately, waiting isn’t always a great idea, especially if you have something major going on like an abscessed tooth or large cavity. While you probably won’t get a free emergency exam, you can typically schedule a visit with a dental school within a month or two. Chances are, you’ll be put on a waiting list by the dental school and they will call you as they have openings. So, trying to hold off on anything that needs urgent attention will wind up backfiring (meaning you’ll either experience an emergency, unnecessary pain, or wind up with more expensive treatment needs than you initially required.)[2]

For someone who isn’t already in touch with a dental school, is on a waiting list, or can’t finance their treatment for whatever reason, it’s best to look into community dental clinics. Keep in mind that you may need to provide proof of residency or income, depending on the type of charity organization responsible for opening the free dental clinic.

My local dentists come together on the same day once a year to offer free dental clinics, be sure to mark that day on your calendar and wake up early that morning to get in line. You might be waiting for a few hours, but the care provided is almost always 100% free.

Other Affordable Dental Care Options

If you’re not anywhere near dental schools for free dental work, you can also look into free dental clinics in your area. Some are income based; others are not. Occasionally you’ll also see local dentists come together to open pop-up one-day free dental clinics to serve families in their community. Typically, these resources are available on a first-come, first-served basis, so you have to get there pretty early in the morning.

Additionally, they tend to offer very basic care like exams, extractions, fillings, and dentures, but not anything complex like crowns or bridges. Remember, it’s ok to complete some treatment at a dental school and the rest with your general dentist.

1. Discount Plans 

Maybe you live nowhere near a dental school or the one in your area doesn’t offer free dental treatment. If you need flexible payment options, it’s also worth looking into a dental discount plan. Depending on the type of program you join, your membership fee typically includes dental benefits like exams, teeth cleanings, X-rays, fluoride, and discounts on all other treatments. Some discount plans are accepted nationwide, while others are private membership options available in specific dentist’s offices in your area.

Higher-end treatments like crowns or wisdom tooth removal may be more affordable if you’re part of a dental membership plan, depending on the level of discount it includes.

Dental discount plans are not dental insurance but you can save just as much on dental services. Dental savings plans help offset up to 60% off the costs of dental services. Get a discount dental plan here and save!

2. Government Program

Government aid programs can help reduce the cost of medically necessary dental care, particularly for young children and retirees. Typically, programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP have limited dental coverage, it does cover basic services like exams and dental cleanings, or sometimes even dentures and extractions. Children who qualify for Medicaid coverage and have complex bite abnormalities may also be able to receive orthodontic treatment.[3]

Unfortunately, finding a dental provider near you who accepts Medicare, Medicaid, or CHIP can sometimes be challenging. Or if they do accept these government plans, the appointment options are typically more limited. It’s often easier to visit dental schools for free work if that’s an option in your area.

3. State Resources 

In addition to dental schools in your state, you can also look up special programs that serves community health centers like foster families, the Indian Health Service (IHS), or states with mid-level dental therapist practitioner schools or active dental therapists, such as those in AZ, CT, ME, MI, MN, NM, NV, OR, and VT. These mid-level providers are similar to a nurse practitioner in medicine, providing services beyond that of dental hygiene in underserved and Innuit populations, including those in AK, ID, MT, and WA.

Most states also provide limited emergency dental services for anyone over the age of 21, while some states offer comprehensive services.

The American Dental Association also lists additional affordable dental care options.[4]

Clinical Trials

Occasionally you’ll see people receive free medical or dental care—and even monetary compensation at times—by taking part in a clinical trial. Most clinical trials will be available at learning institutions, such as a dental school, or in a private dental practice as part of a sponsorship with the manufacturer of a specific product. In dentistry, clinical trials are often few and far between, so it may be more like “the luck of the draw” to find out that you qualify for one, meet the criteria, and then receive free dental treatment related to that service. While it’s possible to look up clinical trials and call the clinic offering them directly, it’s difficult to know if you qualify without first completing a comprehensive examination process.[5]

Finding Dental Schools That Do Dental Work For Free

One of the best places to get free dental work is with dental students at your nearest dental school. You can also visit hygiene schools for cleanings and preventative care. Just know you’ll probably have to wait a month or longer for an appointment, and might get put on a waiting list. But if you’re not in pain and there’s no rush, dental schools are one of the best places to go for free dental care.

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