While it is recommended that every child have an established dentist by the age of 1, it can be difficult to afford regular dental cleanings and checkups (or even emergency services) without insurance.
However, there are resources for you and your family that include free or discounted dental care. Most of these services include cleanings and x-rays, as well as treatments such as root canals, cavity fillings and tooth extractions.
Finding discounted or free dental care for your child may seem difficult at first, but consider these resources to get you started.
If you cannot access affordable dental coverage, you may consider turning to Medicaid or CHIP. These are state-run programs that help families get medical and dental coverage for their families. Most Medicaid services are covered for children under the age of 21.
You must apply and meet the income criteria to get this coverage. View the request and requirements here.
Once approved, you can use your coverage at any private dentist who is taking Medicaid. About 43 percent of American dentists accept Medicaid, but be sure to ask before making an appointment for your child.
You can also look here or call (877) 543-7669 (KIDS-NOW) to find Medicaid participating dentists in your area.
On occasion, you may be able to find community dental events in your area where you can access free dental cleanings and exams.
One example is the annual Give Kids a Smile event, where volunteer dentists and hygienists perform free cleanings, screenings, and education.
This community event takes place each February in conjunction with National Children’s Dental Health Month. In 2020, there were 1,500 events across the country.
For future events, check out the Give Kids a Smile website or call (844) 490-4527 (GKAS).
There may also be free dental events at other times of the year in your community. Be on the lookout for information from community clinics, as well as your child’s school. Keep in mind that appointments may be limited, so remember on your phone or calendar when it’s time to sign your child up for services.
Community health clinics run by the Health Resources and Services Administration help provide health care services to those who cannot afford them. Although not widely advertised, the majority of the 1,400 clinics nationwide also offer discounted dental services.
You can find the nearest community health clinic in your area here or call (877) 464-4722 (ASK-HRSA).
All of the services offered in the community clinics are provided by licensed and experienced professionals. Make sure to call ahead as soon as possible, as appointments can be made quickly.
Dental and dental hygienist schools offer discounted dental cleaning and treatment. Not only can this help offset dental costs for your family, it also provides future dentists and dental hygienists with the hands-on training they need to graduate.
Although providers at these schools have not yet completed their training, all services are supervised by experienced and licensed dentists. Plus, unlike community clinics and other events, you may have more appointment options available at dental schools.
Make sure you find out about the costs before your child’s appointment. Click here to find dental schools in your state. You can also find dental hygienist schools by state here if you are looking for basic cleanings and preventative care.
For more in-depth dental care that goes beyond cleanings and x-rays, you may want to consider reviewing ongoing clinical trials.
If eligible, your child may receive free or reduced cost services while participating in critical studies with the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). You can view current trials and registration details here.
It is important to know that clinical trials with NIDCR research specific dental conditions and diseases, and that there are certain eligibility requirements for each study. This option will not cover cleaning and other routine preventative measures.
While dental visits are important, they are only one aspect of your child’s oral health. You can help your child keep their teeth and gums healthy between visits to prevent cavities, gingivitis, and other dental problems.
Start with the following tips:
- Make sure your child receives their toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss free of charge at every dentist appointment.
- Have your child brush their teeth twice a day and make sure they floss at least once a day.
- Use only toothpaste that contains fluoride and teach your child to spit it out and rinse it properly. Also, make sure your child uses a pea-sized amount every time they brush their teeth after the age of 3. Before the age of 3, use a smear or a quantity of rice the size of fluoride toothpaste.
- Monitor your child’s brushing habits until they are 6 to 8 years old. Young children may need help with brushing technique, as well as knowing how to properly spit toothpaste. Also help them with dental floss.
- Reduce your child’s sugar intake. This includes candy and sticky snacks, as well as fruit juices and sugary cereals.
Dental care is an essential part of your child’s overall health, but services can be expensive without dental insurance.
However, there are a range of budget options you can find in your area, including discounted services at dental schools and community clinics, as well as free services at occasional community events. You may also be eligible for Medicaid based on your income.
In addition to free or reduced cost dental care services, you can help improve your child’s oral health through good hygiene practices. Teach your child that taking care of their teeth now can reduce the risk of complications later in life.