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Is there Financial Aid for Senior Dental Care?

by Dr. Joshua Davidson, Senior Dental Care Expert
December 24, 2012

Question: My grandmother gets a fixed income every month and cannot afford to pay the dentists’ bills. Is there financial aid possible for senior dental care?

Answer: Paying for dental services can be difficult for those on fixed incomes. Unfortunately, the Medicare structure does not pay for basic dentistry for seniors. Preventive and restorative services (fillings, dentures) are not covered. But, the good news is that each state has dozens of Community Health Centers and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) funded both by the federal government and state taxes. The care at these clinics is excellent and often have “sliding fee” for payment. Based on one’s income, the bill for care can be reduced up to 100%, but there will likely be a small co-payment of approximately $10. The link to these clinics can be found at http://bphc.hrsa.gov/. Type in your zip code at the top right of this website to find a dental clinic near you. Some clinics may offer a payment plan for the treatment. 

If you are in a larger city that has a dental school, fees for dental services are often half of the cost of services from a private practice dentist. Private practice dental offices might also provide a payment plan for seniors, but the fees are generally higher than public health clinics.

I would say avoid a “health care credit card”.  Public television recently aired a Frontline episode entitled “Dollars and Dentistry”.  The segment addressed the pros and cons of corporate dentistry and how the bills are paid. Large practice management dental offices (such as Aspen) might offer a credit card to those who cannot pay or are low income. These cards have very high user fees and interest rates. Seniors must be very careful when choosing to pay for dentistry using one of these credit cards. Have a friend/family member come along to a dental office to be a second set of ears listening to the financial options.

Most important is that seniors keep up with dental cleanings. Once or twice a year is optimum to keep teeth in great shape and address any major problems. Cleanings are affordable and provide patients with expert care.

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Joshua Davidson is a 2011 graduate of the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health. He simultaneously received his Masters Degree in Public Health. He currently works at the Chippewa Falls Dental Center in Chippewa Falls, WI focusing on issues of geriatric dental care.

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