How to Find Free or Low-Cost Dental Care for Seniors

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 18, 2021
3 min read

Seniors who rely on Medicare for dental insurance may find that their coverage only extends to emergency medical needs, like pulling a rotting tooth. Medicare doesn’t generally pay for dental care that is considered routine, like cleanings, fillings, or dentures. Learn how to find low-cost dental solutions for seniors that help you save money on dental services.

Medicare’s basic policies – usually called Medicare Part A or Medicare Part B – do not cover routine dental care. However, if you have a Medicare Advantage Plan, your policy may cover routine services for seniors.

Typically, Medicare pays for emergency dental care as it relates to other health conditions. For example, if a tooth is causing infection, Medicare may cover its removal before a major surgery or before a patient begins cancer treatment. While Medicare pays for these emergencies, it will not pay for a replacement tooth, like an implant or dentures.

Many insurance companies offer Medicare supplement plans that pick up charges Medicare doesn’t cover. This often extends to both medical and dental care. Before paying for a supplement, read the fine print and understand: 

  • What services the supplement covers
  • What services are explicitly not covered
  • How much the policy pays for each service
  • What, if anything, you would need to pay for covered services
  • Which providers accept the supplement
  • How to use Medicare and the supplement together
  • Your responsibilities as a patient
  • The terms of the policy

While a supplement may increase your monthly payment, it can help you save money in the long run.‌

Resources for Medicare supplements and other dental policies include:

  • The Dental Lifeline Network of the American Dental Association
  • Your state’s Department of Health
  • Community Health Centers in your area
  • Major insurance companies like Humana or Cigna

If you live near a university or community college, check to see if they offer dental programs. Many curriculums require dental students to gain experience with real patients in order to graduate. As a result, the schools offer low-cost or free dental cleanings for seniors and others in need. You can check the American Dental Association website to see if there is an approved program in your area.‌

Professionally licensed dentists oversee the students in these programs to ensure that you receive high-quality dental care. Since the students are learning, you can expect to spend more time here than you would at a traditional dentist's office. If you need more dental work than the students can provide, the supervisors may be able to recommend other community resources to you.

Organizations like the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) may conduct dental studies in your area. These studies are usually exclusive to people suffering from certain dental conditions. If you have extensive damage that needs work, volunteering for a study is a great way to save money on senior dental care. Search on the NIDCR website to find out about studies in or near your community.

Some dental offices participate in free or low-cost dental care for seniors through state or federally funded programs. Grants and other funding may cover dental expenses for seniors who seek care at specific dental offices. Keep in mind that not all dentists participate in these programs, so you may need to see a different dentist than you usually do.

Your local United Way chapter may have access to other community-based resources. Dental expense assistance for seniors through local programs may be income-based. Depending on how much money you make each month, services may be free or have a small associated fee.

If you served in a branch of the U.S. military at any point in your life, you might qualify for Veteran Affairs (VA) dental assistance. In 2020 the VA helped provide affordable dental care to nearly half a million veterans. Contact the VA to determine your eligibility and apply for dental care benefits.‌

If you’re already enrolled in veteran medical benefits, you may be able to add dental coverage to your policy for a small additional fee each month. Keep in mind that you are not automatically enrolled in dental benefits, and you must complete the qualification process first.