If you have ever had to pay for dental care out of pocket, you know how expensive it can be. But being uninsured doesn't have to mean going without dental care. One option is to look into getting treated at a local dental school. Dental hygiene schools may also offer supervised, low-cost preventive dental care as part of the training experience for dental hygienists. Just about every dental and dental hygiene school has a clinic that sees patients at reduced cost. In fact, there are thousands of Americans who get their dental care this way. It might be a good option for you too.
Why do they do it?
There are two reasons these schools offer low-cost treatments. One, their students need the experience. And two, schools receive extra grants or tax breaks for providing charity care. Even though the students are gaining valuable skills, they are still offering a necessary service to the community. Without it, many people would have no access to dental care at all.
Is it safe?
Going to a dental school clinic is every bit as safe as going to an experienced dentist or hygienist. By the time a student starts to work in the clinic, he or she has already completed two or three years of course work. These students are usually very knowledgeable about dentistry. They lack only the required hours of practical experience.
Student dentists don't work alone, either. There is always a faculty member nearby, to oversee every step of the process. On the off chance something goes wrong, he or she can step in and take over. This is required by law. Student dentists and hygienists are prohibited from working without supervision.
Also, dental students are held to the same ethical standards that apply to other medical professionals. In other words, you're not a guinea pig. You can expect to receive quality care in a clean and professional environment. In fact, there's no reason to think you'll get anything less.
Are there any drawbacks?
Dental schools generally provide you with high-quality, low-cost treatments. But you need to remember their resources are limited. They sometimes operate on small budgets and only have a few people staffing the clinic at any one time. This could affect you in a number of ways:
- You might be put on a waiting list.
- You might not be able to get highly specialized care.
- You can't get cosmetic procedures, such as tooth-whitening or braces.
- You may not be able to get emergency care.
- Your appointments generally last longer.
- You may have to pay for medicines, x-rays and other extras.
- You may have a different caregiver each visit.
But these drawbacks may just be minor inconveniences compared to the benefits you receive. If you need dental care you can't afford, a school clinic may just be your solution.
Where do I start?
If you know of a dental or dental hygiene school in your area, the easiest thing to do is contact the clinic directly. Ask how you can qualify for care. The clinic may require you to complete an initial exam to determine your needs. Then you may be scheduled for a series of appointments. Don't miss any of them, or you could be removed from the program.
And if there is no school nearby? It still might be worth your time to find one farther away. If you can get thousands of dollars worth of care at low cost, the drive might be worth it. Money spent on gas and food might still only be a fraction of what you would have spent otherwise. But that's something only you can decide.
Created on 08/17/2009
Updated on 08/17/2009
- University of Mississippi School of Dentistry. New patient information.
- University of Pennsylvania School of Dentistry. Dental school clinics - patient information.
- Formicola AJ, Myers R, Hasler JF, et al. Evolution of dental school clinics as patient care delivery centers. Journal of Dental Education. 2006;70(12):1271-1288.
- National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Finding low-cost dental care.