Taking care of your health on the road can be a challenge, especially when you are living the frugal life. Dental health is sometimes even more of a problem, because it’s easy enough to let it slide and put it off until tomorrow. But I remember when we had dental coverage, and we tended to do the same thing, mostly because it was such a hassle to find a dentist taking new patients, figuring out what the copay was going to be and if you could afford it right now, and then going through with it. Let’s face it, most of us would prefer to avoid the teeth doctors, and with all the complications of dental insurance coverage, it’s no wonder that it’s relatively underused compared to medical insurance.
But as the economic slide in a downhill direction continues and people look for low-cost ways to stay healthy, alternatives to expensive and unused health insurance have become more popular. In the case of dental care there’s some good news, because there are a range of options for people with a range of incomes, from those of us having little or no income to those with pensions, retirement and employment income but no dental insurance.
Starting locally (we are in central Illinois at the moment), the district community college here offers 2-year degrees in dental hygiene. As part of this program, Parkland College has a very popular clinic that provides a range of services that a hygienist might feature on their resume, including cleanings, x-rays, periodontal health assessments, and other oral hygiene recommendations. The clinic uses a fixed-rate system, so that anyone can use the services without a lot of questions and verifications. Children under 11 years of age, adults 65 or older, and public assistance recipients pay nothing for the services. While details may vary, similar clinics are to be found all over the country – just search the community colleges in your area for those that offer a similar program.
Another possibility is a local community clinic. Larger populated areas have separate dental and health clinics, while services are combined in smaller areas. Bu they all work basically the same. You go in for treatment, and you are assessed a fee on a sliding scale according to your verified income. Many dental clinics that operate on the community model offer cleanings, fillings, extractions, deals on dentures – almost everything but cosmetic dental work (that means crowns too). Local dentists usually provide services to the clinics, and they usually have a high standard of quality. They also may have waiting lists, so plan ahead and do your homework.
Taking the community college idea a step further into the higher education realm, check to see if there is a professional school of dentistry in your area that offers the DDS degree. These colleges sometimes have a public clinic that offers a full range of dental services, using the students in training as service providers. Fees vary according to the various models, but if you have little or no income they can be free or nearly so.
Finally, a unique program called Dentistry From the Heart offers a free day of services at least once a year, more in some parts of the country. It’s first come, first served, and depending on where you are the lines may be long, but they are completely free and have all necessary services available. Featuring hundreds of events each year in all 49 states, the program is a godsend to those with few resources to get dental care.
The key to these preventive services is to use them as prevention…meaning, don’t wait until the toothache comes to start scurrying around for dental care! Be prepared and catch it early…
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