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How to Finance Dental Care When You Don't Have Insurance

Christy Bieber
Robin Hartill, CFP
By: Christy Bieber and Robin Hartill, CFP

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Eric McWhinnie
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When you have a problem with your teeth, you often have no choice but to get dental care. Toothaches can be really painful, while missing teeth can impact your appearance in major ways and can even affect job opportunities.

Unfortunately, getting dental care can be really expensive when you don't have dental insurance. If you find yourself in this situation, you're going to need to find a way to pay for the care you need.

To help you out, check out these tips for paying for dental care when you don't have insurance coverage.

Ask a local dental school

You can often find inexpensive dental care at dental schools, even if you don't have insurance coverage.

To find a dental school in your area, search the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Be sure to contact the dental school to find out the services they provide as well as costs and fees, as care at a dental school clinic may not be free. You should also be aware that, depending upon demand for services, there may be a wait before you're able to get the care you need.

Look for a public dental clinic

If you have demonstrated proof of financial need, you could also look into public clinics where dentists perform work for free or on a sliding scale. You can use the Health Resources & Services search tool to find a federally funded clinic near you. Some charitable organizations also offer free or low-cost dental clinics, particularly for children.

Explore discount dental programs

If you already have a problem with your teeth that you need to address, it will likely be too late to get dental insurance to cover your issue. The care you need would probably be excluded due to the fact you have a pre-existing condition. Many dental insurance plans also impose a waiting period of about six months for major procedures.

However, there are dental discount programs you can join even when you are already in need of dental help. Typically with these programs, you pay a small fee, often around $150 a year, to get access to discounted dental services from participating dentists. Delta Dental is one example of a discount program you could consider, but there may be others that operate in your state as well.

Before you sign up for a discount dental program, compare projected costs to what you'd pay if you simply visited your local dentist and requested a cash discount. If you won't save enough to make up for the fee of joining the discount dental program, then it's not worth doing.

Talk with your dentist

Many dentists are willing to offer you discounts if you are able to pay cash since they don't have to hassle with billing your insurance.

Some dentists will also let you work out a payment plan or have in-house financing companies they work with that will provide you with emergency loans. Typically bigger dental practices are more likely than smaller ones to offer these options, so that's worth considering when you choose your dentist.

If your dentist does offer some type of financing, make sure you compare rates and terms with loans you could get on your own -- don't assume that they'll always offer you a better deal.

Consider a personal loan

Even if you're able to get a discount on services or visit a dental clinic, you'll still need to come up with some money from somewhere to pay for your dental care. If you don't have the cash to pay out of pocket even when you've cut costs as much as possible, a personal loan could be the next best alternative.

There are dedicated personal loans that specifically cater to people who need medical or dental services. However, you don't need to restrict yourself to only considering these loans.

You can apply for a personal loan with any lender you want, including online lenders, credit unions, and local banks. Personal loan lenders don't care what you do with the money you borrow, so there's no reason you can't use it for dental care. Looking for just a general personal loan, rather than a medical or dental loan, will give you a wider selection of lenders to choose from.

Taking out a personal loan to pay for dental care can be much better than using a credit card because you can borrow the amount you need for your care up front and will know exactly when you'll pay it back based on your loan terms. You won't get stuck in a cycle where you make minimum payments on credit card debt and where it takes you decades to pay off your dental work.

Most personal loans have around a three- to five-year repayment term, so you'll have plenty of time to pay off even the most expensive dental work with affordable monthly payments. You'll also usually be able to get a much lower interest rate on a personal loan than the standard credit card interest rate. That will make paying for your dental care much less expensive over time.

You should shop around carefully for a personal loan to find one at the lowest rate possible -- remembering that your credit score will affect your rate. Borrow the minimum needed to get your dental work done, and borrow for the shortest time period you can so you're not spending years paying interest.

Most personal loans fund very quickly, so you can find a lender offering good terms and usually have access to the money you need for dental care within a week or less.

Getting dental care can be affordable even without insurance

While coming up with the cash to pay the dentist is undoubtedly a difficult proposition, it's worth doing if you're having pain or are at risk of gum disease, losing teeth, or other serious dental issues. You just need to make sure you shop around to get the most affordable financing so paying to resolve your dental issues doesn't cause you to compromise long-term financial goals.


  • You can look into discount dental plans. Most, but not all, don't have a waiting period before you can use the discounts to pay for care. You can also talk to your dentist about whether they'll let you set up a payment plan. Other options include low-cost clinics, a personal loan, or credit card.

  • Yes, you can use a medical credit card to pay for dental work, but read the fine print. Though many advertise a temporary no-interest period, they'll often charge you deferred interest if you don't pay off your balance in full by the end of the intro period. With deferred interest, you'll be retroactively charged interest for the entire amount you financed instead of just the remaining balance.

  • Health insurance doesn't usually cover dental care. However, if you need care due to an accident or trauma or you need care because you have a medical condition that affects your mouth, health insurance may cover the costs.

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