Affordable dental care options available for those in need

October 19, 2011 4:39:25 PM PDT
According to a recent study, the recession and a high unemployment rate is to blame for many people not visiting the dentist because of the expense. But there are options for affordable dental care.

For those who don't qualify for those low-income programs, many dentists will work with your budget. After talking to several dentists, they say the worst thing you can do is stop visiting the dentist for a routine checkup.

About 1.1 million people in Harris County do not have medical or dental insurance. Viridiana Degante, 19, is one of the uninsured.

She said, "The economy is really bad and we don't have enough money."

But Degante found affordable dental care at the San Jose Clinic in midtown. Last week she had her teeth cleaned for a small fee and now she's getting a crown.

"They have really great service and they are really polite," Degante said.

Dental practice director Estelle Luckenbach explained, "We do fillings, extractions, we do do dentures, we have needs for crowns, limited root canals. We have oral surgeons that work with us."

The mission at San Jose Clinic is to provide quality health care and education to those with limited access. The facility is state of the art, with 16 different work stations all used by licensed dentists and hygienists -- all of them are volunteers.

Dr. John Rollo said, "I think a lot of these people can't afford to get here, much less be able to afford the dentistry."

If you are interested in visiting the San Jose Clinic, you must apply to see if you are eligible. You need to bring in an ID, proof of income and address.

Luckenbach said, "To be a patient here you have to be 250 percent or below the federal poverty guidelines and either be uninsured or under-insured ."

For a family of four, that translates to about $22,000 annually. If you don't meet those requirements, they are other ways you can get help.

Dr. Terri Alani is a member of the Greater Houston Dental Society. She says there are additional programs like CHIP for kids.

"CHIP is the Children's Health Insurance Program, and it's designed for families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid but can't afford private insurance for their children," Dr. Alani explained.

For families on a tight budget, Dr. Alani says you can negotiate with your dentist.

She said, "If a patient is having a difficult time, we want to know about it. We don't want them to neglect their dental needs."

Most dentists are willing to work with you and will discount your fee or offer a short term solution for big problem that works within your budget.

"What I want to preach is that doing nothing is not OK," Dr. Alani said. "The dentist will usually work with you."

The San Jose Clinic is only one of the resources that offer low income patients free or low priced care. Additionally, the dental school branch at University of Texas offers patient care. Patients are accepted based on the needs of the patient and the ability of the teaching programs. But the wait to get in can be months long.