In difficult economic times
, many people may delay visits to the dentist because they cannot afford to pay the accompanying bill. While this plan may seem wise in the short term, neglecting one’s oral health can unfortunately lead to serious health and financial consequences down the road. Those who do not get regular dental cleanings and check-ups put themselves at an increased risk for gum disease and cavities, both of which can lead to pain financially and physically when they eventually need to be treated.
Fortunately, for those who have lost their health insurance or are struggling to make ends meet, a lack of funds does not necessarily mean one’s dental hygiene needs to suffer. Community colleges that have dental hygienist training programs often offer low-cost or even free dental services
Ivy Tech Community College
, located in South Bend, Indiana, is an example of one school with a dental hygiene program that offers free and low-cost services to the public. As the South Bend Tribune
reports, Ivy Tech’s dental clinic has been opened for the past eighteen months.
Patients can expect to pay between $2 and $30 in fees for the dental services they receive, and some services are free. The patients receive care from students who are enrolled in the associate’s degree in dental hygiene program at the community college. The Tribune notes that “Because the hygienists are learning as they work, appointments typically take longer than at a dentist's office — sometimes several hours.”
But some patients may find there is an unexpected benefit to receiving oral care from a dental hygienist in training; because the students must be painstaking as they learn on the job, patients often end up learning more about their teeth and oral anatomy than they would in a normal dental visit.
The dental hygiene students work under the supervision of licensed dentists and faculty from the college’s dental hygiene program.
Lane Community College
in Eugene, Oregon also offers a low-cost dental clinic staffed by students in its dental hygiene associate’s degree program. The program’s website notes that the clinic is open to the general public, but that it gives priority in appointment-booking to adults “who have not had regular preventative dental care.”
The Lane Community College
Clinic can provide dental cleaning, X-Rays, and screening. As with most of these low-cost community college dental clinics, the Lane clinic does not perform every dental service. Patients who require services beyond those that the clinic can provide are referred to a dentist in the community.
Other Community Colleges Offer One-Day-Only Clinics
Many other community colleges across the country offer periodic one-day-only clinics in which children and sometimes adults can get free or low-cost dental care from dental hygienists in training.
For example, Nanticoke, Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County Community Colleg
e recently sponsored a Kids’ Cavity Prevention Day. The event, held as part of February’s National Children’s Dental Health Month, offered children between the ages of three and 16 the opportunity to get a free dental exam, anti-cavity varnish, and pit and fissure sealants, as the Citizens’ Voice
Clinics Limited to Preventative Treatment
For those planning to take advantage of the low-cost or free dental services that community colleges offer, it’s important to bear in mind that in almost all cases, the clinics only perform preventative services. Dental hygienist students in these clinics will usually perform the following services:
· Examine teeth for obvious signs of decay
· Clean and polish teeth
· Provide fluoride treatment to help prevent tooth decay
· Provide instruction in proper brushing and flossing technique
· Provide X-rays (in some clinics)
· Provide nutritional counseling
· Discuss with patient what further dental treatment may be needed
· Provide referrals to dentists in the community who can offer further treatment
Patients should not go to low-cost dental clinics for non-preventative services, such as having a cavity filled or a crown repaired.
However, prospective patients should keep in mind that an ounce of prevention is often worth a pound of cure. Filings, crowns, and other dental work can be very expensive, with or without health insurance, but a good way to reduce the likelihood of needing such work in the future is to get regular preventative dental care in the present.
For those struggling with limited budgets, low-cost dental clinics provide an ideal way to maintain oral hygiene and prevent future dental problems while conserving cash.