Home » City Guide »

Free & Cheap Dentists in the Bay Area

Just because you broke a crown doesn’t mean you need to break the bank getting the dental care you need.
By - posted 8/8/2011 8 Comments

A patient asked the dentist, “Isn’t it nasty to have your hands in someone’s mouth all day?”

The dentist replied, “I just think of it as having my hands in their wallet.”

Okay, it’s a joke but going to the dentist can cost a bundle. Not only that but there’s very little some can do to nurse a sore tooth all on their own; dentists are a painful necessity. To top it off, most health insurance plans will cover medical but won’t cover optical and dental care.

Here we cover options for if you need dental work but have no insurance & limited resources:

[ Cavities filled for a third to half the price at this chain ]

For risk takers, the cheapest way to get dental work remains south of the border in Tijuana, where you’ll pay a fraction of the cost ($200 for $2,000 of work is not uncommon – road trip, anyone?)

But if you’d rather stay local (and keep your survival rate above 50%) the regular city clinics just can’t afford to pay for our dental care (except for a few days a year when they provide pro-bono treatment for the homeless). In fact, health care for vision and dental are often the first to go when employers and government want to cut back on coverage.

Still, there’s a chain with four Bay Area locations that can be flexible with payment plans and take folks without insurances. We’ve checked and they are usually a third to half the price of regular dentists. On Market Street and in the Mission, there’s offices of the Western Dental chain; it’s pretty cheap but they also make you feel cheap (and going to the dentist is bad enough). There’s another office in Berkeley where the dental hygienists have been known to be a little friendlier.

The way it works is that on the first visit you pay $99 to cover all x-rays, exams and consultations for the next 12 months. If you go with your child or significant other, it’s cheaper at $114 for both of you. After that, you pay for what service you need. A simple teeth cleaning is $86 (Get those every six months and you just found yourself the cheapest way to have good dental health: don’t let your teeth degrade).

Need more? It gets pricier. A cavity filling starts at $102 for the ugly metal ones or $134 to get the white composite ones. Root canal are not only painful but expensive at $464 and up. But that’s still cheaper than many places.

Now, once your costs get up to the $200 mark, you can start asking about their dental plan: you put a down payment down of 15% to 50% of total costs (all depends on your credit score; still, no one gets declined) and then pay around $50 a month from there on out.

– WESTERN DENTAL: 1282 Market Street or at 2813 Mission Street in San Francisco. In the East Bay, there’s one at 115 Berkeley Square in Berkeley and 1530 Broadway in Oakland. Call them at 1-800-57WESTERN

[ No hurry? Dental schools also have discounted services to offer  ]

Another option is to access some of the area’s teaching dental schools and universities. They end up being 30 to 40% less expensive than a typical Bay Area private dental office.

In trendy Pacific Heights, there’s the University of Pacific Dental School. Because it’s a dental school and you get treated by dental school students it’s a lot cheaper than most places. It might be a slight bit more money than at WD but the service takes a big upswing. They have supervision from accredited dentists plus you get treated by super cool, hip young people (and cute girls too) that you can choose from. You do have to work around their school schedule a little. A reader pointed out this truth: it takes time. Because every step has to be checked and authorized by a teaching dentist, there’ll be pauses that stretch out the visit.

At the University of Pacific, to become a patient you call (415) 929-6501 and make an appointment. The initial screening fee is just $28 to get seen by a dentist but they tack on an extra $79 to do x-rays if you need them (bring them with you if you have x-rays).

Also check out UCSF’s School of Dentistry which has two offices in the city. Fees there are about two thirds of private practice rates and they make no qualms about why: “Treatment in the student clinics takes approximately twice as long as it does in the private sector.”

X-Ray Tip from FunCheap: The SF City College Dental Assisting Program does FREE x-rays during their school semesters, which does not include summer time. Sadly, that’s all the dental work they do. They are taking appointments stating in mid-February. Reach them at (415) 239-3479)

– UNIVERSITY OF THE PACIFIC SCHOOL OF DENTISTRY: 2155 Webster Street at Sacramento in SF. Call them at 415.929.6501.

– UC SAN FRANCISCO SCHOOL OF DENTISTRY: With two center at 707 Parnassus Avenue (call 415.476.1891) and at 100 Buchanan Street (call 415.476.5608) in SF.


[ Broke but need a check-up? They takes patients through a lottery system ]

On Mondays and Wednesdays, some kind dentists donate their time to the Berkeley Free Clinic’s Dental Section to help poor folks get the dental care they need, for free. Of course, that’s a popular proposition so they set up a lottery for first-time clients.

This isn’t first-come, first-serve. You show up at 3 pm and put your name in a jar at the front desk. There is no guarantee that you will be seen, but there is a chance: names are pulled as they can do move through people. Lottery closes at 6 pm. If you are chosen that day, you get an dental exam and then they give you an appointment with no more lotteries. So it’s a bit of a process but it’s free. Besides, they do handle quite a few things: exams & check-ups, x-rays, cleanings, both plastic and metal fillings and extractions.

Now, if it’s teeth whitening on the cheap you’re looking for, we suggest $1.49 bottle of hydrogen peroxide (dye your hair with it while you’re at it). If it’s emergency dental work you need, the Berkeley clinic suggests the fine folks at the dental care unit of the Highland Hospital in Oakland.

– BERKELEY FREE CLINIC DENTAL SECTION: 2339 Durant Avenue & Ellsworth, just south of the UC Berkeley. Call them at 1-800-6 CLINIC

– HIGHLAND HOSPITAL DENTAL CARE UNIT: 1411 East 31st Street in Oakland.

Know any good deals on dental care?
Leave us a comment below and share the good health with others!

Tags: , , ,