After serving their country at home or abroad, veterans looking for dental care may wonder if Veteran Affairs (VA) covers dental care or if other options are available to help pay for dental work. While daily oral hygiene must be maintained each and every day, seeing a dentist at least twice a year will help keep your mouth healthy by catching issues early and by removing hardened plaque called calculus that can harbor bacteria.
Depending on your specific qualifying criteria, you may be able to receive veteran dental benefits that cover the cost of dental care. If you do not qualify, there are other financing options to help you pay for dental care so you can get the treatments and cleanings you need.
Understanding the Importance of Post-Service Dental Care
Once you are discharged from the service, maintaining oral health is crucial to avoid negative consequences such as tooth decay or gum disease. Especially if you were deployed for long periods of time, your oral health may have suffered due to:
- Lack of access to preventative dental care
- Fatigue from long working hours
- Developing habits like drinking energy drinks or smoking
To ensure your oral health is on track, have a dentist examine your mouth to check for cavities or periodontal disease. While participation in military service does not increase your likelihood of developing adverse dental health, one study shows that other common factors among military personnel contribute to a higher risk of poor oral health conditions in veterans. These common factors include:
- Older adults
While oral hygiene is important for keeping your teeth and gums healthy, it also plays a surprising role in overall health. When harmful bacteria is allowed to accumulate in your oral cavity, inflammation from your gums can enter your bloodstream and spread to the rest of your body, creating an increased risk of harmful conditions far beyond the mouth, such as:
- Heart disease
Good oral care, however, reduces the amount of inflammation in your body and lowers your risk of these conditions. With over two decades of supporting research, the Mouth-Body Connection shows that keeping up with your oral care is a crucial part of living a healthy life.
Overcoming Dental Care Fears, Anxiety, and PTSD
The need for regular dental care is crucial for all veterans, but especially those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), who have a higher rate of oral and dental issues. Dental care and treatment fears are also ten times more prevalent in veterans with PTSD.
To ease your dental anxiety, a few tips to help you get the dental care you need are:
- Take a family member or friend with you
- Schedule your appointment on a day when you don’t have a full schedule
- Choose an appointment time earlier in the day so you do not have to worry about it all day
- Discuss your anxiety with your dentist prior to your appointment
- Bring headphones for calming music in the waiting room and during the exam
- Ask your dentist for sedation options that are appropriate for your situation
- Do not arrive at your appointment too early
If you feel like PTSD or other anxieties are making it impossible to function daily or even deter you from going to the dentist, resources like The Wounded Warrior Project can provide free mental health services to help you cope with your anxiety.
VA Dental Benefits: Your Support System
Unlike VA medical benefits, VA dental care benefits are quite rare. Only 4.5% of the veteran population qualifies for regular dental benefits through the VA. By understanding who qualifies for VA dental care, you can determine if you fall into that category. To qualify, you must fit into at least one of the following:
- Your disability must be 100% connected to military service
- You must have been a prisoner of war
- You must be compensated for a service-related dental disability, having a 100% disability rating, excluding temporary ratings
If you qualify for VA dental benefits, this means you qualify for any needed dental care, such as:
- Regular preventative exams
- Fillings or crowns
- Needed oral surgeries
To apply for VA dental visits to ensure you take advantage of all the oral care available, fill out the VA dental care benefits application.
If you do not qualify for regular dental benefits, you may be eligible for a one-time dental exam if you apply within 180 after you are discharged from the military following active duty.
VA Dental Clinics
VA dental clinics specialize in treating veterans and have experience with PTSD and dental anxieties that their patients may suffer from. Because they are connected with the VA healthcare system, they are often at the same location as other VA healthcare services. This can make benefits especially convenient because everything is located in one place.
VA dentists are highly trained and stay updated on the latest pain control techniques so you feel as little pain as possible during your appointment.
Other Affordable Dental Care Options
If you are among the majority of veterans who do not qualify for dental care benefits, you still have options to help you pay for the dental care you need.
VA Dental Insurance
You can apply for VA dental insurance at a reduced cost. While you have to pay for your premium and co-pays at your dental visits, you can get the dental care you need to keep your mouth healthy while not having as high of an out-of-pocket cost. While terms vary throughout the U.S., VA dental insurance covers services like:
- Emergency dental care
- Preventative care
- Restorative care
- Dental surgery
To qualify for the VA dental insurance program, you must be enrolled in VA healthcare. Your spouse or dependent children may also qualify for coverage if you are enrolled in the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the VA (CHAMVA).
Low-cost Clinics or Dental Schools
Charity dental clinics, especially those that cater to veterans, offer dental care for a much lower price, so you can be sure to get the care you need at a price you can afford. For dentists and dental hygienists who are still in training, greatly discounted dental services can be provided for a small set price in exchange for providing experience for the dental students.
Dental Discount Plan
You can find individual dental offices offering an in-house discount dental plan to get incredible discounts on the most common dental treatments. From preventative visits to restorative care like fillings and crowns, you can save a significant amount on each treatment. You can also use your discount plan with your VA dental insurance to pay for co-pays, deductibles, or other out-of-pocket costs.
Dental Payment Plan
If you need dental treatment, but the cost is more than you can afford, ask your dentist about a dental payment plan. This allows you to spread the cost of the procedure out over several months to make it more affordable for you.
Find a Dentist Near You
To find a dentist in your community that offers dental discount plans as well as payment options so you do not have to pay for dental care all at once, use Smile Generation's Find a Dentist tool. Smile Generation connects you with qualified, experienced dentists who will provide you with the caring dental health services you need as a veteran.
In addition, be sure to ask your trusted- Smile Generation dental office about Smile Generation's Serve Days. This special event includes over 900 dental offices around the U.S. that participate in a day of giving free dental care to veterans, as well as others who can not afford regular dental appointments.
- "VA Dental Insurance Program (VDIP)." VA, 9 Nov. 2022, https://www.va.gov/health-care/about-va-health-benefits/dental-care/dental-insurance/
- 'VA Dental Care." VA, 12 Oct. 2022, https://www.va.gov/health-care/about-va-health-benefits/dental-care/
- "Apply for VA Healthcare." VA, 11 Oct. 2023, https://www.va.gov/health-care/apply/application/introduction
- Schindler, David K, Gabriela V Lopez Mitnik, Aida M Soliván-Ortiz, Scott P Irwin, Shahdokht Boroumand, and Bruce A Dye, "Oral Health Status Among Adults With or Without Prior Active Duty Service in the US Armed Forces; NHANES 2011-2014." NIH, 30 Jan. 2021 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10233489/
- "Mental Health Services for Veterans." Wounded Warrior Project, 11 Oct. 2023, https://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/programs/mental-wellness
- Tagger-Green, Nirit, Carlos Nemcovsky, Naama Fridenberg, Orr Green, Liat Chaushu, and Roni Kolerman, "Oral and Dental Considerations of Combat-Induced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)-A Cross-Sectional Study." NIH, 6 June 2022, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9181801/
Smile Generation blog articles are reviewed by a licensed dental professional before publishing. However, we present this information for educational purposes only with the intent to promote readers’ understanding of oral health and oral healthcare treatment options and technology. We do not intend for our blog content to substitute for professional dental care and clinical advice, diagnosis, or treatment planning provided by a licensed dental professional. Smile Generation always recommends seeking the advice of a dentist, physician, or other licensed healthcare professional for a dental or medical condition or treatment.