Affordable Dental Care for Seniors

Staying healthy as you get older means being proactive about your dental care. Unfortunately, Medicare doesn’t cover dental and most employers don’t include dental insurance in retirement packages, which means you’ll probably be paying out of pocket for dental care.

So you might be tempted to skip those regular dental visits. Maybe you think regular dental care is just for kids. Or you have dentures, bridges or dental implants and figure you’re finally done with dental appointments. You might even think that you’ll never be able to afford all the dental work that you need, so why bother seeing a dentist at all?

But no matter whether the teeth in your mouth are natural or replacements, or what condition your smile is in – you really do need to see the dentist regularly. Neglecting your dental health takes a huge toll on body – untreated gum infections and dental decay can cause or worsen chronic health conditions like diabetes, rheumatism, stroke and heart disease. Plus, missing teeth or ill-fitting bridges and dentures can cause chronic pain, interfere with your ability to eat nutritious food, make it difficult to sleep and make it hard to enjoy life.

It’s important to find a way to get the quality dental care you deserve at a price that you can afford. Check out your options below.

If You Can’t Afford to Pay Anything for Dental

If your budget simply doesn’t allow you to see the dentist, look for free care opportunities in your community. A great place to start is Oral Health America’s “Tooth Wisdom” website. Oral Health America is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help seniors get affordable dental care from local dentists, health care clinics and dental schools.

Also check out the Dental Lifeline Network, a national charitable organization that helps older people connect with healthcare providers that have pledged to offer seniors low-cost or no-cost dental care.  To find out more, visit their website.

Medicare and Dental Insurance

Many seniors are surprised to discover that Medicare does not cover dental, unless dental treatment is specifically required as part of a medical procedure. Even then, Medicare will only cover exactly what you need medically and no more.

Medicare does cover:

  • Medically required dental exams prior to getting kidney transplant or heart valve replacement procedures.
  • Dental treatment as required for a jaw disease or injury (such as a fractured jaw).
  • Severe oral infection requiring hospitalization.
  • Dental procedures that must be conducted in the hospital due to an existing and life-threatening medical condition.

If you’re eligible for or receiving Medicare, there are four ways to reduce your dental care costs:

  • A Medigap plan
  • A Medicare Advantage plan
  • Standard dental insurance
  • A dental savings plan

Below we’ll look at the drawbacks and benefits of each type of plan.

Medigap and Medicare Advantage Plans

Medigap is supplementary insurance that covers many of Medicare’s co-pays and co-insurance costs, reducing your out-of-pocket payments. Medigap does not cover dental, but some plans offer dental insurance as an add-on. A “Plan F” Medigap plan, which offers the most extensive coverage, is about $50 per month, and has a deductible of about $2000.

Medicare Advantage plans are private insurance plans available to people who qualify for Medicare. These plans must provide all of all of the services that Original Medicare covers, except hospice care, and typically include coverage for issues that Medicare does not cover, such as dental. A Medicare Advantage plan costs about $30 a month.

Medicare’s website has detailed information on Medigap and Medicare Advantage coverage. When comparing plans on the Medicare site, you can easily find plans that include dental by looking for a blue-colored circle marked with “D.” (Circles with “V” or “H” indicate plans that offer vision and/or hearing coverage.)

You can also call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) or log into your MyMedicare account for more information.

Traditional Dental Insurance

Dental insurance was designed to save people money on preventive dental care – specifically, regular checkups and cleanings. If your teeth and gums are healthy, and your dental care costs tend to be low ($300-$500 annually) dental insurance is a great option. Most dental insurance plans pay 100% of the cost of preventive care, 50% of the cost of basic care (such as a filling or root canal), and 20% of the cost of restorative care (such as dental bridges or dentures).

You can purchase any standalone dental insurance plan that you choose, Medicare doesn’t cover dental so there’s no conflict. Dental insurance costs about $30 a month. But it’s important to remember that dental insurance typically has a deductible of $50-$$75 and an annual spending limit of $1000-$1500. After you exceed the limit, you pay full price out-of-pocket for dental care. Look at the prices below, and you can see that your dental insurance allowance can be exhausted pretty quickly!

Average costs of dental care:

  • Root canal: $700-$900
  • Crown: $1000
  • Dental bridge: $500 – $1200+
  • Dentures: $1275-$2750 per upper or lower denture plate
  • Dental implants: $1,700 per tooth

There is also a waiting period – from 6 months to a year – before your dental insurance will cover the costlier dental procedures such as those listed above. So, if you’ve been holding off on purchasing insurance until the very last minute – sorry, you’re out of luck.

But here’s a tip: if your employer provides dental and you’re retiring soon, look for a plan that waives the waiting period if you’ve had dental coverage within 30 days of joining the new plan. And make sure to get all of your dental care done ASAP before retiring – new insurance plans often don’t cover pre-existing conditions or dental work in progress.

When you consider those annual maximum limits, deductibles and waiting periods, you may decide that dental insurance isn’t the best choice for you. In fact, financial experts like Suze Orman suggest that seniors should join a dental savings plan.

Dental Savings Plans for Seniors

Dental savings plans, also known as dental discount plans, are an affordable alternative to dental insurance.

To join a plan, you pay an annual membership fee (plans start at $79.99) to gain access to a network of participating dentists and dental specialists that give plan members discounts of 10%-60% on dental care.

You pay the discounted fee to a participating dentist right when you get treatment. No waiting for reimbursements or approvals – and no spending limits either. You can use your plan to save on dental care as often as you wish. And if you’ve been waiting to get care for a long-term dental problem or experience a dental emergency – here’s some great news: dental savings plans activate quickly (with 72-hours of joining the plan). As soon as your plan is activated, you immediately start saving on your dental care. No waiting!

Everyone qualifies for a dental savings plan. There are no age, financial or health restrictions. And many of the plans, such as those on Dentalplans include savings on vision and hearing care, and discounts on prescription medications among other health services.

Remember: no matter what your financial situation is, you can’t afford to skip seeing the dentist! Find out more about dental discount plans at Dentalplans, or by calling (833) 212-8331.

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Since graduating from Harvard with an honors degree in Statistics, Jeff has been creating content in print, online, and on television. Much of his work has been dedicated to informing seniors on how to live better lives. As Editor-in-Chief of the personal… Learn More About Jeff Hoyt