There are some wild myths out there about dental insurance. Some claim dental insurance isn’t a viable option for seniors. Another common myth is that seniors don’t need dental care – or that it’s too expensive to take care of our teeth as we age. Leave those assumptions behind! While it is true that Medicare doesn’t offer dental coverage, that’s not the only option for finding affordable dental care. Times have changed, and coverage options need to keep up with what the people need. In fact, the American Dental Association found that over the past five decades, complete tooth loss decreased by more than 75 percent in adults 65-74! We’re here to dispel more myths about seniors’ dental health and review what coverage options are offered.
Here are the facts on dental health as we age:
- Seniors can (and should) get dental coverage in retirement. After their employer-sponsored benefits come to an end, Hawaii Dental Service can help you. Contact us to discuss how to transition into an individual dental plan that fits your needs.
- You can keep your natural teeth into old age. Tooth decay causes tooth loss, not old age. And tooth decay is 100% preventable! That means keeping your teeth is possible as long as you’re maintaining a proper dental care routine.
- Even into older adulthood, we recommend a minimum of two dentist visits a year. Brush twice a day with a toothbrush that has soft bristles. Use fluoride toothpaste. Flossing after meals will remove leftover particles of foods that can cause inflammation. These tips will help reduce your risk of harboring cavity-causing bacteria.
- Adults get cavities, too! That’s right. Dry mouth, common for seniors, reduces that amount of saliva in the mouth. Saliva helps wash away food particles and promotes a healthy mouth. When the mouth doesn’t have enough saliva, cavities can develop.
Medicare Advantage and Individual Dental Plans
As we age, dental health is still vital to our overall health. Unfortunately, coverage can be more difficult to navigate after we retire. Medicare doesn’t cover routine dental care. This may lead some to believe that it’s not as important as health care.
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) stated that “Congress has not amended the dental exclusion since 1980.” This indicates that the recent research on seniors retaining more teeth hasn’t been considered. The CMS also talked about the basis for writing the “dental exclusion.” They wrote, “Coverage is not determined by the value or the necessity of the dental care.” If you thought that medical coverage was more important than dental, think again.
Today, basic Medicare only covers dental procedures if you need an oral exam in the hospital for a kidney transplant. Depending on the hospital you’re in, an oral exam before a heart valve replacement may also be covered.
Dental services may be covered if they are needed for certain radiation treatments or other procedures related to cancer or facial tumors. Medicare also covers some dental-related hospitalizations. For more common dental care needs, Medicare Advantage may be an option. Remember that there are waiting periods when signing up ranging from six to 24 months, depending on the extent of the procedure.
Some Medicare Advantage Plans provide coverage for routine dental services, like checkups and cleanings. However, it’s important to remember that coverage can vary widely from plan to plan and state to state. If you have a Medicare Advantage Plan, contact your plan to learn about covered dental services. Dental coverage providers like Hawaii Dental Service may contract with Medicare Advantage to offer help paying for the out-of-pocket costs that Medicare doesn’t cover.
Affordable Dental Care for Seniors
Seniors with limited income have several options when it comes to dental health. Reduced-cost or free clinics are good alternatives to the traditional dentist office for routine check-ups and appointments. Enter your zip code here to find a clinic near you.
If you’re looking to maintain your oral health, individual dental plans will give you the best coverage for your needs. Oral health requires preventive care. That means instead of waiting for a toothache, experts recommend:
That way, you’re maintaining a healthy smile instead of fixing problems after they occur.
An individual dental plan with Hawaii Dental Service (HDS) can also help you out when you have an emergency, too. Oral health is impacted by a variety of factors, so staying on top of a healthy smile will ensure you’re not in for any surprises.
As we get older, our risk of oral health problems increases. Reasons for this include:
- Medications, cancer treatments, and certain diseases that cause dry mouth. A parched palate can increase bacteria in the mouth, resulting in tooth decay.
- Gum disease is often a problem for seniors. Certain medications, poor fitting bridges or dentures, and health conditions like diabetes can make this worse.
It’s important to take care of your teeth as you age because dental health is connected to overall health. Dr. Bruce Dye, a researcher with the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, wrote in an ADA article that:
- Studies have indicated that “tooth loss can reduce quality of life and lessen the likelihood of eating a healthy and diverse diet.”
- He also noted that when an individual has more teeth, they have “an increased need to protect [their] oral health,” which in turn improves their overall quality of life.
The Cost of Dental Care
Stay on top of the cost of your dental care options. Evaluate your dental needs and use online tools like the FAIR Health dental cost app or the Hawaii Dental Service Cost Estimator. This will help give you an idea of how much dental work costs.
When we no longer have an employer to access dental insurance, navigating the insurance marketplace can be intimidating. HDS is here to help you understand the coverage options in retirement that support your smile health. Contact us today to speak with a representative about the best plan options for your needs.