Maintaining a Healthy Smile During Retirement

The older we get, the more we have to baby our teeth. The good news…

The older we get, the more we have to baby our teeth. The good news is that preventive dental care can keep teeth and gums healthy throughout our lives. And the benefits of regular dental checkups extend far beyond having an attractive smile. It is essential to overall health – gum disease has been linked to health conditions including cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s disease, respiratory infections, and certain types of cancer. Regular dental care can also help ward off tooth decay which, if left untreated, can result in gum disease. 

Budgeting for wellbeing

Preventive care is an investment in your health that pays big dividends. On average, dental check-ups and cleanings that include an exam, bitewing x-rays and a cleaning cost about $300* (expect to pay more if you need a deep cleaning or full mouth x-ray). 

If you have not retired yet and currently have employer-provided dental insurance, it may cover the cost of your preventive care. While you can take advantage of this now, caring for your teeth doesn’t end once you have clocked out for the last time. Budgeting for wellness is a critical preparation needed as retirement approaches. 

To put it into perspective, dental decay is almost entirely avoidable with preventive dental care. But if decay does occur and is left untreated, it can eat away at the tooth structure, allowing bacteria to reach even deeper inside the tooth. This can eventually make it necessary for you to have root canal treatment, or even to have the tooth extracted. Reinforcing or replacing weak or missing teeth often costs thousands of dollars.

“The impact that poor oral health has on people’s lives is significant,” says Jenn Stoll, Chief Commercial Officer at DentalPlans.com, a leading online marketplace for dental savings plans in the U.S. “It’s not just financial. If left untreated, oral disease can make it impossible to function normally due to pain and inability to eat nutritious foods. You may not be able to sleep well, or speak clearly. You may worry about having bad breath. Plus, there is a huge impact on your overall health. All of this can almost always be avoided just by seeing a dentist regularly.”

Know your dental saving options

Once you no longer qualify for employer-provided coverage, you need to review your healthcare options and choose offerings that are right for your budget and health needs. 

Traditional Medicare

Medicare covers many of your healthcare needs but does not cover most dental services, such as cleanings, fillings, tooth extractions or root canals, dental crowns, dentures or bridges, etc. Medicare does cover:

  • Dental exams as part of the standard medical protocol for kidney transplant or heart valve replacement procedures
  • Dental treatment as required for a disease that involves your jaw (such as oral cancer)
  • Treatment for fracture of the jaw or (potentially) other facial bones
  • Severe dental infection that requires hospitalization
  • Dental procedures that must be conducted in the hospital due to a life-threatening medical condition

But be aware that in many cases, Medicare will cover the costs of in-patient hospital care only, not the costs of the actual dental procedure. So, if you need complicated oral surgery, Medicare may cover the surgical part of the procedure but not cover the cost of the actual dental care.

Medicare Advantage

Some Medicare Advantage plans do offer dental coverage. These plans are administered by private companies who contract with the federal government. About 36% of Medicare beneficiaries are currently enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation

If you had dental insurance from an employer, you’ll be familiar with the coverage offered with Medicare Advantage plans – both work the same way. You save a set amount on a variety of dental procedures, and typically have an annual cap of $1,500 after which you pay out of pocket for your dental care until your plan resets (typically in January). Some Medicare Advantage plans have a $0 premium. Premiums may vary by plan and state depending on what is offered in the state. You can see Medicare Advantage plan benefits and costs and compare them here. You can check to see if the plan offers dental here (as well as hearing and/or vision benefits), by looking for colored circles marked with D, H or V. 

One thing to be aware of if you travel a lot, or split your time between two homes, is that Medicare Advantage plans typically limit coverage to a specific location. That may leave you without coverage if you, for example, spend your summers in a northern state and move south for the winter. 

Dental Savings Plans

If you’re a warehouse club member, you’ll be familiar with how these plans work – you pay an annual membership fee and gain access to significant discounts. Plan members of dental savings plans, an established alternative to traditional dental insurance, can get 10-60% off  most dental procedures from more than 140,000 dentists nationwide. Some plans also include discounts on other healthcare services such as vision and hearing care, prescriptions, and even telemedicine services. Plan members can use their plan to save as often as needed (no annual spending restrictions) and can start saving as soon as their plan activates (within 1-3 business days of joining).

There is a wide selection of dental savings plans to choose from. You can use the DentalPlans.com search tool to compare the dental savings plans that are accepted by your current dentist, or choose to sort by the best overall savings in your area, the biggest savings on specific procedures you need, or the lowest cost plan. 

With a dental savings plan, you can access discounted rates from any dentist or dental specialist in the U.S. that accepts your dental savings plan. Very few dental savings plans have regional restrictions, which makes them great for the RV lifestyle or anyone who has multiple residences. If you purchase your plan from a marketplace such as DentalPlans.com, you can also switch plans as needed to get better savings if your dental needs change.

The Best Dental Savings For Seniors? 

With so many options available to you, how do you choose the best plan for your needs? Start by asking your dentist, says Stoll. 

“Your dentist knows your health care needs and can help you choose a plan that is the best fit for you – they are always a great resource when it comes to maintaining your health,” Stoll explains.

“You should also ask your dentist how often you need checkups, cleanings and other preventive services. Typically, it’s twice a year, but your dentist may want to see you more or less often. Booking those appointments well ahead of time is a good way to make sure you get the consistent care you need to maintain your health.”

No regular dentist to ask? Here are some things to consider: 

Dental insurance, whether you purchase it from the private market or via a Medicare Advantage plan, is typically focused on saving money on preventive care, and can be a great choice for maintaining your already healthy teeth and gums.

Dental savings plans are a great way to save on basic and restorative care – from root canals and crowns, to bridges and dentures. Without a limit on how much you can save, and no need to wait before you can access discounts on the costliest dental procedures, dental savings plans can be a great choice for those who need (or expect to need) more than preventive care. 

“Choosing a plan can be confusing and take a little research, but the good news is that both dental insurance and dental savings plans can save you money on your dental care, and help you maintain a healthy lifestyle,” says Stoll. “The important thing is to get your plan in place, and see your dentist consistently.”

Whether you are already enjoying retirement, or still in the planning stages, now is the time to commit to a healthier lifestyle and a future of healthy smiles. 

*Cost average obtained from DentalPlans.com procedure search tool.

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