None of us like to think about it, but many seniors can’t afford to take care of their teeth when they retire. Some are unprepared for the accelerated rate of tooth decay that comes with aging and how quickly the process begins to take place. Over 50% of adults aged 50-64 don’t know how they’ll save money on dental care once they reach retirement age.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 1 in 5 American adults age 65 or over have lost all their teeth or have untreated tooth decay. As many as 2 in 3 have gum disease.
For some seniors, dental insurance might make sense (for example, if you can keep your work plan after you retire). For others who have to purchase a plan privately, your savings might not be worth what you pay in premiums. Know your options for senior dental care so you can make the best choice for your dental health.
When you retire, plan to budget around $1,000 for dental care each year. Dental costs for seniors averaged $912 per person in 2015, according to Consumer Reports. This can be a huge expense when we consider how many seniors in the U.S. have a fixed income that’s a combination of retirement benefits and social security.
In response, many seniors make the mistake of skipping routine visits to the dentist. But skipping these crucial visits can make problems worse in the long run. What would have been a filling becomes a crown, what would have been a deep cleaning becomes a root canal, and what would have been an extraction ends up requiring implants or dentures.
Medicare and Medicaid, because they primarily deal with medical and not dental conditions, do not supply much support for oral care — especially if you’re trying to keep up with your routine dental exams that keep severe conditions from occurring in the first place.
Medicare only helps with dental care that’s related to medical conditions (such as certain kinds of extractions that must be performed before an operation can take place). The majority of Medicaid programs also do not include dentistry, and even in states with Medicaid dental programs, relatively few dentists accept them or can take new patients.
Most dental insurance through the Affordable Care Act is only sold as a bundle with health insurance plans. If you purchase a stand-alone dental plan, you must purchase medical insurance at the same time. Since most seniors already have medical coverage through Medicare, this option usually doesn’t make much sense. For more information, check out the dental coverage page at Healthcare.gov.
Many seniors are most comfortable with PPO plans because they received them through their employers. You might be here because you lost your PPO plan after you retired.
However, PPO plans are really designed for large groups. Your employer can get much better benefits for a much lower rate than you can as an individual. Individual plans often come with more expensive premiums that you no longer have an employer to help with, and they often have annual maximums of $1,000-$1,500 — which means you could find yourself paying hundreds of dollars each year for a plan that practically can only save you a few hundred dollars when all is said and done. As a point of reference, a full-price crown with accompanying buildup can easily cost $1,500.
Add the fact that you frequently have to wait a year to be eligible for savings on a crown (and that whole time you’re already paying premiums), plus the fact that pre-existing conditions are often excluded, and many seniors find that PPOs aren’t worth the cost.
A DMO can be a good, low-cost option with strong savings, but you typically do not have as much freedom to choose your dentist. This can be a big problem if you have a bad experience with the dentist you are assigned or if you suddenly have a dental emergency while traveling.
One type of plan seniors should watch out for is any plan that does not publish a list of savings for you to view. They may claim to have spectacular savings, but you’ll want to make sure you can see specific prices on their savings charts.
Discount dental plans, sometimes called dental savings plans, are a simple, practical option for seniors (AARP agrees). For a low annual rate, you save hundreds to thousands of dollars on a wide variety of dental procedures. Think of it like a Costco membership: Dentists all over the country have agreed to lower their rates for members, so you receive these savings every time you visit without limits or restrictions.
There are many different discount dental plans available today, some with national networks, some regional, and some that your local dentist may offer as an in-house plan. At Senior Dental, we specialize in a discount dental plan called the Careington Care 500 network because we truly believe it’s the strongest option out there. We and our families have used the plan for years.
Here is an example of paying out of pocket vs. with the Careington Care 500 plan:
$70 – $80
Full Mouth X-Ray
$60 – $200
Full Mouth X-Ray
$60 – $110
$85 – $200
$900 – $1000
$500 – $1000
Complete Upper or Lower Denture
$500 – $2000
Complete Upper or Lower Denture
$75 – $200