Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Dental Care, Oral Health and Retirement

One problem that most retirees will face is the expense of dental care after retirement.  Unfortunately, although oral health is absolutely essential to our overall health, Medicare does not cover dental care.  In addition, taking care of our teeth can become increasingly expensive as we become older, especially if we begin to lose teeth and need dentures or implants. This can put a financial strain on many of the elderly.

Dental Care After Retirement is Expensive

The issue is serious enough that my husband recently set up a GoFundMe account for a friend and retired veteran who needed to have a number of his teeth replaced with implants.  Neither Medicare nor the Veteran's Administration offered a program to help him.

Fortunately, the money was raised and friends of the man were able to work out a system to take turns driving him to a dental school about 60 miles away, so that he could get his implants at a discount.  However, GoFundMe accounts are unlikely to be the solution for every retiree in America.

Sadly, it is quite possible that the man would not have let his teeth decline to the point where his teeth needed to be pulled and replaced with implants, if he had been able to afford to get consistent dental care sooner.

Other Health Conditions are Affected by Poor Dental Health

One reason that we need to take care of our teeth is because poor oral health does not just affect your mouth.  The resulting decay and infections can complicate the treatment of other medical conditions, including:

Diabetes
Heart Disease
Alzheimer's Disease
Other forms of dementia

Symptoms of Poor Dental Health

There are a number of both obvious and vague symptoms that can indicate that a person needs to see a dentist.  These include:

Pain or discomfort
Bleeding gums
Bad breath
Difficulty swallowing or chewing food
Difficulty speaking
A decrease in socialization, often because of discomfort when eating or embarrassment over bad breath or the appearance of the teeth.

How to Make Sure You Will Have Adequate Dental Care after Retirement

Dental care is not part of Medicare.  As a result, most experts highly recommend that everyone get a dental insurance supplement when they sign up for Medicare.  It is available with both Medicare Advantage and Medicare Supplement plans and is offered by most insurance carriers.  This is one reason why most retirees will not want to rely on basic Medicare without some type of supplemental plan.  In fact, the lack of dental coverage is one of several disadvantages of relying on basic Medicare alone; most people will be better off with either a Medicare Advantage or Medicare Supplement plan, with an additional dental plan.

Many of the dental supplement insurance plans are offered in combination with a vision plan ... another healthcare issue that is not covered under basic Medicare.

Retirees need to know, however, that while dental plans are helpful in reducing costs, they will not completely cover dental expenses.  In addition, it is important for senior citizens to have extra savings in order to cover unexpected dental expenses, especially for major dental problems such as root canals, crowns, dentures or implants.

For example, with my Kaiser Permanente Medicare Advantage Plan, I pay an additional $20 a month for a dental and vision plan.  Under this plan, I pay $80 out-of-pocket every four months for teeth cleaning and approximately $1000 if I need a crown ... and that is only if I use one of their in-network providers.  Out-of-network providers can cost me double that.  However, despite the hefty cost of dental care, the co-pays are substantially cheaper with the insurance than they would be if I did not have dental insurance.

Advocating for Better Dental Care Insurance Plans

Considering that oral health is closely associated with cardiovascular health and other medical issues, it would benefit millions of people if better dental care programs were available to all senior citizens.  In particular, it would be helpful if plans with low co-pays were available to low-income and moderate-income retirees.

Hopefully, as Baby Boomers retire, they will put pressure on Medicare insurance providers to make sure that comprehensive dental care is included at a reasonable price.

Learn more about oral health at the website of the American Dental Association.

If you are looking for additional information for retirees about health issues that can arise as you age, or other retirement information, use the tabs or the pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

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