The good news is that taking a more aggressive approach toward dental care, even in your later years, can reverse or slow down the damage the inflammation may have caused to other organs in your body.
Does Medicare Cover Dental Care?
The bad news is that Medicare does not cover most dental care, dental procedures, or supplies, including fillings, cleanings, tooth extractions, dentures, dental plates, or other dental devices. Patients pay 100 percent for these non-covered services, which means the patients carry the burden of most dental care. As a result, it is smart for Medicare recipients to buy a dental supplement or choose a Medicare Advantage plan which includes dental coverage. Both choices are available and are a good idea for retirees. You should discuss your options with your insurance agent.
In addition, you may want to find a dental school in your area which might provide some types of dental care at a discount.
Taking care of your teeth as you age can be life saving, so it is important to make sure you find a way to access the care you need.
Medical Advantages of Better Dental Care
Fewer Lost Teeth - The most obvious advantage to caring for your teeth and gums is that you are less likely to lose your teeth as you age. According to AARP, the current average amount an American over the age of 65 spends on dental care is $15,340 over a 20-year period. People who spend the last decades of life getting dentures, implants or undergoing multiple root canals may actually spend significantly more than that amount. Learning to take proper care of your teeth could reduce this expense substantially.
Healthier Heart - People who have poor dental hygiene may develop endocarditis, which is an infection or inflammation of the inner lining of the heart chambers and valves. This can be a fatal heart problem. In other words, ignoring your teeth could kill you.
Healthier Kidneys and other organs - Research has shown a correlation between poor periodontal health and atherosclerosis, which is the hardening and narrowing of the arteries. They now know that atherosclerosis is suspected to contribute to a variety of health problems, including chronic kidney disease.
Lower Cancer Risk - According to a study done in 2017, postmenopausal women who have a history of periodontal (gum) disease are also a a heightened risk of developing breast, esophageal, gallbladder, skin and lung cancer.
Clearer Lungs - Another study showed that patients who practice good oral care during a hospital stay are able to decrease their risk of hospital-related pneumonia by 39 percent. Even if you are so ill you do not feel like taking care of your teeth, forcing yourself to do so could save your life. Brushing your teeth and using floss regularly at home may also help protect your lungs from unnecessary infections.
Reduced Blood Sugar Levels - People who have periodontal disease and diabetes at the same time may have a more difficult time controlling their blood glucose levels. Doing everything possible to deal with both these medical issues in appropriate ways will help minimize your risk.
Less Erectile Dysfunction - Most men have never considered that there may be a link between caring for their teeth and their sexual function. The reason for the connection is because chronic inflammation in any part of the body, including the gums, can eventually damage the lining of blood vessels in all parts of the body, including the sexual organs. This one reason alone may make men more willing to care for their teeth and gums!
How to Properly Care for Your Teeth and Gums
See a Dentist at Least Every Six Months - Your dental hygienist and dentist will check your mouth, looking for signs of oral cancer, decay and periodontal pockets in your gums. If they notice a problem, they will recommend a course of treatment. It is smart to follow their advice, whether that means flossing your teeth more often, having cavities filled, getting a root canal, or undergoing gum surgery. While some of these treatments may seem expensive at the time, in the long run they can be less expensive than allowing dental problems to go untreated. If your dentist suggests that you see him more often than every six months, it is a good idea to follow their instructions. It could save you money on more expensive treatments in the future.
Follow Your Dentist's Instruction for Oral Care - Between visits to the dentist, it is important you follow your dentist's instructions regarding flossing, the type of toothbrush you should be using, and the type of mouthwash, toothpaste and other products which will work best for your particular dental hygiene issues. For example, they may recommend products specifically designed to treat dry mouth or tooth sensitivity. If you have any questions about which products are best for you, you should ask them directly.
If you are interested in learning more about common medical issues as you age, Medicare, Social Security, financial planning, where to retire and more, use the tabs and pull-down menu at the top of the page for links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.
Source of facts used in this article: AARP Bulletin, October 2018
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Photo Credit: Dental School at the University of New England