Four Ways To Pay For Dental Care
About one-out-of-four older Americans say that cost is a higher barrier to getting dental care than for any other type of medical service. Sixty-four percent of working age Americans have dental insurance benefits where they work, but when people age 65 and over start Medicare, they are forced to give up their employers’ dental insurance. Yet Medicare doesn’t cover dental benefits, a fact that many new retirees aren’t aware of and haven’t planned for.
People who lack dental insurance are far less likely to see a dentist for regular cleanings and preventive exams, and to forgo treatment for pain and gum disease. They also suffer worse overall health. Gum disease has been linked to a wide range of inflammatory conditions that include sleep apnea, diabetes, pulmonary disease, heart problems and stroke.
According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, uninsured older Americans pay out $1,126 annually on average for dental work, about $400 more than what people with dental insurance spend. Those costs can be six or seven times higher if pricey services such as oral surgery, dentures, or implants are needed. So what are your options for paying for dental care?
- Shop for dental insurance: While older Americans can purchase dental insurance policies at any time, typically those policies are limited in the services covered, and patients generally must use network dentists only. Policies cover preventative and maintenance care like cleanings, dental exams, a few x-rays, and a few fillings. However, dental insurance routinely comes with a maximum annual coverage limit of $1,000 to $1,500 and the annual cost of the policy itself may cost about $500. Insurers may also make you wait for coverage for major services up to three years. For example, year one, the policy would cover preventive care (such as a dental exam and cleanings). Year two would include maintenance care (such as coverage for fillings and extractions) along with preventative care, and year three major services (such as root canals) would be added. Compare as many dental insurance plans as you can find, and be sure to confirm that your regular dentists accept the insurance.
- Negotiate cash discounts and payment plans: An increasing number of dental offices offer discounted services to cash paying, uninsured customers. Discuss this with your dentist or the front desk ahead of time. Many practices can usually manage a 10% reduction.
- Visit community health centers and free clinics: Call your local free clinic or community health or senior center, to find out if your area has free or low cost dental services. Often local dentists volunteer their time. If you are unsure if you have a community health center, try calling the Eldercare Locator, a service of the Administration on Aging.
- Medicaid and state programs for low-income seniors: If you have very limited income and little savings, free or low cost dental care is available through Medicaid if you qualify. Contact your local Medicaid office or State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). You can get free one-on-one insurance counseling and find a counselor in your area here: https://www.shiptacenter.org
Sources: “Get Dental Work Before You Retire,” Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, March 9, 2017.