Best Ways to Save: September/October 2016

Best Ways to Save: September/October 2016

Is Dental Insurance Worth The Money?

Medicare doesn’t cover dental benefits, and dental insurance premiums can be more expensive than paying out of your own pocket for routine check ups-  and cleanings.  The cost to buy an individual policy averages about $400 a year.  That’s about what you might pay out-of-pocket without any insurance for two annual exams and cleanings, plus some X-rays.

The big dental expense is when you need more extensive work like crowns or root canals.  Yet dental insurance often comes with waiting periods and won’t cover fillings for the first six months of a policy and may not offer coverage for other procedures for up to 18 months.  Many plans also have very low annual caps on care of $1,000, meaning that once your dental bills exceed that amount you pay the rest of the bills in full.

Ignoring dental problems, though, or skipping care, can harm your health.  Chronic gum infections are associated with an increased risk for heart attack according to some studies.

Here are tips to help you maintain your oral health without depleting your budget:

  1. Research Medicare Advantage health plans that offer some dental benefits.  Medicare’s fall Open Enrollment period starts October 15th and runs through December 7.  If you are already enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan it’s a good idea to compare plans in your area every year anyway, and switch if you can find better coverage at a lower cost.  You need to do the math on the deductibles, co-pays or co-insurance for the comprehensive benefits offered, including hospital, doctors, outpatient services, and prescription drugs that you already take before switching.  Pay close attention to the fine print on additional benefits.  Those dental benefits may only be in the form of discounts with network providers.  TSCL strongly recommends AGAINST dropping a Medigap supplement to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan solely based on additional benefits like dental coverage.  Those additional benefits can end suddenly, especially when plans cut costs to compensate for lower government reimbursements, so don’t bet your Medigap coverage on them.
  2. Check community health centers or senior services department.  Low - cost dental services may be available to low-income people age 62 and up, but services may be limited and there may be long waiting lists. To learn more, check with your area agency on aging to learn if there are programs near you.
  3. Consider dental savings plans.  These are buying club - like programs for which you pay an annual fee of to $200 to access a network of dentists who offer discounts of up to 50% for members.  You can find a dental plan online at

You may well find that the best way to come out ahead is to pay out-of-pocket and brush your teeth regularly at least twice a day, for a full 2 minutes.  If you don’t already have a regular dentist, call around to find the most reasonable fees and to see if the dental practice is willing to provide “senior” discounts.  If you have good oral health and few health or dental problems, ask the dentist if you can stretch your exams out to every 9 months instead of twice a year, and space out X-rays.