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November 3, 2021
Your pre-retirement checklist probably includes tasks such as signing up for Medicare, creating a budget, and planning an exit from your career. But there’s one important task that you may be forgetting: pursuing dental care before you retire.
As of right now, Medicare doesn’t cover most dental care, dental procedures, or supplies, like cleanings, fillings, tooth extractions, dentures, dental plates, or other dental devices.
The Biden Administration made a push to include it this year, but it is unlikely to pass.
Many people have dental coverage as part of their employment. So, many seniors lose dental coverage. And, the timing is unfortunate. As people age, their teeth and gums are more susceptible to decay, inflammation, and disease. Poor dental health can affect conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and other serious health issues. In addition, many older Americans take daily medications that cause dry mouth, which can lead to cavities.
Proponents of including dental coverage as part of Medicare point out that oral health is part of our overall health. As an example, researchers have linked dental care with reduced health care spending among patients with Type 2 diabetes.
Some seniors purchase dental coverage through a Medicare Advantage managed care plan or a standard individual dental insurance plan, but that extra expense can sometimes be challenging for older adults with limited income.
In 2018, before the pandemic pause in dental appointments, a full half of Medicare recipients did not visit the dentist.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many older Americans do not have dental insurance because they lost their benefits upon retirement and the federal Medicare program does not cover routine dental care.
Most seniors end up paying for dental care out of pocket, but many put off necessary procedures because of the expense. Treatment costs vary by location and service provider, but here’s a look at what some common procedures can cost on an out-of-pocket basis:
You can’t foresee all of the dental procedures you’ll need during retirement, but you can take a proactive approach to your dental health while still covered by an employer’s dental insurance plan.
Instead of waiting for problems to arise, seek out a dentist who will evaluate emerging issues that could become an issue five to ten years from now. You may be able to head them off now. You may also be able to invest in long-term restorations such as dental implants that will improve your quality of life and help you enjoy a longer retirement.
While you’re talking to your dentist, ask about your bite and how it might be improved. Many people don’t realize what an important role your teeth play in a healthy lifestyle. Teeth help to stabilize the head, neck, and spine, so people without teeth and poorly fitting dentures are more likely to experience falls.
Here is a look at some options for funding dental work:
Premiums will likely be higher than they were on an employer-sponsored plan, but the coverage may be worth it.
Resources vary by state, so talk to your local Area Agency on Aging. They may be able to refer you to organizations in your area that offer free or discounted dental care.
Dental schools can be a great place to get an exam or get your teeth cleaned for less. However, the waiting list is often long. You can locate a dental school near you at toothwisdom.org.
The AARP offers dental insurance coverage with guaranteed acceptance for all AARP members. You can check out plans and pricing online.
Retired service members and their families may be able to enroll in the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program. The monthly premiums can be deducted from your retirement pay. Exams and cleanings are free. For other covered services, you’ll pay a percentage of the cost out of pocket and the plan pays the rest.
Dental discount plans are not insurance but they can help you get lower prices for dental care. For a yearly fee, you’ll get access to a network of dentists who have agreed to offer discounted rates to members. The amount of the discount varies by the plan.
Medicare Advantage plans are offered by a private company that contracts with Medicare to provide all your Part A and Part B benefits. Some also offer dental coverage, so shop around to find the right plan.
It is important to assess your supplemental Medicare coverage every year.
Keep in mind that dental insurance often requires a waiting period for expensive procedures, so it’s better not to wait until you need dental insurance to buy it.
If you are approaching retirement, taking care of your smile is just one of the many items to check off a list.
Checkout this countdown to retirement checklist!
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