What seniors should know about paying for dental care

Many Medicare plans don't cover dental care, forcing senior consumers to forego regular cleanings or important, costly procedures - UnSplash +

Cost can be a prohibiting factor for older consumers to stay on top of their dental health

Most consumers can likely agree that they don’t enjoy going to the dentist. However, the importance of dental health is clear. 

Despite the great importance of staying on top of oral health, the cost associated with even just a regular dental checkup can be large, and for older patients, the cost can be a major deterrent in staying up to date with dental visits. For those who rely solely on Medicare for health insurance, dental work isn’t included, and the program offers no assistance with dental bills

Dr. Lana Rozenberg, founder of Rozenberg Dental NYC, who has become an advocate for senior dental care, has shared her insights with ConsumerAffairs on what older consumers should know about paying for dental care. 

The importance of dental care

According to Rozenberg, it’s imperative for consumers of all ages to stay on top of their dental care, but the older population base has different considerations. 

“Older people are at a higher risk of developing gum or autoimmune diseases, due to missing teeth from natural wear and tear or poor oral health,” she explained. “Research has shown that individuals with missing teeth are often at a higher risk for major depression, and even heart diseases; untreated gum disease can get into the bloodstream and cause hardening of the arteries. This puts elderly individuals at the forefront of these risks.

“Luckily, poor oral health is extremely preventable,” Rozenberg said. “However, older adults and elderly with disabilities are at a high risk of having poor oral health due to inadequate access to services, increasing their probability of developing nutritional deficiencies or even chronic diseases including heart disease, strokes, or diabetes. 

Cost is the biggest barrier

In her work in this field, Rozenberg has found that cost is the biggest reason older people are neglecting their dental care. 

“For older Americans, the cost of visiting the dentist can be a shock to many. After years of having dental coverage through employer-sponsored insurance plans, people ages 65 and older are often surprised to learn that upon retirement, Medicare does not pay for most dental work,” Rozenberg said. 

“Though original Medicare and Medigap plans do not pay for most dental work, many Medicare Advantage plans offer some type of dental coverage. Benefits vary, but many plans pay for preventative care such as oral exams, cleanings and X-rays, and some even cover a portion of the cost of expensive procedures much like crowns, bridges, and root canals.”

Saving money

An insider tip for older consumers looking to save some money on their dentist bills: try a dental school. 

“If the patient has a dental emergency and doesn’t have the funds to pay for needed care, a visit to dental school may be the best solution,” Rozenberg said. “Dental students, supervised by a licensed dentist, get hands-on experience when working for a Medicare Advantage plan, and it’s significantly less expensive.” 

The benefits of regular dental care

Regular visits to the dentist can also be beneficial for far more than just your dental health – especially if you have other preexisting conditions. 

“Taking care of your teeth and gums as you get older can prevent problems like toothaches, tooth decay and tooth loss,” Rozenberg said. “A healthy mouth also makes it easier for you to eat well, enjoy food, and get all of the necessary nutrients your body needs to function properly. 

“It’s especially important to take care of your teeth and gums if you have a health condition like diabetes or a heart disease, or if you’re taking medicines that can cause oral health problems. There are publications like Senior Guide to Oral Care and American Dental Association publications for oral care in the elderly population.”

Find a Hearing Aid partner near you.