For seniors, getting dental coverage can be a challenge. If you’re retired, you may not be covered by employee benefits anymore, and your supplemental insurance may not have dental coverage. If you’re on Medicare, dental insurance can be a challenge. But it’s vital that older adults stay current on checkups and cleanings, as oral health can affect overall health.
“As we age, the nerves in our teeth often become smaller, making our teeth less sensitive to cavities and other issues,” said Atlanta dentist Mitzi Morris. “That nerve pain is a trigger seniors often don’t feel until a problem becomes more serious. Bacteria from the mouth can be inhaled into the lungs and cause pneumonia in older patients, especially if their immune systems are compromised. That’s another reason seniors need to have routine cleanings and exams — to help prevent infection, periodontal disease, gum erosion and oral cancer.”
Here’s what you need to know about dental insurance while on Medicare.
Know what Medicare covers
The American Dental Association recommends regular dental checkups for people older than 60 — and waiting until you have pain can make any issues you have worse, because pain receptors become less sensitive as you age. But Medicare doesn’t cover the routine exams and cleanings you may be familiar with from when you were covered by employer-sponsored dental insurance plans.
Medicare A will pay only for dental services you get in the hospital, such as reconstruction of your jaw after an injury. If you need a dental exam before a surgery, it would be covered under Part A or Part B, depending on who’s doing the exam. But routine preventive care is not included under Medicare Part A, and Part A includes no coverage for procedures such as cleanings, fillings or extractions, or for dentures.
Explore Medicare Part C
Medicare Part C can provide extra benefits, such as routine dental and vision care as well as prescription drug coverage. These plans, as with Medicare Parts A and B, are provided by private companies approved by Medicare. There may be several options to choose from, and premiums, deductibles and co-payments will vary by plan. Medicare Part C may work with Medicare Part B plans as well.
Medicare plans have some similarities to insurance plans you had before you retired: there are provider networks, and some procedures may be turned down for coverage. No matter which plan you pick, you’ll need to do careful research to ensure the plans work together and that you’re eligible for any benefits they provide.
Purchase individual insurance
Individual insurance is often a good option for people on Medicare because you can pick the kind of plan that works best for you. As with Medicare Part C, there’s a wide variety of dental insurance plans available depending on the state you live in and the services you want to purchase. Look for plans that don’t require waiting periods for coverage to begin on preventive services and that make it easy to sign up.
Some individual dental plans will also include vision plan riders or discounts for services such as hearing aids and laser vision services, making them especially attractive for older people who want to stay healthy and enjoy their retirement.