7 ways to get retiree dental care

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You may have devoted a lot of time and effort to retirement planning. Maybe you’ve planned and saved diligently for retirement for years, and purchased Medigap coverage to cover medical expenses. But one important area you might have overlooked is dental care.

After you retire, your need for good dental health doesn’t go away. In fact, it might  even increase. Poor or neglected dental health is associated with malnutrition, speech impediments, and chronic pain and can even contribute to serious health conditions like heart disease and diabetes, conditions which become more prevalent as people get older.

But it can be difficult to obtain dental care in retirement. Only about a third of Americans have retiree health benefits from their former employer, and Medicare does not cover most dental exams or procedures. Here are some ideas for obtaining dental care in retirement.

Access to dental care is more than just a quality of life issue. According to the Surgeon General, people over the age of 65 are seven times more likely to be diagnosed with oral cancer than those under 65. Routine dental examinations can detect oral cancer early, before it becomes life-threatening. But according to the AARP, about three-quarters of Americans age 65 or older do not have dental coverage. Routine dental exams can also detect dental problems and prevent complications that lead to more dental and medical appointments, invasive procedures, and expenses that spiral out of control.

The majority of seniors pay for dental care out of pocket. This can get expensive. The mean cost of dental care for Americans age 65 and older was $870 in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A routine exam and X-ray can cost $150. For those needing complex procedures, the costs can be much higher. According to Fairhealthconsumer.org, a service that tracks prices of healthcare and health insurance, the average cost of one crown in New York City is $2,500 while a root canal can run $300 to $1,000. That might explain why 34% of seniors had not seen a dentist for two years in 2010, and 22% had gone without care for the preceding five years, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

1. Private Dental Insurance

Premiums for private dental plans are reasonable – in 2012, the premium was $12 to $50 per person per month. But the coverage maximums tend to be low, around $1,000 to $2,000 per year. After your maximum is reached for the year, you’re on your own for any remaining costs. However, surveys show 97% of people don’t use the maximum amount in a year.

Another option is to look into group dental insurance offered by seniors’ organizations like AARP and AMAC, and professional and trade associations you may belong to as part of your work.

There are also non-insurance discount dental plans available. For an annual membership fee of $75 to $150 you can get pre-negotiated lower rates at dentists participating in the plans. Examples are plans offered by Northeast Dental Plan, Careington, Brighter.com, and dentalplans.com.

2. Medicare Advantage Plans

If you sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan, it may cover some routine dental care. About half of Medicare Advantage plans offer limited dental care coverage, according to Money magazine. Contact your provider for information about what is offered through your plan.

3. Veteran’s Benefits

If you are a veteran, you may qualify for reduced-cost dental coverage through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Dental Care program. You can view the VA’s Dental Benefits for Veterans document or call 1-877-222-8387 for more information.

4. HSA Savings Plans

You can contribute to a Health Savings Account until you enroll in Medicare. Funds in your HSA can be used for out of pocket dental care costs. Distributions used for this purpose are also tax exempt.

5. Dental Schools

Accredited dental schools offer quality care at a lower cost. Dental students perform dental work under the supervision of instructors, who are board-certified dentists. You can search for a dental school in your area on the Commission on Dental Accreditation’s (CODA) website.

6. Medicaid

Your state’s Medicaid services may include dental care for lower-income residents. Contact your state’s Medicaid office to find out what is offered in your state.

7. Nonprofit Clinics

There are several nonprofit dental clinics around the nation that provide services free of charge or at a steeply discounted rate to those in need. Visit the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics’ website to find a clinic near you.

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