Senior citizens sometimes need special dental care. As we age, our teeth and gums are more susceptible to decay, inflammation, and disease. Health problems, like osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory disease can also affect dental health, and sometimes the reverse is true, according to the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine and the American Dental Association.
Why to consider dental insurance for seniors
Out of all out-of-pocket health-care costs, 27% of expenses are related to dental services, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; some people delay needed dental care because of the expense.
Dental insurance isn’t usually included in major medical insurance policies, such as you may have from your employer. You can buy a stand-alone dental plan to cover some of your dental care costs.
Keep in mind that dental insurance often requires a waiting period for more expensive treatments, so it’s best not to wait until you need dental insurance to get it.
Standard dental policies
You can buy a standard individual dental insurance plan, usually at a low monthly premium. Standard policies commonly cover these routine procedures, typically performed by family dentists:
- Regular cleanings and exams: Most policies entitle you to a free cleaning and comprehensive exam twice a year.
- X-rays: Dentists periodically take bitewing X-rays of your teeth. Depending on your dental insurance plan, x-rays may be fully covered, or you might make a copayment. Other X-rays of your mouth may require a copayment, coinsurance, or deductible.
- Fillings and extractions: Fillings (removal of decay and filling with a bonding material) and extractions (pulling a tooth out of your mouth) usually require a copayment, coinsurance or deductible in most dental insurance plans.
- Certain repairs: Standard individual dental insurance plans occasionally include partial coverage on some restorative procedures, such as root canals, crowns, bridges, and deep cleanings. Dental insurance plans usually require a copayment, coinsurance or deductible for these procedures, if they cover them. However, you might need to shop around for a policy that covers these more expensive services.
Enhanced dental policies for seniors
Some dental insurance policies pay for part of the costs for services beyond routine exams and fillings. Some examples include (but aren’t limited to):
- Endodontics: Root canals, or the removal of a tooth’s decayed or diseased pulp, are the most common use of endodontics. Your family dentist can sometimes perform this repair, or he or she may refer you to a specialist.
- Periodontics: Periodontal disease comes in many forms and could end up destroying supporting bones around the teeth. Treatment may include the placement of dental implants and treatment for inflammation. A specialist is often required.
- Dentures: Being fitted for dentures typically requires many extractions, making it a major procedure, possibly involving several visits. Some family dentists now fit patients for dentures. Specialty offices are more familiar with the process and sometimes offer a faster turnaround.
- Implants: Some adults who have lost a small number of teeth due to an accident or decay might get dental implants. Implants may eliminate the need for a bridge since the implant looks, feels, and works like a regular tooth. An oral surgeon rather than your family dentist typically does this procedure.
- Orthodontia: This type of service involves braces to align crooked teeth. Most family dentists offer orthodontia.
- Cosmetic services: Bonding, whitening, and veneers are sometimes covered under certain dental policies. Many family dentists offer whitening.
Types of dental plans
There are two major types of individual dental insurance plans that may apply to seniors:
- Managed-care plans (often preferred provider organizations, or PPOs) negotiate fees with specific providers. These in-network providers request only your portion of the cost and file any necessary paperwork on your behalf. Procedures performed by out-of-network providers are sometimes covered, but often at a lesser amount.
- Indemnity plans often include a larger group of providers and you may be able to see the dentist of your choice. The drawback is that patients are often required to pay 100 percent of the bill up front and then file a claim for reimbursement for the covered procedure.
You can get help choosing an individual dental insurance plan
Don’t wait until you feel discomfort to get dental insurance. Many seniors take daily medications that cause dry mouth, which can lead to cavities. Inadequate nutrition can also affect your dental health, reports the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine.
Keep in mind that some health problems, like pneumonia and insulin resistance, may be triggered by poor dental hygiene. Research has even found a connection between gum disease and heart disease, Intellihealth News Service reports.
If you’d like to explore your options for individual dental insurance plans in your area, just click the button on the right side of this page. You can also request our newsletter in the lower right side of this page if you want to stay up to date on with health and insurance-related updates.
This article is for informational purposes only. Nothing in it should be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always consult with your medical provider regarding diagnosis or treatment for a health condition, including decisions about the correct medication for your condition, as well as prior to undertaking any specific exercise or dietary routine. In addition, this information includes just some factors to consider when selecting insurance and may not reflect the provisions of any particular insurance product. Always carefully check the provisions of any insurance product you have or may consider purchasing.