–_Unfortunately, many seniors do not have dental insurance.
Most elderly people lose their health benefits when they retire, and Medicare doesn’t provide coverage for routine dental care. The lack of coverage comes at a time when seniors face several oral health issues. According to the CDC, 23 percent of people age 65-74 have severe periodontal disease, which leads to tooth and gum loss. Twenty percent of adults over age 65 have at least one untreated cavity.
Fortunately, there are solutions available to help seniors get the dental care they need, and some of these options are free or low cost.
Oral Health Issues for Seniors
As seniors age, they experience oral health issues like gum disease, dry mouth from medications, root decay and teeth darkening caused by the thinning of the teeth’s outer enamel.
Poor nutrition, including eating too much sugar, can accelerate tooth decay. Eating starchy foods that get stuck in your teeth and consuming alcohol and coffee also affects dental health.
Poor oral health is about more than just the hygiene of your mouth. In some cases, it can lead to more serious health conditions. Gum disease can cause lung infections, including pneumonia. This happens if you breath in bacteria from infected teeth over a long period of time. The bacteria from inflamed gums and periodontal disease can enter your bloodstream and travel to your arteries, causing blockages that may increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke. Some research also indicates that having gum disease could make it harder to control your blood sugar, so people with diabetes have to pay close attention to their oral health.
Covering Dental Care
High out-of-pocket costs often prevent seniors from getting the dental care they need. As I previously mentioned, Medicare does not cover routine dental care like cleanings or regular check-ups. The Affordable Care Act also doesn’t mandate dental coverage. People can purchase a dental plan through a Marketplace exchange, but only when they purchase health insurance.
Medicaid, the federal program that provides health insurance for low-income individuals, may or may not offer dental coverage depending on the state. Only 21 state Medicaid programs currently offer a dental benefit. Florida is one of them, but coverage for adults is limited to emergency dental procedures.
So, what are your options if you must pay for dental coverage out of pocket?
Some dentists offer a discount on their services through assistance programs sponsored by a local dental society or organization. Call the Dental Society of Greater Orlando or the Florida Dental Association to find out if there are any low-cost care options near you. Through non-profit organizations, like Dentistry from the Heart, dentists volunteer to provide free dental care. Check the organization’s website to get information about its upcoming events.
Reduced cost or free clinics, community health centers and local dental schools are also a good option to help manage the costs of dental care. Federally Qualified Health Centers, which are health care facilities located in underserved areas, also may offer dental care. If you have Medicare, you can be treated at one of these facilities.
Even with these options, prevention is often the best treatment. Brush your teeth twice a day and floss regularly, clean your dentures every day, don’t eat too much sugar since this can lead to tooth decay and drink plenty of tap water — the fluoride in it is good for your teeth and will prevent teeth decay.
Taking these steps will improve your oral health and minimize the chances you’ll need costly dental care.