When planning for health care in retirement, the cost of dental care needs special attention. Dental infections, disorders and injuries can cost thousands of dollars to treat. Preventive care is relatively low-cost, and keeping up with routine cleanings and exams -- which can catch and correct problems early on -- are one of the most cost-effective strategies for keeping costs under control. But, as with most dental treatments, Medicare does not cover preventive dental care.
So what does Medicare cover?
If an individual receives emergency dental care or a specific complicated dental procedure in a hospital, Medicare Part A will cover that cost. Medicare does not, however, cover other common dental treatments and supplies, such as cleanings, fillings, dentures and dental plates.
Dental care is important after age 65. When teeth look, feel and function the way they should, individuals have a better quality of life. They can eat more foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, and speak and smile without any embarrassment.
But oral health has implications beyond the mouth. The Washington Dental Service Foundation reports that gum disease is linked to stroke and pneumonia and can lead to a significantly higher risk of heart disease. The National Association of Dental Plans states that gum disease is not only linked to an increased risk for diabetes complications, it may also be a factor for developing Type 2 diabetes.
What are smart strategies for covering the cost of your clients’ predictable and emergency dental care -- from cleanings and crowns to implants and gum disease -- in retirement? There are several approaches they can consider.
- Buy a Medicare Advantage Plan that includes dental coverage. Individuals purchase Advantage Plans from private insurance companies when they want coverage for prescription drugs, assisted living or nursing home care, and dental and vision care. Monthly premiums, copays and other out-of-pocket expenses vary from one plan to the next.
- Choose a dental insurance plan from a national insurance company – and there are hundreds. Member organizations and associations, such as AARP, also offer dental plans to members.
- Join a consumer discount program. These operate like a membership-based warehouse discount club. For an annual fee -- usually less than $200 -- members can receive routine and advanced care from participating dentists at a savings of 50 percent or more, according to the Consumer Health Alliance. On average, the cost for a dental crown is about $780 for a self-pay patient, while a member of a discount dental program will pay about $480. Dentists charge discount club members an average of $25 for a routine checkup; self-pay patients pay around $80.
- Negotiate directly with dentists and other providers. The fees charged by different dental practices, even within the same city, can vary widely. Consumers can often negotiate the total fee to a lower price or arrange to have more complicated services completed over a longer period, paying over several months instead of all at once. The not-for-profit organization FAIR Health provides a searchable database of standard dental fees. Retirees may also simply call several dentists in their area and ask for pricing information.