08 Nov Does Medicare Cover Senior Dental Services?
Deciding which Medicare health plan is right for you can be a daunting process. You may be tempted to quit after selecting your medical plan. But for seniors, it is particularly important not to forget your dental health! For older adults and people with disabilities sustaining oral health is potentially more challenging. Common causes for this are an inability to brush their teeth properly, increased use of medications, and our teeth become less sensitive as we age. As our teeth become less sensitive, it is harder to notice dental problems until it is too late. All of these factors make it even more important to protect your dental health as you age. If you are a senior reading this, you should consider contacting your local dentist to inquire if he or she offers senior dental services.
Will My Medicare Plan Cover Senior Dental Services?
Unfortunately, Medicare Parts A and B do not include coverage for common dental services such as dental exams, cleanings, fillings, crowns, bridges, plates, or dentures. Medicare covers dental problems that involve a hospital stay in some cases, but otherwise, you would have to pay out of pocket for any routine dental services.
Medications and Cavities
Many Seniors wonder why they are suddenly getting cavities when they haven’t had them since childhood. As we age we enter the second period of years where we are particularly susceptible to cavities. That is another reason that senior dental services are in such demand. One common cause for this is dry mouth. Dry mouth is a normal part of aging, but it is also a typical side effect of medications. Including many medications for asthma, allergies, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pain, anxiety, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Due to this, it is very important that you inform your dentist about any medications you take on a regular basis. Often your dentist can make simple recommendations to alleviate your dry mouth before cavities form. Some common recommendations are below:
- Consulting with your doctor on whether a change in medication or dosage is appropriate.
- Hydrate! Carrying a water bottle with you, and not waiting till you’re thirsty to drink is a simple fix that can alleviate most symptoms.
- Stimulate saliva production using sugar-free gum or lozenges.
- Keep moisture in the air of your home by getting a humidifier.
- Avoid certain foods and beverages that irritate dry mouths; including coffee, alcohol, carbonated soft drinks, and acidic fruit juices.
- Your dentist can use varnish or a fluoride gel that will protect teeth from forming cavities.
- Use oral moisturizers such as mouthwash or sprays, many of which are found over-the-counter.
Gum Disease in Seniors
Many seniors have periodontal or gum diseases. Gum disease comes about from the bacteria that live in plaque. This bacteria causes your gums to be irritated, making them inflamed, red and increasingly likely to bleed. Gum disease is fairly common among seniors because it is usually painless until it reaches advanced stages. When it is left untreated it will cause your gums to pull away from your teeth, forming spaces called pockets which collect additional plaque and food particles. If gum disease is allowed to reach advanced stages it will destroy the gums, bone, and ligaments supporting your teeth, this commonly leads to tooth loss. On the bright side, regular dental visits can treat gum disease and oftentimes prevent it altogether.
Mouth Cancer in Seniors
The American Cancer Society published statistics show roughly 35,000 new diagnoses of mouth, throat, and tongue cancer every year. Of those people diagnosed with oral cancer, the average age is 62. Dentists regularly check for any distinguishing signs or oral cancer during routine visits. This makes regular visits to the dentist all the more important, often early-stage oral cancer does not cause pain and detecting it early can save lives. There are some symptoms you can look for as part of an early detection protocol such as white or reddish patches, open sores and changes in your lips, tongue, or lining of your mouth that last for more than 14 days. Senior dental services ensure that if you need dentures to eat well, you will get them properly fitted.
Paying for Senior Dental Care Services After Retirement
Often retirees do not realize that Medicare does not cover routine dental care and many senior dental services. It is important you plan for your dental expenses as part of your retirement planning. This will ensure your oral health does not suffer now that you are on fixed income. AARP, along with many other organizations offer supplemental dental insurance plans to their members. Another option is discount dental plans, which usually have lower monthly fees compared to traditional insurance. Discount plan members choose a dentist within their network who has agreed to offer a discount on specific services, usually between 10 to 60 percent. Members pay the reduced fee themselves, there is no additional claim paperwork to fill out.
A good place to start is asking your preferred dental provider which plans and insurances they are networked with. Additionally, dentists often offer to finance services with little to no interest. This is a much better option than paying with a high-interest credit card. If you have any concerns about maintaining your oral health in retirement talk to your dentist. They likely have many patients with similar concerns and can offer a solution.