For Seniors, Don’t Assume Medicare Will Cover Your Dental Needs

Portland periodontist

Receiving regular dental care once you pass the age of 50 can pay serious dividends beyond enjoying a great looking smile and strong bite. Your Portland periodontist want patients to know that the older we become, the more likely the impact of gum disease can cause permanent tooth loss. That’s why the average number of permanent teeth remaining for adults between the age of 50 to 64 is only 22.3, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. (The normal adult mouth has 32 teeth, including wisdom teeth.)

Despite the need, many people approaching retirement age fail to consider the cost of dental care adding to their living expenses, and it’s a common misconception that basic Medicare covers regular dental visits and certain types of oral procedures. It doesn’t.

A Washington Dental Service Foundation survey conducted in May of 2015 found that of the 375 adults surveyed 51 percent said they either believed Medicare covers preventive dental care or they were unsure of whether coverage was included.

While basic Medicare doesn’t include dental coverage, some Medicare Advantage plans cover preventive dental services. However, the extra coverage varies by plan and may not cover such expenses as crowns, fillings and X-rays.

Another Washington state survey conducted in 2012 found that among the 4,400 participants 55 and older, approximately 30 percent of lower income seniors reported experiencing painful oral discomfort “very often” or “occasionally.” The survey also found that 38 percent of respondents between the ages of 75 to 84 did not have dental insurance.

Many people may consider their past oral care indicative of what kind of care they’ll need going forward. Unfortunately, as we age, the number of oral problems we can experience also increases. Oral problems can take years to manifest, and often don’t present any noticeable symptoms until too late.

For most people, tooth decay and cavities are used as a barometer to judge the current state of their oral health. If they routinely receive a clean bill of health from their dentist regarding tooth decay or don’t feel any tooth related pain, it’s easy to assume they will enjoy quality oral health now and in the future. But a lack of cavities doesn’t always indicate oral health. Patients can suffer from a variety of hard to detect oral problems that a dentist can miss during a routine exam. When these types of problems manifest, it can mean really trouble for seniors who don’t have dental insurance or a way to pay for the care they require.

As patients age, they can also become less able to practice the same level of oral hygiene they did in the past. Many seniors need to take prescription medications to treat underlying medical conditions, but many of these drugs carry dry mouth as a potential side effect. Patients may also start to lose dexterity in their hands, making it more difficult for them to adequately brush and floss.

It doesn’t take much to tip a patient’s oral health from good to at-risk the older we become. This makes it important that patient’s factor oral health costs into any retirement plan. Quality oral health is just as important during the golden years as it is now. Keeping our teeth and gums healthy requires regular care that carries a cost. Budgeting for those expenses now can make all the difference when aging gracefully.