Turns out, daily oral care for your pearly whites past age 50 can pay dividends beyond a strong bite and bright smile.
People approaching retirement don’t always think about dental care costs adding to the bottom line of living expenses, and it’s a common misconception that basic Medicare covers regular trips to the dentist and certain oral procedures. It doesn’t.
Kathy Finley, 68, got that surprise after she retired from teaching religious studies at Gonzaga University. Until about three years ago, Finley had medical and dental insurance through her employer and assumed Medicare would cover similar expenses.
“I didn’t realize until I got to that point that there was no coverage at all for dental under Medicare,” Finley said. “With the supplemental (Medicare) stuff, it didn’t change how much we’d be paying per year out of pocket.”
Costs of dental visits already have stacked up. While her husband recently secured some dental coverage through Veterans Affairs, she’s had to pay cash for fillings and dental checkups twice a year.
“I’m trying to do that at full cost,” Finley said. “Even though the dentist does a 10percent discount for seniors, it’s still awfully expensive for our budget. My understanding is there’s a connection between oral health and my overall health. If you don’t take care of your teeth, it can cause other health issues.”
A May 2015, Arcora Foundation survey of 1,200 adults in Spokane found that 51 percent of respondents said that they either believe Medicare covers preventive dental care or they didn’t know if it did.
While basic Medicare doesn’t include such provisions, some Medicare Advantage plans cover preventive dental services. But the extra coverage varies by the plan and may not cover such expenses as X-rays, fillings and crowns, says Aging and Long Term Care of Eastern Washington.
In another 2012 state survey among 4,400respondents ages 55 and older, nearly 30 percent of lower income older adults reported painful aching in the mouth “very often” or “occasionally.” The survey also found that 38 percent of respondents ages 75 to 84 didn’t have any dental insurance.
Sometimes, a daily oral health regiment isn’t enough to prevent a huge bill.
Joyce McNamee, 75, chats with her dentist, Dr. Robert “Matt” Yarbro, before having a crown removed on July 27.