Many seniors have dental health issues, and hope that by purchasing a standard insurance plan they will be able to afford to get treatments that they have been delaying due to cost. Unfortunately traditional dental insurance often does not cover preexisting conditions, nor will it pay to replace teeth that were lost prior to purchasing the coverage.
In addition to companies listed here, you can check out other options by using a dental insurance search engine, such as the one available at the Dental Insurance Store. There you can plug in your age and ZIP code and get a list of plans available in your area. Along the left side of the screen, you can select various options that may be important to you – such as “no waiting period.”
Senior citizens across the U.S. are seeking coverage to aid in reducing their dental expenditures. Teeth, like bones, can soften as time passes and grow significantly more susceptible to degeneration and breakage. This can mean that seniors are often in need of more oral care than younger Americans, as they deal with broken teeth, loosened implants, gum problems, or other issues.
Dental plans will usually cover a portion of your costs on different types of dental procedures. Some plans focus more on preventative and basic dental care, but offer less coverage on major dental procedures. It's important to understand what's best for your dental health. If you routinely need a root canal or get cavities, you'll want a plan that provides better coverage on those types of procedures. In contrast, if you have relatively healthy teeth then you might not need to pay for the extra coverage.
If you go to an out-of-network dentist, then the plan usually pays based on the UCR fee. For example, if the dentist charges $250 for the filling, but the UCR in your area is $150, you could end up paying more. In this case, $130 ($250 – $150 X (.80)). This also introduces the concept of balanced billing, which means paying the dentist the cost difference between their rate ($250 in this case) and the cost-sharing rate ($120).
Another thing to consider when looking for dental plans for seniors is the waiting period some plans may have for certain services. For example, a plan may set a 3-month waiting period for an extraction. This means that if you get an extraction a week after enrolling in that plan, you usually won’t be covered. Some services may have longer waiting periods, such as 15 months, before the plan covers that service. This is why it is best to not wait until you have a dental emergency to enroll in a dental insurance plan.
Gum Disease. Your gum disease risk increases as you get older. The New York Times notes that in a study of people over 70 years old, 86% had at least moderate gum disease and over a quarter experienced tooth loss. It’s important to properly take care of your teeth, have a healthy diet, reduce stress, and refrain from smoking to reduce your risk of developing gum disease. Systemic diseases and certain medications can also affect the health of your gums.
Each plan will provide dental coverage for a variety of dental needs, but are not always the same. What they might or might not cover includes dental services such as root canals, deep cleanings, and restorative procedures. When they do cover these services they do so only partially and the senior must either pay out of pocket or have a secondary dental insurance plan. Most plans for seniors pay for routine care, such as an annual cleaning, but require a copayment or co-insurance for other services.
These dental schools either offer discounts or provide free dental services in order to get patients they can practice on. While they do all sorts of different procedures, it’s probably best to go to them for more routine care like cleanings, check ups, x-rays, and small cavities. If you have a more complex procedure to get done, you might better off going to an expert instead.
Most full coverage dental insurance plans will cover two preventive maintenance visits per year without requiring a deductible payment. Most require a $50 deductible per person, per year to help cover costs beyond your preventive exams. If you need work done, most plans will cover a part of the costs. We looked at root canals specifically and found that the majority of dental plans will cover about half the cost, which may not seem like a lot, but paying half is better than paying upfront for an $800 root canal. However, keep in mind that most insurance policies, depending on your plan, top out at about $1000 to $1500 per year. Using conservative estimates that might be one or two root canals. If you need extensive work done you might have to pay the remaining amount out of pocket.
The cost of not taking care of your oral health could be more. Those without individual dental coverage are less likely to get routine dental care, meaning they seek out a dentist only when they have a problem. By then, more extensive and more expensive measures may be necessary, and major problems linked to poor oral health (like heart disease and diabetes) are more likely to appear.2 Doing nothing now means you might pay more later.