The Mayo Clinic advises that poor dental health significantly impacts your physical health, including causing heart disease and endocarditis, an infection of the heart’s inner lining. Diseases which often affect us as we age like osteoporosis, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, to name a few, frequently cause dental problems that eventually become too painful to ignore. Seniors often need more dental care than younger generations because of softening bones and teeth or a dry mouth, which can lead to an assortment of oral health problems. Regular visits to the dentist can save money down the road while reducing the risk of painful dental problems.
When you near the age of 65, you need to sign up for Medicare. However, Medicare does not cover preventative dental care or other procedures such as fillings, tooth extractions, dentures or other dental devices. If you have a complicated or emergency dental procedure that requires hospitalization, Medicare Part A will likely cover the cost, but it is obviously preferable to avoid hospitalization if you can with regularly-scheduled dental care.
An example of Delta Dental’s offerings is their Dental for Everyone Gold PPO plan which includes savings that change depending on what year of the plan you're in. When it comes to preventative care, they offer 60% coverage in the first year, 80% in the second year and 100% in the third year and going forward. For basic care, they offer 50% coverage in the first year, 65% of the second year, and 80% in the third year and going forward. For major care, you get 0% coverage in the first year, 30% in the second year, and 50% in the third year.
Blue Cross Blue Shield has a plan called BlueCare that does not have a waiting period for preventative services and many non-surgical procedures. United Healthcare's United Health One is another. Major surgical treatments and restorative work do require some wait time, though that can be curtailed to some extent if you're coming off another dental plan.
In order to save the most with your Humana plan, you'll have to use a dentist in their network, although they do offer you the ability to use dentists outside their network if you’re willing to pay higher fees. If you want to see a specialist, you will need to get a referral from your primary care dentist. They also offer dental savings plans which are dental discount plans rather than insurance. These plans provide discounts on your dental procedures of up to 45%.
Often, there is no waiting period in a group plan, like one offered by an employer. Of course, if you were eligible for a company-based plan, you probably wouldn't be shopping around on your own. However, the same privilege might be had in a group plan offered through an organization such as AARP.  With their plans, there's no waiting period for preventative services, at least.   
Once you purchase a dental insurance plan and start paying your premiums, most preventive care like cleanings and check-ups are covered immediately. For more serious procedures, after you meet your deductible, you’ll only be responsible to pay your percentage of the cost. And we’ll pay the rest. Also, some dental plans have an out-of-pocket maximum to protect you from high costs throughout the year. On some plans, if you reach this maximum, we’ll pay the full cost of any additional care until your annual maximum benefit is met. 
Since buying cheap dental insurance will mean that going to the dentist could cost you more, you might also be less likely to go to the dentist or you could put the visit off if you have a problem. This could lead to bigger issues with your dental health which could lead to more expensive procedures and treatment. For example, if you put off treating a cavity, you could end up needing a root canal.
Since all dental insurance carriers are different, it is important to clarify which dental procedures fall under each specific category. This is important because some insurance plans don't cover major procedures and others have waiting periods for certain procedures. If you know that you will need major dental work that is not covered by a given plan, you should probably look elsewhere to find one that suits all of your needs.
Other factors can affect your yearly dental expenses as well. Unfortunately, senior premiums are usually more and youth orthodontics may also cost more. Smokers are usually quoted higher premiums as well. Monthly premium rates vary greatly by region and area. We found that within the same insurance company rates may vary by as much as 30 percent depending on the zip code.
PPO Plan A is the most comprehensive plan with the highest number of services covered and still has a modest premium. PPO Plan A covers three cleanings and exams per year at no additional cost when visiting an in-network provider. There are no exclusions for most pre-existing conditions and dental implants are available after 1 year of continuous coverage. The annual deductible is $50 with an annual maximum of $1,500. You are allowed to visit any licensed dentist but with save money through using a preferred in-network provider.
Another downside of buying your own dental insurance is that you might not be able to afford the same type of coverage, which means that you could potentially have fewer benefits than you would if you had gotten it through your employer. That might mean that you have less access to certain types of treatment or that in order to get an affordable plan with good coverage, you’ll have to choose one where you have to stay within the plan’s network.
Dental insurance companies divide benefits, services, or procedures into categories and refer to them with American Dental Association (ADA) 3-4 digit code. As an example, Preventative and Diagnostic procedures often include exams (ADA code 0120), x-rays (ADA code 0210), and basic cleanings or prophylaxis (ADA code 1110). Basic procedures often include fillings, periodontics, endodontics, and oral surgery. Major procedures often are crowns, dentures, and implants. Procedures such as periodontics, endodontics, and oral surgery may be considered major, depending on the policy.
Different companies provide various percentages of coverage in these areas. For example, one insurance provider might cover 100% of the cost of Class I services while another might only cover 80%. Yet another plan might not provide Class IV or orthodontic coverage, but provide coverage in all other areas. It’s important that you understand what services are covered before signing up for a plan.
Although discount plans are also sold by private companies, they are not insurance plans. There are no copays, coinsurance, or deductible amounts. That also means that there are no pre-negotiated rates or free yearly checkups and cleanings. A participating dentist simply agrees to offer discounts (often a percentage off from the total price) for certain medical services. Then, seniors who choose discount plans will pay their dentist directly for the cost of services (after the discount).
Medicare, the largest health insurance provider for adults 65 and older, does NOT provide coverage for routine dental care. Medicare only pays when dental care and medical needs intersect. Medigap, a private insurance plan that supplements Medicare coverage, doesn’t offer dental coverage, but some private Medicare Advantage managed care plans do offer dental benefits.
My plan covered cavity fillings, but an additional procedure (like a crown or an extraction) would have been costly even with insurance. Multiple appointments also took up a lot of time. I could have spared myself some of those cavities, and long hours in the dentist’s chair, if I’d got regular cleanings in earlier years (and, of course, flossed more often).
In general the dental insurance companies at the top of our review list provide a range of plan options to numerous areas of the country. We also considered average yearly preventive care costs across numerous zip codes and compared that number to possible yearly premium costs. This helps predict whether the premium costs would, on average, be less than the cost of preventive care paid out of pocket. Keep in mind that co-pays and other small fees might also determine whether you will break even by paying for dental insurance, but our numbers can give you a general idea of what you can expect. It was not surprising to learn that those who charge a higher premium may cover more and those with a lower premium might cover less. This means that if you pay more monthly you might receive more complete coverage, and if you pay less per month you might be expected to pay a bit more during the time of treatment. So you'll need to decide whether you want to pay more per month or make up a bit of the difference when you visit your dentist.
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.
Aetna’s dental discount network includes over 161,000 dentists, and Careington says over 100,000 dentists participate in their plan. We searched for providers from a less populated location in the U.S. and found no dentists from the Aetna plan while the Careington plan had four dentists, although the offices were located 100 miles from the zip we used. If there are no providers available in a reasonable distance from your home, you can nominate dentists, and Careington will contact them to request participation. Dental providers usually join the network within 60-90 days.
Most people know that they need to visit a dentist regularly. Having dental coverage is strongly associated with how often dental services are used. Americans often say that the cost of dental care and the lack of dental coverage are reasons for not getting needed dental care. Having an individual dental insurance plan from Spirit Dental allows you to get the regular care you need to stay healthy.
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