Dental Care Coverage Options for Seniors
- Dental care is a key, but often overlooked, factor in keeping healthy, but Medicare doesn’t cover it. Learn about dental care for seniors without insurance.
Dental care is one of the most often overlooked parts of keeping healthy over 50. As people age, their teeth can develop problems that are nearly unheard of among younger adults, as well as experiencing flare-ups of old problems you thought were fixed years ago. Many of the dental treatments seniors need most come with a high cost, and finding dental care for seniors without insurance can be challenging.
Fortunately, seniors who need affordable dental health services have several options that are accessible to people with a limited ability to pay.
Seniors’ Dental Needs
Older adults have a number of unique needs for their dental care. As people age, the teeth they’ve had since childhood take more and more work to keep healthy, which makes regular upkeep and maintenance much more serious for seniors than for most younger adults. In particular, many seniors have conditions that worsen over time, such as:
- Thinning tooth enamel
- Enamel that erodes around old fillings
- Dental calculus, which is caused by a buildup of plaque and must be scraped clean
- Old crowns that loosen and fall off after decades of use
- Receding gums and other periodontal health issues
- Cancer of the gums and other mouth tissues
- The effects of accumulated wear on tooth surfaces, including cracks and other damage
- Lost or missing teeth, which may require a partial or full set of dentures or implants
- Discoloration that occurs naturally with age and exposure to staining agents such as coffee or tobacco
- Orthodontic issues, such as the migration of teeth into gaps left by earlier extractions
Some of these issues can be managed at relatively low costs without insurance. New patient exams, for example, are often provided at no cost and include cancer screenings and development of a treatment plan. Some dentists even offer free cleanings to new patients. Other issues go beyond what can be done for free, or even beyond what many seniors can comfortably afford to pay out of pocket.
Dental Care for Seniors Without Insurance
If you are a senior with limited or no dental insurance, you may not have a regular provider, or you might miss the regular exams and cleaning services you need to keep your teeth healthy. You may have a set of dentures you got years ago that need adjustment or replacement now. Many of these services come at a high out-of-pocket cost, leaving you with few options for the care you need.
Dental Coverage Options Under Medicare
Original Medicare offers basic medical services under various parts of the program. Part A pays much of the cost of inpatient care for eligible beneficiaries, while Part B pays for much of the cost of outpatient services. Neither of these benefits includes dental coverage as part of its regular services. Medicare Part C, sometimes called Medicare Advantage, combines both of these benefit structures under a plan that’s provided by private insurers. Some Part C plans include extra benefits not provided by Original Medicare, which may include dental coverage.
If you are eligible for Medicare, and you get your coverage via Part C, you might have dental benefits as a part of your regular coverage. Speak with a representative of your plan to find out what you’re covered for. If you do not have a dental benefit included with your Medicare benefits, you may be able to get help through your supplemental plan.
Using Medicaid for Dental Care
Medicaid is the most popular choice for seniors who need a Medicare supplement. Dental benefits provided under Medicaid vary with the state you live in. Most Medicaid plans include at least some dental benefits, while some offer comprehensive coverage for many dental services.
Options to Get Dental Care for Seniors Without Insurance
If you are a senior without enough dental insurance to meet your needs, you still have several options for basic and comprehensive care. Several options for finding care are especially relevant for seniors without insurance:
- Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE): PACE is a joint partnership between Medicare or Medicaid and a local health agency in your area. If you are eligible for a Medicare or Medicaid admission to a nursing facility, you could be eligible for enrollment in PACE. Most PACE programs offer basic dental care as part of their coverage options.
- Community Health Centers (CHCs): Community health centers, which are sometimes called Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), offer free and low-cost health services at thousands of locations across the country. Some centers include affordable dental care among their referral lists. You can find a CHC in your area from this list.
- Dental Lifeline: The Dental Lifeline Network offers seniors low-cost dental services from more than 17,000 volunteer dentists nationwide. Some Lifeline services are provided free of charge to seniors who meet the network’s income and asset limits.
- Dental College: Seniors who need dental services without insurance can often find very low cost or free care at local dental schools. Students at dental colleges work under the supervision of a licensed instructor, which ensures professional quality exams and procedures, while providing much needed dental care for people with limited or no insurance.
- NeedyMeds: NeedyMeds.org maintains a searchable online database of sliding scale, low-cost and free services provided by licensed dentists across the United States. Participating dentists are organized by ZIP code, which makes area searches relatively simple.
- Dentistry from the Heart: Dentistry from the Heart provides free dental services to people with limited means to pay. Free dental services are available worldwide. The organization often schedules regional events, such as mass dental screenings, which are open to all who need them on a first-come, first-served basis.
Do seniors still get cavities?
Seniors are prone to several dental issues that tend to worsen with age. Cavities, for example, often take more of a toll in later years because of the accumulation of damage from bacteria in the mouth. Many seniors also have dry mouth, which can also accelerate tooth decay.
When should seniors see a dentist?
In addition to the twice-annual checkups most dentists recommend, it’s a good idea to see a dentist without delay if you have any of these signs:
- Pain in one or more teeth
- Loose teeth
- Red or swollen gums
- Chronic dry mouth
- Sores on the lips or gums
- Patches in mouth that may be white or red
- Noticeably bad breath
- Dentures that slip or don’t fit right
Do seniors get any discounted or free dental services?
Many organizations offer dental care at a discount for seniors. Call around dentists in your area to find one, or ask about the subject at your local senior center, which may have a referral for you.