So, there I was, watching The Walking Dead and eating a Quarter Pounder with cheese value meal from McDonalds. I shouldn’t have been eating it because I want to eat healthier. But I just can’t resist fast food temptation. What happened next was probably the work of the Personal Health Karma Gods. It made me realize that I am getting older. I’m middle aged, and elderly health care costs are no joke. This McDonald’s related incident made me think more about dental health for seniors.
Anyway, I bit down on an overly fried and tough French Fry and felt a sharp ache in one of my teeth. I checked a mirror and realized I broke a tooth and swallowed the tooth fragment!
Since I am traveling internationally I paid out of pocket to get it pulled. It only cost about $80 locally. Still, this episode made me realize how important it is to take care of my teeth.
I brush and floss my teeth gently two or three times a day. A good percentage of my monthly household budget is dedicated to buying large bottles of mouthwash.
It’s bad enough that I worry about paying for my health while traveling now. This breaking-my-tooth-on-a-hardened-French-Fry incident made me appreciate how incrementally more expensive health care becomes for the elderly as they age.
So, I want to press how important the issue of dental health for seniors is for the millions of soon-to-be retirees and current retirees living on fixed incomes and calculating their annual cost of living expenses.
It’s no small issue.
Health insurance only gets more expensive as we age. Medicare doesn’t pay for dental care costs.
However, there are ways for the elderly to get affordable dental care treatment.
Why Dental Health for Seniors is So Important
There are numerous reasons why senior citizens need to take care of their teeth.
Gum Disease as Indicator of Health Issues
According to studies by the American Academy of Periodontology, gum disease, gingivitis, missing teeth, and cavities were reliable predictors for future afflictions of high cholesterol, strokes, heart attacks, and heart disease.
Periodontitis, a form of gum disease, inhibits the human body’s ability to process insulin efficiently. When you have high blood sugar levels, caused by diabetes, this can cause oral infections.
Jawbone Aesthetic Issues
As we lose teeth and age, the remaining teeth can shift and drift. This can create more pressure on the jawbone during biting and eating. Over time this uneven pressure during chewing can cause disfigurement of the jawline.
This condition is basically an inflammation of the gums. It can be caused by poor oral hygiene, ill-fitting dentures, or the accumulation of an oral fungus called Candida albicans.
Saliva softens food for efficient chewing, aids in swallowing, and keeps the mouth moist. Additionally, saliva keeps teeth wet, preventing tooth decay, mitigating bacteria, viruses, and oral infections.
The older we get, the more important it is to take care of our teeth. That’s because dental care gets harder to pay for as we age.
Dental Health for Seniors – A Priority for Who?
The older we get the more that our bodies break down.
And, the older we get, the more we must pay for medical insurance and medical treatment.
Over 37 million elderly Americans on Medicare don’t have dental care coverage.
That is the equivalent of 2 out of every 3 Medicare recipients.
Medicare doesn’t have a dental care coverage component.
Those on Medicare that require crowns, fillings, dentures, or cleanings are in for sticker shock for out of pocket treatment costs.
Medicare eligible Americans, or people over the age of 62, have to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 for out-of-pocket dental care costs.
Medicare does cover dental care costs in several extremely specific circumstances:
- Doctor mandated dental exams before a heart valve replacement or kidney transplant
- Dental care mandated for a broken jaw or jaw-related disease
- Oral infections that require hospital stays
- Any dental procedure in a hospital setting that must be initiated because of existing and/or life-threatening conditions
The situation is even more bleak for senior citizens trying to acquire to private health insurance.
Senior Citizens and Private Health Insurance
The older that you are, especially if you’re over the age of 50, the more you’ll pay for health insurance coverage.
A healthy 18-year-old will pay about $341 a month for a premium private health insurance policy.
For the same type of coverage, a 55-year-old will pay about $835. Meanwhile, a 64-year-old will have to pay $1,123 a month.
The older that you are, the more risk a health insurance company potentially incurs by insuring aged people.
Senior citizens who have retired are not much better off.
The Financial Precariousness of Retired Living
Most retirees lived on tightly fixed incomes to make ends meet.
The average retired couple needs to make at least $40,000 annually just to pay their cost of living expenses.
When finances are stretched so tight for a retiree, paying for dental care can’t be much of a priority.
The average retired couple needs over $285,000 to pay their medical expenses over the entirety of their retirement.
Such estimates include serious medical expenses and not necessarily dental expenses.
So, what can be done?
Low Cost Dentists
Many dentists offer low cost services and discount coverage plan services. Such services may offer basic treatments like cleanings and basic dental checkups.
You could save as much as 70% on dental treatments by agreeing to have dental students, under the supervision of licensed dentists, administer dental care. Visit the American Dental Association’s website to find one near you.
Non-Insurance Dental Savings Plans
Non-insurance dental coverage plans offer discounts between 10% to 60% on various dental treatments.
However, you may have to pay a monthly fee, choose from limited dental services, and find dentists who affiliated with such plans. You can find more information here.
Your Teeth Are a Mirror Into Your Body
The current state of your teeth is a literal window on the state of your health.
According to the National center for Health Statistics, 1 in 5 Americans who are 65 or older have cavities in need of treatment.
Another 2 in 3 senior citizens have gum disease.
Take care of your teeth and they’ll always be a accurate mirror into your health, even in old age.
Allen Francis was an academic advisor, librarian, and college adjunct for many years with no money, no financial literacy, and no responsibility when he had money. To him, the phrase “personal finance,” contains the power that anyone has to grow their own wealth. Allen is an advocate of best personal financial practices including focusing on your needs instead of your wants, asking for help when you need it, saving and investing in your own small business.