How Will You Pay for Dental Care after Age 65?

by Gary Foreman

Dental care for seniors is important. Important enough that you should make plans now for how you’ll pay for the dental care you’ll need in your senior years.

Do you know anyone who likes going to the dentist? I don’t. Although I’ll admit it’s not nearly as bad as it was when we were kids. Only now it seems like there’s more fillings, crowns, bridges, etc., in my future than in my past.

So who’s going to pay for all of that expensive dental care after you turn 65? We’ll answer that and 4 other questions about senior dental work:

  • Is dental care free for over age 65?
  • Are there dental plans for seniors?
  • Is dental insurance worth it for seniors?
  • What if you don’t have or can’t afford dental insurance?

Is dental care free for over age 65?

Not unless you’re related to the dentist. Medicare has never covered most routine dental care, and Medicaid offers extremely limited coverage that varies by state. That’s probably the reason that surveys indicate that most seniors say they haven’t visited a dentist in a year or more because of the cost.

So, the unfortunate truth is that dental care is not free for seniors and is not included in Medicare unless it’s deemed medically necessary during a hospital visit.

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Are there dental plans for seniors?

Yes, there are dental plans for seniors. Some Medicare Advantage plans include dental coverage. Other dental plans are stand alone and only cover dental costs.

Be aware that the Medicare Advantage plans have limited coverage. Typically limited to cleanings, exams and bitewing X-rays. Those are generally the least expensive services your dentist will provide. If you need/want coverage for the more expensive dental work that could wreck your budget, you’ll need to look beyond Medicare Advantage coverage.

Private insurers offer dental plans for seniors. They are not coordinated with Medicare. Just like your auto or home insurance, you’ll be billed separately.

Coverage will vary. Some plans divide procedures into 3 types of services from the most basic to the most extensive. You’ll have the option of choosing different benefit levels. The type of service and benefit level will determine how much of the bill the insurance company will pay.

Naturally the monthly cost will depend on how much coverage you get. Expect to see premiums in the $20 to $45 or more per month range.

Is dental insurance worth it for seniors?

That depends. Both on the condition of your bank account and your teeth.

As you’d expect, the best dental plans cost the most. A bill for $45 or more a month for dental insurance can be a problem if you’re trying to live on Social Security alone. And a cheaper plan (with deductibles and co-pays) might still leave you with an unaffordable dental bill.

You’ll also need to consider the condition of your teeth. Most prior generations faced serious tooth decay by the time they were 65. Many seniors today still have relatively healthy teeth. You may be among the fortunate ones who haven’t heard a dentist drill in years.

Dental plans are much like other insurance. Policies vary by company and by state. You’re wise to get a number of quotes. Premiums and coverages vary widely. And just like other insurance you don’t want to put in a claim for something you thought was covered to find out that it isn’t part of your plan.

So is dental insurance worth it? If you know that you’re likely to need dental work then insurance might be for you. Many have short or no waiting periods. On the other hand, if your dental health is good and you could afford the cost of a crown then dental insurance is not worth it for you.

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What if you don’t have or can’t afford dental insurance?

As you might expect, not every senior who needs dental work has insurance. So what can you do if you don’t have insurance? There are a number of ways to reduce the cost of dental work.

Ask for a discount. Your dentist has parents, too. It can’t hurt to tell them if you can’t afford the work they say you need. They may decide to discount the work.

Let a dental student do the work. Dental schools train their students on live patients. Their rates are generally lower than a regular dentist and the students are supervised by a real dentist.

Find a non-profit or government provided dental clinic. They provide low cost or sometimes even free services based on your income level. Do a search or contact your local health department.

Watch for coupons. Some dentists (especially newer practices) will place coupons in your local paper or sites like Groupon.

Visit toothwisdom.org. You’ll find a search tool for low-cost care in your area. The site is run by non-profit Oral Health America.

Check the Eldercare Locator. It’s a free national service of the Administration on Aging. They provide a tool for finding resources near you.

Consider PACE nursing home patients. PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) is a Medicare and Medicaid program that helps people meet their health care needs including dentistry.

Explore discount plans. Participating dentists agree to offer discounts to plan members. You pay the dentist directly.

Dental care for seniors is important. Important enough that you should make plans now for how you’ll pay for the dental care you’ll need in your senior years.

Reviewed September 2019

About the Author

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com. Gary shares his philosophy of money here. Gary is available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

You deserve a comfortable retirement.

Subscribe to After 50 Finances, our weekly newsletter dedicated to people 50 years and older. Each issue features financial topics and other issues important to the 50+ crowd that can help you plan for a comfortable retirement even if you haven't saved enough.

Debt ChecklistSubscribers get The After 50 Finances Pre-Retirement Checklist for FREE!

Your Email:

You deserve a comfortable retirement.

Subscribe to After 50 Finances, our weekly newsletter dedicated to people 50 years and older. Each issue features financial topics and other issues important to the 50+ crowd that can help you plan for a comfortable retirement even if you haven't saved enough.

Debt ChecklistSubscribers get The After 50 Finances Pre-Retirement Checklist for FREE!

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