It’s no secret that many older Americans are struggling with the high cost of quality healthcare these days. While nearly every citizen over the age of 65 has some level of Medicare coverage available to them, it only covers some of the increasing bills seniors are incurring. And, with Americans living longer than ever before, this challenge is only going to grow as time goes on.
One area that has received a lot of attention lately — with no solution on the horizon from Medicare — is the lack of routine and non-medical oral health care coverage for seniors. Most Medicare plans don’t cover dental at all, and the few options that do exist are limited. Private dental insurance is available, but for seniors on fixed incomes, the premiums can be cost-prohibitive.
As a result, many seniors simply go without adequate dental care and are forced to pay out of pocket for services if and when they’re needed.
Why is dental care so important for seniors?
Quality dental care is vital for everyone, not just adults over 65. However, seniors do face some unique challenges that make caring for their oral health more challenging and, potentially, more important than it was in their younger years.
Weakened immune system
For one thing, as we age, our immune system begins to weaken. This is a systemic issue, not isolated to the mouth. However, the teeth and gums are often one of the first areas to fall victim to the body’s weakened ability to fight off infection and germs.This is because our mouths are routinely host to millions of bacteria — some beneficial and some not — and the immune system is constantly working to maintain the population of good microbes while battling the bad.
As our immune system weakens, the balance shifts and more negative effects from oral bacteria tend to pop up. These can include everything from bad breath to cavities, as well as various forms of gum disease and even abscessed teeth.
Dry mouth (xerostomia)
Dry mouth is a common complaint when it comes to senior dental care because it’s a side effect of many prescription drugs. The more prescriptions we take, the greater the chance we’re going to suffer from dry mouth.
We often rely on toothpaste as the first line of defense in cleaning our mouths, but saliva is just as important in defending against harmful bacteria because it cleans the teeth and gums constantly. It also aids in digestion. Therefore, a significant loss in saliva production is no small matter. Not only is it uncomfortable, but it can contribute to more serious health problems if left unchecked, including the same oral health issues mentioned above.
Decreased motor control
Some seniors also deal with decreased mobility and/or control of their hands and arms, which can make formerly simple activities like brushing and flossing difficult, if not impossible. Arthritis is a leading cause of this problem, as well as degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.
Without a plan in place to fill the gap, this inability to adequately care for our own oral health can lead to significant problems as well.
Yes, dental care is important. But, what if you still can’t afford it?
This is a legitimate concern for most seniors, and for good reason. The cost of professional dental care and dental insurance have both risen in recent years, and there’s no reason to think that trend will change. While it’s still relatively inexpensive to take care of our teeth and gums on a daily basis, even the most routine of dental visits — the semiannual cleaning and examination — can be financially out of reach for many of us.
Fortunately, there are affordable dental care options available for seniors to save money on maintaining their oral health so they can receive the best possible care despite working with a tight budget.
While this may seem like common sense, dental appointments tend to rank low on most people’s priority list when they’re considering how to spend a limited amount of money. However, if we give dental care its proper priority, it becomes clear that regularly setting aside a small amount to cover two routine cleanings and exams should be a minimum requirement as we’re managing our annual budget.
Once you’ve determined the cost of services in your area, you should be able to divide that figure by six to determine the minimum amount you’ll need to put aside each month.
Low-cost and no-cost community clinics
Most communities have programs set up to provide various healthcare services at little or no cost for members of the community who meet certain requirements. Low income is often a requirement, and age can be a factor as well.
Contact your local Health and Human Resources (HHR) office to inquire about what low-cost or free dental services might be available in your local community.
Dental discount plans
Dental discount plans are another option that is often overlooked in senior dental care. These programs offer significant discounts off the normal cost of many dental services in exchange for a very affordable monthly membership fee. Unlike dental insurance, discount plans don’t require copays or other fees, and there’s no limitation on how many times you can use the plan or how much you can save.
For example, the Dental Solutions program offers 20-50 percent off retail costs for general and specialized dental care at participating providers for less than $10 per month for the entire household. Even if you only use the plan for two cleanings per year, it more than pays for itself, especially if your household includes two or more people.
With so many oral health challenges facing older Americans, it’s encouraging to know that opportunities exist for seniors to save on dental appointments and quality care. If you’re a senior yourself, or are caring for a loved one facing these struggles, look into one or more of the options described above.
Click the following link for more tips for affordable dental care to help seniors save on dental appointments. If you’d like to learn more about joining the Dental Solutions discount dental plan, simply contact us today.