If you’re over 65 years of age, you may find yourself in one or both of these scenarios:
- You’re on a fixed or limited income
- You’re aware of or currently facing health concerns associated with aging
These realities mean many seniors just like you are considering how to afford healthcare, while remaining active and healthy for as long as possible. If you can relate to this situation, you’re not alone. Millions of American seniors are going through these difficulties right now.
In fact, affording healthcare isn't limited to major medical and pharmaceutical care: dental care presents the same challenge for many seniors. Since oral health care is generally not covered by Medicare, a large group of aging Americans have no dental insurance to rely on. In some cases, seniors find themselves making difficult decisions between paying for needed dental care and covering other vital expenses like rent, utilities, or food.
It’s encouraging to note, however, that there are definite strategies seniors can employ to overcome dental care costs. These include:
- Focusing on good oral self-care habits
- Making smart nutrition choices
- Being aware of “dry mouth”
- Investing in preventive care
Let’s discuss how you can use these simple but powerful strategies to control and overcome the high cost of dental care effectively:
1. Focus on good oral self-care habits
Aging doesn’t have to equate to losing your teeth or switching to dentures. The first important key to control dental care costs and maintain good oral health is primarily in your own hands. While genetics plays a role in how strong and healthy your teeth are, self-care habits like proper brushing, flossing, and rinsing have a much greater impact on whether or not you’re going to keep your teeth for life.
And, those habits can also significantly reduce your need for costly dental procedures like extractions, root canals, crowns, implants, and dentures as you get older.
How to brush your teeth properly
"These realities mean many seniors just like you are considering how to handle the rising cost of healthcare, while remaining active and healthy for as long as possible."
While it seems like a simple enough process, it’s easy to brush your teeth the wrong way.
It’s also important to replace your toothbrush on a regular basis, so you’re always getting the most value from the process. Every 3-4 months is the minimum recommended interval, but you should replace it anytime it feels like it’s wearing out or the bristles are spreading apart.
If arthritis or other challenges make it difficult to brush your teeth properly, consider investing in an electric toothbrush to maintain the quality and consistency of the habit.
How to floss properly
Flossing is also a simple procedure that can be done incorrectly. More often, however, it’s simply not done enough. Far from being optional, it’s the only effective way to clean the surfaces of your teeth that toothbrushes can’t reach.
Although there’s no clinical reason to choose one style of dental floss or flossing tool over another, dentists agree that the best floss for you is the type you’re going to to use consistently. So, feel free to experiment with different floss types and tools to find the one you enjoy using most.
How to properly use mouthwash
While mouthwash is commonly marketed and widely accepted as a way to avoid bad breath, it actually plays an important role in your oral health that goes beyond embarrassing social faux pas.
Rinsing regularly with antibacterial mouthwash will never be able to take the place of brushing and flossing your teeth. However, it can be a highly effective stopgap when you can’t brush or floss properly, especially immediately after a meal when you’re away from home. Many people find that keeping a small bottle of mouthwash in their purse or vehicle makes it convenient and easier to remember.
Be sure you choose mouthwash that has antibacterial properties and that isn’t loaded with sugar, then follow the instructions on the label.
By making these three simple, inexpensive habits part of your daily routine, you can expect to save hundreds or thousands of dollars on extensive dental care, and maintain the look of your smile and the function of your natural teeth for your entire life.
2. Making smart nutrition choices
When it comes to preserving your natural teeth and avoiding extensive dental problems, most people recognize that eating and drinking a lot of sugary foods is not advised. But it’s not as commonly recognized that there are plenty of food and drink choices that are highly beneficial for your teeth, and that eating more of these foods can actually make them healthier and stronger.
Any food that is a good source of one or more of the following nutrients will be good for your teeth:
- Vitamin D
In addition, a balanced diet with adequate vitamins and minerals will help you maintain a strong immune system, lessen the severity of inflammation and infections, and help improve blood circulation, all of which will have a positive impact on your gums and teeth.
Finally, giving your teeth, gums, and jaws a workout by routinely enjoying healthy, crunchy foods like apples, carrots, and celery can also promote long-lasting oral health.
While these recommendations aren’t new, it’s still true that a balanced diet and regular exercise are the foundations of a healthy body and mind, and staying vigilant in these areas will benefit more than just your oral health.
3. Be aware of “dry mouth”
Xerostomia - better known as dry mouth - is extremely common in seniors. It’s not only a common natural issue as we age, it’s also a side effect of many different prescription drugs, and many seniors will experience it at some point.
Chronic dry mouth is caused by a weakening of the salivary glands resulting in less saliva in your mouth. This condition can be dangerous because saliva is your body’s natural first defense against the bacteria that’s behind cavities, gum disease, and other oral health issues. Saliva also plays an important role in digestion, so dry mouth can potentially lead to digestive trouble or even malnutrition.
While it may not be possible to completely avoid dry mouth, there are some simple steps you can take to reduce its impact on your oral health:
- Drink plenty of water
- Chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free candy between meals
- Consider requesting a medicated mouthwash or other prescription solution if the problem becomes more serious
4. Invest in preventive care
While all of the strategies discussed here are designed to help you control the cost of dental care, it’s also important to invest wisely now to avoid greater expenses in the future.
No matter how well you care for your oral health through brushing, flossing, and good nutrition, you will be at a disadvantage keeping your teeth and gums healthy and strong later in life without regularly visiting a dentist for a professional cleaning and examination.
This semi annual cleaning and exam will remove hardened plaque (tartar) from the surface of your teeth that no amount of brushing and flossing will fully eliminate. Equally important, it gives your dentist an opportunity to examine your mouth and identify any potential issues before they progress to the point where expensive intervention is required.
In many cases, serious health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and certain types of cancer are diagnosed earlier by a dentist than by your family doctor, as the warning signs can present in the mouth before you’re even aware of them.
While a regular cleaning and examination costs money, it’s far lower than the price of extensive treatments, especially if these have to be done on an emergency basis. To help prepare ahead for handling the cost of preventive care on a limited budget, consider joining a dental discount program to easily save on dental care. As an alternative to traditional dental insurance, many seniors use dental discount cards to save 20%-50% off of general and advanced dental care, without any confusing paperwork or waiting periods to consider.
These four simple strategies can help you control the rising cost of dental care while helping you maintain excellent oral health for the rest of your life. But - as is the case with all healthy habits - the sooner you start, the better it’s going to do and the longer you can expect to enjoy the benefits. So don’t hesitate to get started today!