When you're a retiree, trips to the doctor can wreck havoc with your budget, but so can time spent in the dentist's chair. Out-of-pocket costs for all dental services totaled $30.7 billion in 2008, according to the non-profit FamiliesUSA. While skipping the dentist might be best for your cash flow, it comes with consequences.
Research from Universal Dental Plan, a membership based dental savings organization, found that delayed dentistry and poor oral health increases the risk of heart disease by 180%, diabetes and stroke by 300% and respiratory infection by 500% – all conditions that commonly plague elder Americans. Yet in 2010, just 55 percent of Americans age 65 and older had visited the dentist in the last year, mostly due to the cost.
Taking care of your teeth is a priority.. Here's how to do so without taking such a big bite out of your budget.
What Medicare beneficiaries need to know
If you have a medical emergency that involves your teeth, original Medicare may cover those emergency costs, depending on what services are needed and who performs them. But the traditional dental coverage most people are accustomed to getting from an employer (cleanings, fillings, and crowns) are not a part of basic Medicare coverage, says Eric Maddux, consumer specialist with www.PlanPrescriber.com.
Medicare Supplement Insurance plans don't provide dental insurance coverage, either, says Maddux. However, some Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans provide dental coverage.
Evaluate dental insurance
If you opt for dental insurance be aware that they have cost-sharing requirements like co-pays, deductibles and coinsurance. Know how much you'll spend for regular checkups or emergency dental work. Expensive procedures, like crowns and root canals may be subject to higher deductibles and co-payment than routine cleanings or fillings, depending on the plan you have, cautions Maddux.
Only buy what you need. “If you're over 65, chances are you don't need braces. And, if you don't need them, don't waste money on a plan that covers them. Skipping the plans that offer dental benefits you don't need could save you money,” says Maddux.
Consider a club
Join a discount club. There are more than 100,000 dentists across the country participating in discount dental plans – an alternative to dental insurance. You can find them by plugging in your zip code at www.DentalPlans.com, along with a selection of more than 30 plans that activate within three business days, have no annual limits, and offer 10-60% off most procedures.
“Low cost dental membership plans like Quality Dental Plans can help save hundreds of dollars, even thousands, annually on professional cleanings, comprehensive exams and restorative care. We even cover implants and cosmetic treatments to restore your smile, which are usually not covered by insurance at all. You pay for what you need unlike insurance, where you pay whether you use it or not,” says Dan Marut, founder of Quality Dental Plan.
Strike a deal
“Negotiate. Is there a way you can save? Your dentist might be open to offering a discount for word-of-mouth referrals. If you're paying with cash, your dentist might have a savings plan available,” says dentist Peter Krimsky.
Rely on students
Some dental schools provide services for significantly less than a dental practice. To find a school in your area, visit the American Dental Association's site.
Check out FreeDentalWork.org for listings on free dental clinic events in your backyard. You can also look for events through the nonprofit organization Dentistry From the Heart, (www.dentistryfromtheheart.org) with dentists who donate their time and equipment to provide free dental treatment, says Krimsky. Groupon, and other deal sites are not just about saving money on that fancy restaurant or spa. “According to DealRadar.com, about one out of every 11 deals offered online is for a health care service,” says Krimsky. See if you can get a deal on the dentist.
Understand what's included in a visit so you limit expensive “extra” charges, advises Scott Sangster, CEO of Health in Reach, (www.healthinreach.com), which offers discounts and online scheduling for dental and medical appointments nationwide. Compare prices. “Find another dentist to get a second opinion before costly procedures. This may reduce the expense of unnecessary care or identify less costly options,” says Sangster.
“Prevention is the best medicine. There is no substitute and there are no shortcuts to proper dental home-care,” says Marut. Brushing with toothpaste for at least two minutes, twice a day and flossing at least once every 24 hours will go a long way to save money dental costs. Use alcohol free oral rinses as an adjunct to proper home care, says Marut. “Bottom line, prevention costs less than restoration.”