Adults over 65 face a myriad of dental health problems. According to the CDC, around 1 in 5 adults aged 65 or older have lost all of their teeth and wear dentures. Unfortunately, having missing teeth or wearing dentures can affect nutrition. People with dentures may not be able to chew things such as fruits or vegetables, which can either be tough or full of seeds that may inevitably cause denture damage or discomfort.
There are several reasons that seniors may have poor dental hygiene, stemming from things such as being raised in a time before proper teeth brushing was enforced — daily toothbrushing only became common after World War II — to mobility issues that dampen fine motor skills or grip. It’s also true that seniors have more barriers to access when it comes to dental care. Finding and working with the right dental care resources can help increase your and your loved ones’ quality of life.
Seniors may have specific needs when it comes to dental care. Not just because of the effect that aging has on the body, but because of things like lifestyle or pre-existing conditions that can affect oral health.
There are several conditions that have links to oral health that seniors may not even be aware of. These can include:
These conditions can make having proper dental hygiene more involved than simple daily brushing, as well as increase the likelihood of things like gum disease, inflammation, plaque build-up, and other oral care that needs special attention. Ask your doctor or dentist about your dental hygiene if you find yourself with a new diagnosis.
Additionally, it’s incredibly common for seniors to lose some, or all of their teeth as they age. You or your loved one may want to work with an experienced dentist or denturist, who has access to top-of-the-line equipment. Accurate and detailed records facilitated by modern dental software and state-of-the-art sensors for x-rays, can help keep patients informed on how their teeth are aging, and catch issues before they get worse.
As we’ve mentioned, the loss of teeth can impact diet and nutrition. But the same is true in reverse — diet and nutrition can have a huge impact on dental health. Processed convenience foods can be high in sugars and salts that can erode enamel. However, these processed foods are easy to cook, and may be a more accessible option for seniors who are aging in place.
Resources like meal delivery services can be a great way to reduce the need to rely on convenience foods. Companies like Meals on Wheels are nationwide, and can completely change a senior’s quality of life. You can find services in your area through their website.
Increasing vitamin intake, such as calcium and vitamin D, with doctor-approved supplements or diet changes can also help improve overall oral health. In addition, vitamins can help other areas of your health as well. As people age, bone loss becomes increasingly common, which can be mitigated with the help of vitamins and other supplements.
If you or your loved one don’t have traditional dental insurance that covers things like preventive and routine care, that doesn’t mean that there is no way for them to receive care. Some of the financial resources available to seniors for dental care include:
Many of these financing options can either be used separately or in conjunction with each other. Be sure to completely understand the eligibility requirements of finance options before agreeing to them. Some of these options are use-them-or-lose them, so be sure you pick the option best for your lifestyle.
Medicare doesn’t cover most routine or preventative dental care. There are unique situations in which Medicare will cover dental. These include:
If you have any other life-altering condition that requires dental work, then you may be able to appeal for medicare coverage with the right endorsements from a physician. All insurance appeals are determined on a case-by-case basis.
According to AARP, medicare advantage does cover preventative services from in-network providers. These services include:
Medicare Advantage is just one of the supplemental plans you can get with Medigap. Medigap was designed to cover some of the “gaps" in traditional Medicare, such as dental care. There are about 10 different options when it comes to Medigap supplements, which you can view through the Medicare Handbook.
Dental is only 100% covered for children enrolled in Medicaid. However, Medicaid coverage is unique to each state, so what’s covered in one place may not be covered in another. Dental for adults is covered by Medicaid when dental procedures are deemed medically necessary. This could include:
You can find more information about your coverage on Medicaid.gov.
There are several options for seniors to find affordable dental care outside of traditional dentist offices. It should be noted that some of these places may not offer comprehensive or emergency services. However, these places may not require insurance and typically have lower prices, making them ideal for routine work at a low cost.
Dental schools are an excellent place to seek out low-cost treatment. While you will be worked on by a student in training, they are all closely monitored by licensed professionals. Dental schools can offer hefty discounts for routine treatments, as well as surgeries.
It should be noted that treatments at dental schools may take longer, and they won’t be able to be as accommodating to your schedule, as they are working with the schedules of students. These concessions can be well worth low-cost quality dental care.
Dentists who want to make a difference while cutting down costs both for their offices and patients can use dental practice management software, and invest in other supplies. They can also work pro-bono for dental charities. Many businesses can write off costs directly related to charity on their taxes. The particulars of this may vary in your state, so be sure to check with your tax preparer. It should be noted that time or lost income due to independent pro-bono work cannot be written off on business taxes.
Community health and dental clinics can be a great resource for uninsured or low-income patients. These clinics are non-profit organizations that receive grants and donations from the surrounding area to provide care.
These dental clinics typically take all forms of Medicaid insurance, as well as cash provided by patients without insurance. The only downside to going to a community clinic is that you may face long wait times, similar to dental school because they accept all patients regardless of insurance.
Faith-based organizations offer many of the same services as traditional dentists, but through a faith-based lens. This can be particularly important for people whose faith may help inform their medical decisions. You can find faith-based dental services either through local search, or through the Christian Dental Association.
Faith-based organizations may not discriminate based on insurance, or offer sliding scales or other payment benefits to members of their faith community. Your local community health clinic may even be based on faith-informed practices, and come with all the non-profit, nondiscriminatory benefits that community centers offer.
Oral Health America’s wisdom tooth project has been connecting people in dire need of dental care with dentists with a particular focus on those with Medicare coverage. This is particularly helpful for seniors, who represent 97% of those covered by medicare.
The wisdom tooth project covers 100% of dental services. Despite its name, the organization does not limit coverage to only wisdom teeth surgery and aftercare. To find a participating dentist near you, you can contact Oral Health America, or simply ask your dentist.
The Veterans Administration, or VA, offers several different types of health benefits to service members and their families. The way that dental benefits work through the VA is that, depending on your service and health situation, you will be placed in a class. Your class is what will determine your benefits. You can check what class you might fall into on the VA Dental Care website. You can also apply for dental benefits online using a 10-10EZ health care application.
Several other insurance agencies or dentist offices may offer special discounts to former service members, which can help you or your loved one achieve more affordable care. You can ask your insurance or dental provider if this is the case.
Below you can find some additional resources for seniors and their families when it comes to dental care. These include educational and financial resources at both the state and local levels.
The following resources can provide you with knowledge on dental insurance coverage for seniors, as well as proper oral health for aging individuals:
The following resources can help provide financial aid to seniors in need of dental services. Most take the form of grants which applicants can apply for. These resources can come in handy for those who have tried other avenues and been unsuccessful, or need serious and expensive dental work:
In addition, the non-profit Dental Lifeline provides dental and financial assistance to vulnerable populations, including seniors. However, to gain their services, it’s important to check your qualifications which vary from state to state.
Not only is proper dental care important for oral health, but it can also have a negative impact on your mental health. This is particularly important for seniors, as they are still currently the most untreated population when it comes to depression. Finding the right resources for you or your loved one, regardless of their insurance or income level, can help improve their quality of life, as well as their overall health.