Dental Care for Older Adults: Maintaining Healthy Teeth and Gums
With proper dental care, there is no need to worry about losing all your teeth as you get older. Scheduling appointments to visit your dentist for routine checkups, x-rays, and cleanings is key to maintaining healthy teeth and gums throughout your life.
The American Dental Association says that about 5% of adults over 65 are edentulous, meaning they haven’t retained any of their original teeth. That leaves 95% of adults with some or all of their natural teeth at risk of developing dental problems.
Top oral health hygiene tips for older adults include:
- Limiting intake of sugary drinks and foods
- Avoiding tobacco products
- Brushing your teeth at least 2x per day
- Using a soft-bristled toothbrush
- Flossing between your teeth daily
- Rinsing with an antibacterial mouthwash
- Scheduling checkups and cleanings every 6 to 12 months
Also, let your dental care team know if you are experiencing bleeding gums or tooth sensitivity when brushing your teeth. They will check for signs of periodontal disease, such as receding gums due to plaque build-up, and may recommend using a special type of toothpaste or an electric toothbrush in place of a regular toothbrush.
Dentures, Bridges, and Implants
Top age-related dental health problems include tooth decay, inflamed gums, and oral cancer. Xerostomia, or dry mouth, affects up to 30% of people 65 and older and is a common cause of cavities in adults. Dry mouth is most often a side effect of taking certain medications but may also result from diabetes and other health conditions. While drinking more water is one possible solution, your dentist may suggest using an over-the-counter oral moisturizer mouthwash or spray.
A newsletter of The Gerontological Society of America mentions oral health is an essential element of healthy aging and how missing or damaged teeth is often associated with a noticeable decline in “a person’s overall well-being” and quality of life. Avoidance of routine preventive dental services can also result in decreased social interactions and eventual social isolation due to impaired self-image.
Left untreated, dental cavities can cause receding gums, loose teeth, tooth decay, and eventually tooth loss. This can result in needing implants, bridges, dentures, or partial dentures to replace any missing or decaying teeth. And, although you no longer need regular teeth cleanings if you wear a full set of dentures, your dentist may still recommend regular checkups.
To continue on the path to optimal oral health, you should schedule regular checkups and teeth cleanings with your dentist. During these exams, your dental hygienist may take x-rays to check the status of your remaining natural teeth and check for any potential oral health problems including tissue inflammation due to ill-fitting dentures or other dental appliances.
Are Dental Services Covered by Medicare?
Here is a surprising statistic — looking for dental coverage is one of the top reasons why you might consider switching Medicare plans. If you are wondering if Medicare covers any dental services, the short answer is no. Unless a dental procedure is considered medically necessary to treat a specific condition, illness, or injury, then Original Medicare doesn’t cover dentistry services.
Top dental procedures needed by people over 65 include:
- Root canals
- Tooth extractions
- Implants to replace missing teeth
- Dentures or partial dentures
- Periodontal services to treat gum disease
In addition to x-rays and teeth cleaning, a comprehensive annual exam should also include routine screening for potential signs of oral cancer in the throat, mouth, or tongue. Unfortunately, prohibitive costs, lack of insurance, and living on a fixed or reduced income after retirement are just a few reasons why people over 65 may avoid dental care.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation almost half, or 47% of Medicare beneficiaries, lack any kind of dental coverage. However, if you switch your coverage to a Medicare Advantage plan, certain dental procedures may be covered. In fact, Medicare Advantage plans can help improve access to dental services and have become “the leading source of dental coverage among Medicare beneficiaries.”
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Many Medicare Advantage plans include preventive dental services such as yearly oral exams, x-rays, and teeth cleaning. Some of these plans may offer discounts on more extensive procedures such as pulling teeth, root canals, implants, crowns, dentures, or treating gum disease.
When shopping for a Medicare Advantage plan that includes dental benefits, you should pay attention to the yearly benefit cap amount. Once the annual coverage limit is reached, you are responsible for 100% of any other dental services for the remainder of the year.
Use our Plan Finder tool to discover Medicare Advantage plans near you that may include dental coverage. Or, you can call 833-319-0475 or TTY: 711 to speak with one of our licensed sales agents who are here to help.
Medicare Dental Learning Series
If you enjoyed reading this blog, check out the other articles in our Medicare dental care learning series.
- Does Medicare Advantage Cover Dental Care?
- How to Get Better Medicare Dental Coverage
- Does Utah Medicaid Cover Dental?
- Does Maryland Medicaid Cover Dental Care?
- Does Medicare Cover Jaw Surgery?
- Does Medigap Cover Dental Care?
- Does Medicare Cover Dental Care?
- Do Medicare Supplement Plans Cover Dental Care?
- Does Medicare Cover Braces & Orthodontic Care?
- Does Medicare Cover Oral Surgery?
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