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  • Writer's pictureMark Roberts

Age Well with a Beautiful Smile

What happens as you age? In most cases, men and women become more self conscious about their looks, their health, and their smile. During your working years, you should try to put a certain amount of your paycheck into savings to help offset the loss of income when you retire. That includes how you are going to pay for your lifestyle, your healthcare, and your living expenses. What benefits are you going to keep, and which ones are you willing to forego? Do you want to age well? What is going to make you smile?

Most employees during their working years have the option to participate in a dental plan with their company as part of their overall health benefit program, and typically that is purchased as a voluntary benefit. Some companies offset the premium cost with an employer contribution which lowers the cost of the dental insurance. Depending on the size of the company, employees may or may not have access to a dental benefit. Usually, large employers offer some type of dental benefit. Most individuals who have dental insurance purchase it through their company or have it provided as part of their benefits plan.

But what happens when you retire? As in most cases, the vast majority of employees lose access to healthcare benefits, including dental. With many individuals retiring early these days, it may be a while before they are eligible for Medicare which starts at age 65.

Because dental insurance is often a voluntary benefit, it is up to you to find where and how much to pay when you purchase an individual dental insurance product.

Your smile doesn’t have to retire when you do. It’s important to keep yours healthy as you enter the next chapter of your life. A dental plan you purchase post-retirement can help you care for your smile and continue to express your true self. In fact, a healthy smile is linked to better overall health and well-being. Gum disease and dry mouth are widespread among Americans 65 and older. In addition, people over 65 are more susceptible to oral cancer.

By 2060, according to the US Census, the number of US adults aged 65 years or older is expected to reach 98 million, 24% of the overall population. Older Americans with the poorest oral health tend to be those who are economically disadvantaged, lack insurance, and are members of racial and ethnic minorities. Being disabled, homebound, or institutionalized (e.g., seniors who live in nursing homes) also increases the risk of poor oral health.

There is a big misconception among the general population that Medicare includes a dental benefit, but that is not the case except in a medically necessary basis. Nearly half of Medicare beneficiaries—about 24 million people—don’t have dental coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Here’s what to know about how people enrolled in Medicare can get dental coverage.

Original Medicare, which is managed by the federal government, does not cover most routine dental care, dental procedures or supplies. People insured by Medicare have to pay the full cost of cleanings, fillings, dentures, tooth extractions and more. However, Medicare Part A—which covers hospital stays, care in skilled nursing facilities and hospice care—pays for certain medical dental services provided during a hospital stay. For example, if you suffered a traumatic injury to your teeth or jaw, Medicare would cover hospitalization and procedures medically necessary for recovery.

Some Medicare Advantage (often called Part C) plans are approved by the federal government and sold by private insurance companies. These plans often offer services not covered by Original Medicare. Plan enrollees might pay an extra premium for these benefits depending upon the insurance carriers' plan designs. However, not all Part C plans offer dental coverage. Therefore, it’s important to carefully read your plan’s details. Medicare Advantage plans tend to be the best way to get dental coverage, but you can also buy a separate dental plan offered by a private insurance company.

Dental care among the senior population has shown to be a problematic issue. Almost half of Medicare beneficiaries have not seen a dentist in the past year, nearly 20 percent of seniors have lost all their teeth, and 68 percent suffer from periodontal disease – a condition that causes loss of soft and hard tissue that hold teeth in the mouth. Research in the last 10 years has evidenced that oral health is integral to achieving overall health according to the University of Illinois Chicago College of Dentistry. More than 90 percent of all systemic conditions have been proven to have some start with oral health.

Oral health in general has improved significantly over the past several decades in all population subgroups. In spite of this improvement, however, significant disparities are still found in some population groups, including blacks, Hispanics and seniors. What is even more disturbing are the statistics about senior adults going to the dentist. More than 1 in every 4 seniors have not visited their dentist in the last five years, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Did you know that a lack of adequate saliva flow makes a person more vulnerable to gum disease and tooth decay? Since we tend to require more regular medications as we age, it is important to inform your dentist about any prescription or non-prescription drugs that you are using so they can monitor your oral health. Xerostomia, or more commonly known as "dry mouth," is a side effect on over 400 medications. Seniors also have special dental challenges, including:

- Greater risk of tooth rot or decay if gum tissue has receded.

- Faster plaque build-up.

- Maintaining daily dental hygiene habits with mobility or vision challenges.

Furthermore, poor oral health can exacerbate chronic conditions such as diabetes, dementia, respiratory disease, and heart disease that are prevalent in the senior population. Oral health problems in older adults, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) include the following:

  • Untreated tooth decay. Nearly all adults (96%) aged 65 years or older have had a cavity; 1 in 5 have untreated tooth decay.

  • Gum disease. A high percentage of older adults have gum disease. About 2 in 3 (68%) adults aged 65 years or older have gum disease.

  • Tooth loss. Nearly 1 in 5 of adults aged 65 or older have lost all of their teeth. Complete tooth loss is twice as prevalent among adults aged 75 and older (26%) compared with adults aged 65-74 (13%). Having missing teeth or wearing dentures can affect nutrition, because people without teeth or with dentures often prefer soft, easily chewed foods instead of foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables.

  • Oral cancer. Cancers of the mouth (oral and pharyngeal cancers) are primarily diagnosed in older adults; median age at diagnosis is 62 years.

  • Chronic disease. People with chronic diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, heart diseases, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may be more likely to develop gum (periodontal) disease, but they are less likely to get dental care than adults without these chronic conditions.

Aging definitely has some drawbacks, and a lot of seniors lose their health as they get older. Dental care and oral health are instrumental in helping to slow the process of worsening overall health. That's one great reason to have a dental plan that can help you maintain a great smile.

Fighting gum disease and other common oral issues requires consistent effort, including daily brushing and flossing. In addition, older adults need to see a dentist for checkups and cleanings on a regular basis. Keep in mind that even those who no longer have any natural teeth left still need these visits and routine maintenance to control inflammation-causing bacteria and reduce the impact on patients’ overall well-being.

Seniors are typically very cost conscious due to lost income. Many adults who finally qualify for Medicare are also sensitive to how much everything costs, including dental care and insurance. There are several very good senior dental plans in the market, and I can help you find one that suits your budget. Contact me for more information about those plans and how you can age well with a beautiful smile.

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