Dental Work: How Do Low Income Seniors Afford It?

By: Jody Smith

Paying for dental work can be a real challenge for retired seniors who are living on a lower income. Unfortunately Medicaid and Medicare programs don't offer more than spotty help with dental needs. For this reason, some seniors have to put dental work lower on their priority lists than they'd like. But help is available if you know where to look for it. 

While Medicare does not offer straight dental coverage, if a senior is having medical work done that also involves dental care, coverage may be applicable. For instance, a senior who is facing radiation for neoplastic diseases affecting the jaw may be able to have assistance from Medicare for the pulling of teeth that is necessary. Medicaid, for low income seniors, offers some limited assistance for dental care. This varies from state to state.
Losing all their teeth is not an inevitable outcome for seniors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this does happen to 30 percent of people who are older than 65, because they can't afford to go to the dentist. Retirement leaves 70 percent of seniors without coverage for dental work, reported from Forbes magazine.
Group dental insurance can be bought from credit unions as well as professional or trade associations. Discount insurance requires a premium to be paid each month. Dental discount plans instead require one fee per year. Dental discount plans are more favorable for seniors according to Forbes. The cost is generally about $100 annually. The plans tend to have short or nonexistent waiting periods, and dental costs tend to be more economical. Costs can be discounted by half, or sometimes more.
Group dental plans are cheaper than individual plans, sometimes by up to 25 percent. Discount dental plans are also available which allow you to pay a small amount per month, and gives a discount on some types of dental work. Not all dentists take part in every discount plan, so find out what applies with your own dentist.
Some dentists give of their time and service through community clinics. Community health clinics that offer discounted or free dental work for patients who can show that they have low incomes. Rates for discounted work will be determined by the senior's income.
As you near age 65, check out your existing dental coverage, to find out whether or not your employer has a policy of ending dental coverage at age 65. Or your dental plan may only be effective for up to $1,000 or $1500 per year. Planning ahead would involve seeing your dentist before you hit 65, and get an evaluation as to what kind of dental care you should be getting to keep your teeth and gums in good shape.
Jody Smith is a freelance writer for
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