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It has become a cliché: someone gets a great-sounding job offer, and their first question is, “Yes, but does it come with dental?”

Without dental insurance, a routine exam and cleaning can cost $300. Skipping that preventative care can cost you much more, though. Fillings, root canals, and crowns cost hundreds of dollars per tooth, and dentures can cost up to $6,000.

So why not just skip dental care altogether? Aside from the obvious risk of gradually losing your teeth, neglecting oral health can create health risks from infections and can complicate other medical issues, such as diabetes.

Despite the short-term cost of paying out-of-pocket for dental care, and the long-term cost of neglecting oral health, nearly half of all Medicare recipients have no dental insurance coverage at all. Fortunately, there are alternatives that can keep you smiling.

A Few Key Points to Sink Your Teeth Into

As you consider the importance of dental care, here are a few key points to keep in mind:

  • Dental care is important but super expensive.
  • Original Medicare does not have the coverage you need.
  • Stand-Alone dental insurance plans are expensive and may not cover enough.
  • Medicare Advantage plans are likely your best bet.
  • Carefully consider issues like deductibles and what dentists are in-network before making your decision.

A Big Frown: Original Medicare

We give Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) a big frown because it won’t help you out, with the possible exception of fixing you up in the hospital if you break your face. You’ll pay the full cost out-of-pocket for routine checkups, cleanings, fillings, extractions, or any other non-emergency dental care you need.

Medicare Part A might cover you if dental care is required in the hospital for a major emergency, like a broken jaw from a car accident or an over-enthusiastic self-defense class. But that’s a pretty drastic way to get new crowns.

A Skeptical Smirk: Stand-Alone Insurance Plans

You can go shopping in the marketplace for a stand-alone dental policy, but you’ll have to do a lot of research to find the best option. You might pay $35-95 a month in premiums but only receive $1-2k in benefits.

If you go this route, pay attention to the deductibles and requirements for co-insurance payments. You might find in the end the value you receive is not even worth the hassle it takes to deal with it.

A stand-alone plan might be better than nothing, so we give it a little smirk, but a skeptical one. And we aren’t showing our teeth when we do it because we can’t afford to have them cleaned on our stand-alone plan.

A Big, Bright Smile: Medicare Advantage

In light of the alternatives, what makes us flash a big Hollywood smile is a Medicare Advantage Plan. These types of plans supplement Medicare Parts A and B and can cover things they don’t, like dental services. They’re offered through private insurance companies but are required to meet coverage standards set by the government.

There are different types of plans, so you still need to shop around a bit to see what is covered. Here are some things to consider:

  • How much coverage do you need? Would you rather pay higher monthly premiums and have most services covered, or are you willing to pay for some services yourself to have lower monthly premiums?
  • Is your favorite dentist in-network, and if not, are you willing to switch to another or pay a little more to stay with an out-of-network provider?
  • What are the deductibles and annual maximum dollar amounts this plan will pay?

The insurance company will provide you with a Summary of Benefits for their plans and you can also feel free to talk to an agent directly to make sure you understand it before signing on the dotted line.

Your Smile is Important

As we get older, it can be common to think of dental care as a vanity for younger people, not a healthcare necessity. Combined with a lot of people’s reluctance or even fear of seeing a dentist, and the high cost of dental care, it becomes something we put off.

As we’ve already seen, good oral health is important for your physical health, but it’s also important for your confidence and enjoyment of life as you get older. A lot of joyful life experiences lie ahead of you: holidays, vacations, weddings, birthdays, or graduations. You need a smile that communicates to the world all the happiness you will feel in the years ahead.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash