(BPT) – Millions of baby boomers set for retirement are facing the question of whether to buy dental insurance. In many cases, they’ve had dental insurance their entire working lives, thanks to employer-sponsored plans. But teeth are not immune to aging, and many people will find themselves paying for costly procedures like crown replacements, extractions, implants and dentures unless they continue with the preventive care usually covered by dental insurance.
“If you’re on the verge of retirement, now is not the time to quit going to the dentist,” says Dr. Jed Jacobson, chief science officer of Renaissance Life & Health Insurance and the director of the Renaissance Dental Research and Data Institute. “If anything, it’s more important than it was when you were younger. Baby boomers are the first generation to have had access to great dental insurance and care throughout their working lives. When they make the switch from an employer-sponsored health plan to Medicare, they might think they no longer need dental insurance — but it’s vital for seniors to have it.”
In addition to the obvious benefit of preserving dental health, regular care by a dentist can help seniors spot signs of up to 120 different diseases, including oral cancer and diabetes. With diabetes, for example, your dentist is often the first person to detect early warning signs like frequent yeast infections in the mouth and periodontal disease. Starting care at the first sign of trouble is critical for successful long-term care.
“Aging takes a toll on oral health,” Jacobson says. “Many older adults take prescription drugs for things like hypertension that can make them more prone to periodontal disease and tooth decay. If a dentist spots a disease or illness in its early stages, it’s not only beneficial to your health; it may also help to lower medical costs.”
According to the National Association of Dental Plans (NADP) research, people without dental insurance are not only less likely to go to the dentist; they’re more likely to have heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes — health issues older people are particularly prone to. And researchers have even found an association between periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s disease, according to a report in U.S. News & World Report. Researchers found that bacteria from the mouth could enter the bloodstream, travel to the brain and possibly cause the kind of brain cell deterioration associated with Alzheimer’s.
Would you go to the emergency room for a toothache? Each year, thousands of Americans without dental insurance — including many seniors on Medicare — do exactly that. In fact, non-traumatic dental conditions now account for more than two percent of all emergency room visits, according to Stanford University researchers. Every year, more than 738,000 people visit emergency departments for dental treatment, NADP reports.
“No one wants to have to go to the emergency room, especially not for an issue that could have been prevented before it reached a crisis stage. Additionally, emergency rooms are not equipped to take care of the problem, which means follow-up care will still be needed to solve the issue,” Jacobson says. “Having dental insurance empowers seniors to take care of their teeth, and can help them maintain better overall health as well.”
Misconceptions of the cost of dental insurance may cause some seniors to forego coverage. Retirees actually have many options for finding affordable dental insurance, from group plans offered through associations to customizable individual plans from providers like Renaissance Dental. In fact, Renaissance can customize plans as a supplement to Medicare, and offers a network of leading national and regional PPO networks. Plans cover preventive care, such as routine exams and cleanings, plus certain dental procedures like crowns and implants. Plan premiums can be as little as $25 per month.