Taking the bite out of financial tooth pain in retirement

Why it Matters

• Ignoring dental care now could result in much bigger medical problems later, including tooth decay and gum disease.

• Almost half of adults 30 and older and 70% of people 65 and older have some form of periodontal disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

• Medicare does not cover dental care for most seniors.

Lori Mayfield tkc.profilePicture Written by: Lori Mayfield | Transamerica
07/06/2017

4 Min readClock Icon

Taking care of your pearly whites now can help save you from bigger medical costs later, especially as you near retirement.

Seniors often rely on Medicare for their health care, which does not include dental coverage for most seniors. It may cover a tooth extraction in extreme circumstances, but that’s hardly the kind of care most people would opt for.

According to a study by the Pew Charitable Trust, 15% of 65- to 74-year-olds reported avoiding particular foods because of dental problems. Instead of healthy, crunchy raw veggies and fruit, they opted for easier to chew foods such as those high in cholesterol and saturated fat. That could eventually lead to other health problems.

Look out forcavities

According to Tooth Wisdom, a health resource for older adults, recent research suggests older adults are more prone to cavities. As we age, our gums recede, exposing more root, which is covered with cementum, a softer tissue than enamel. Not only is this area more susceptible to decay, it’s also more sensitive to touch and to hot or cold.

Another common oral health issue is dry mouth, or xerostomia, which happens naturally as we age and can be compounded as a side effect of certain medications. Saliva is needed to fight bacteria and keep your gums and teeth healthy.

Tips for preventive oral health care

As always, prevention is your best protection against dental costs, according to the American Dental Association. The association says optimal dental care includes:

• Brushing at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.

• Flossing before bedtime.

• Avoiding sugary drinks like soda or juices.

• Drinking water.

• Quitting smoking, which can lead to problems including bad breath, stained teeth, dulled sense of taste and smell, and gum disease.

• Using an over-the-counter moisturizing mouthwash to reduce plaque and help with dry mouth.

• Visiting a dentist at least twice a year for an exam and cleaning.

What not to do

Some habits, such as chewing tobacco, may be more widely broadcast as hazardous to your oral (and overall health), but there are some things many of us do that can unknowingly cause harm.

Chewing ice can crack or chip teeth and eating sticky, sugary food can lead to tooth decay.

To keep your teeth healthy, kick an ice chomping habit to the curb and try to be more cognizant of sticky, sugary foods that stick on your teeth. Raisins or other dried fruit offer health benefits, but if you can’t get to a sink to brush your teeth after say a bowl of raisin bran or that trail mix bar, be sure to rinse with water and make sure you’re not harboring the perfect storm for a cavity to form.

Gum disease is as important to protect against as cavities. According to Oral Health America, when your gums swell, more germs enter your bloodstream from your mouth. And that can cause fatty deposits and clots to form in your blood vessels. These same germs are responsible for causing stomach ulcers.

If you have diabetes, gum disease can make your diabetes worse and vice versa, according to Sue Spackman, DDS.

Plan ahead and find affordable care in your area

The cost of a filling is minimal compared to that of crowns, bridges, or implants. So how do you protect yourself from a potential financial sinkhole? If you are retiring soon and find you won’t have dental coverage, shop around.

If retirement is on your horizon in the next few years, you might want to consult with your dentist about replacing silver fillings that might ultimately be in need of repair. And have crowns or any areas on iffy ground looked over carefully.

For those with a dental need who don’t have dental insurance, there are options ranging from dental schools to clinics. A throbbing abscessed tooth in need of a root canal isn’t going to wait. And most dental insurance plans have a six-month waiting period to cover major treatments such as root canals. Don’t be shy about reducing your costs. Call ahead and speak to someone in billing to ask if they offer a reduced rate if you pay at the time of service or a cash discount or even a payment plan.

We’d love to hear how you’re taking care of your pearly whites in retirement or as you prepare for retirement. Let us know in our community [link to Community article, ‘Teeth: Ignore them and they’ll go away — taking your wallet with them.]

Things to Consider:

• Prevention is key: Brush and floss at least twice a day.

• Shop for a dental plan.

• Schedule regular checkups.

• Preventative dental care is much more affordable than fillings, crowns, bridges, and implantsBreak habits that don’t serve your teeth well (smoking, chewing ice, and eating sticky, sugary foods).

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