Can Seniors Save Money On Dental Care?

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Dental procedures can cost as little as $50 for tooth filling to as much as $3,000+ for more serious procedures [1]. And as you age, you are more likely to need complex, expensive dental work done. Luckily, options for dental insurance have exploded in recent years, and if you haven’t checked on dental insurance pricing and options in recent years, you may be seriously shocked by what you find!

A smiling senior couple.

Do you have tens of thousands of dollars set aside for dental care? Maybe, but wouldn’t it be nice to somehow offset your dental costs and save money?

Well, you have two options for saving money on dental care:

  • Dental discount plans.
  • Dental insurance.

These are similar in a lot of ways. Most importantly, they can partially or fully cover your dental costs. However, these two methods have a number of distinctions that you need to understand.

What Are Dental Discount Plans And How Can They Help You?

Let’s start with the simpler of the two – dental discount plans.

Dental discount plans are offered by private companies. With discount plans, seniors typically pay an upfront annual fee, without any monthly premiums or deductibles down the line.

Once you’ve applied for a discount plan, you will get a discount card. When you need dental services, you show this card to the dentist you visit and get discounted prices on dental care [2], typically from 10 to 60%.

When it comes to coverage, dental discount plans can include [3]:

  • Checkups.
  • Cleanings.
  • X-rays.
  • Extractions.
  • Fillings.
  • Crowns.
  • Dentures.
  • Root canals.

Coverage and fees will vary from discount plan to discount plan, so you should investigate your options.

What Is Dental Insurance And How Can It Help You?

Next, we have dental insurance. Unlike discount plans, dental insurance incorporates:

  • Premiums that you need to pay monthly.
  • Deductibles, copays, and coinsurance that you need to pay when you want coverage.
  • Waiting periods during which you will not receive reimbursements. Typically, the waiting period with dental insurance is 1 year after the plan purchase.
  • Annual limits for coverage.

When it comes to upfront fees, dental insurance can be costlier. However, insurance can cover 100% of your dental care costs (as long as you are within your annual limit and there are no other limitations).

In terms of coverage, there are three main types of dental insurance [4]:

  • Preventive coverage, which includes cleanings and most routine care. Preventive coverage may not have waiting periods, deductibles, or copays.
  • Basic coverage, which includes simple fillings or restorative work.
  • Major coverage, which may include more complex services like root canals, crowns, bridges, and dentures.

What is and isn’t covered varies from insurer to insurer, so you should definitely research your options.

How Does Insurance Compare With Discount Plans In Terms Of Costs?

Costs are obviously a big consideration when shopping for dental insurance or dental discount plans.

According to Investopedia, dental insurance for seniors can start from as low as $18 per month for very basic preventive plans [3]. For full-access coverage that includes prevention along with major dental work, monthly premiums may go over $100.

Keep in mind that these figures don’t include deductibles, copays, and coinsurance (the latter can reach 50% with some procedures).

As for dental discount plans, they can range from $75 to about $200 annually [2][5]. You may be able to find cheaper discount plans, but with worse coverage.

Dental discount plans may cost more upfront, but they don’t have any waiting periods, deductibles, copays, or coinsurance. But do remember that they only offer a percent-off discount, not full coverage (though also remember that insurance doesn’t always cover you in full too).

Is Dental Insurance Or A Dental Discount Plan Worth It?

The costs of dental insurance and dental discount plans may seem significant – are they worth it, and should you bother?

This depends on your budget and your dental health, but for most seniors, some form of coverage is most likely worth it. Dental issues are common among seniors, and they become more prevalent with age.

For example, according to the United States CDC, 26% of seniors aged 75 and more have had complete tooth loss, while among seniors from 65 to 74, only 13% have lost their teeth [6]. Aside from that, 68% of seniors aged 65 or more have gum disease. 96% of seniors 65 or more have had a cavity too.

So seniors are very likely to need dental care at some point. Well, dental insurance and dental discount plans may help them offset the costs of dental services.

With dental insurance, there is one more thing to remember. They usually have waiting periods during which you won’t receive coverage, so waiting for issues to come up before you buy insurance won’t work. You may want to act fast.

In the end, research the market, have a good look at your options, and decide what to choose based on what you find.

 

Sources:
  1. “Average Costs: Dentistry and Orthodontia”, CareCredit, https://www.carecredit.com/dentistry/costs/.
  2. “The scoop on dental discount plans”, Humana, https://www.humana.com/dental-insurance/dental-discount-cards.
  3. “What You Need to Know About Dental Insurance for Seniors Over 65”, HealthMarkets, https://www.healthmarkets.com/resources/medicare/dental-coverage-for-seniors-over-65/.
  4. “The 7 Best Dental Insurance Providers for Seniors in 2020”, Investopedia, https://www.investopedia.com/best-dental-insurance-for-seniors-4844535.
  5. “How Much Does A Dental Savings Plan Cost?”, DentalPlans.com, https://www.dentalplans.com/dental-information/how-to-save/how-much-a-dental-plan-costs.
  6. “Facts About Older Adult Oral Health”, U.S. CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/basics/adult-oral-health/adult_older.htm.
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