How to Help Seniors Access Dental Care in the United States

By: Shana Aguilar

For many seniors, serious dental concerns and a loss of dental care can emerge at the same time. Seniors often experience some of the most severe dental issues of their life, with unique concerns emerging such as complications from dentures and tooth loss as well as increased risks of thrush, gum disease, and root decay.

Yet at a time when seniors may need more access to dentistry than ever, many find themselves without insurance coverage that would make the care they need affordable. Original Medicare coverage and Medigap do not offer coverage for routine dental care, and that’s a big problem when it comes to both treating and preventing dental problems in seniors.

The number one reason seniors say they stay away from the dentist is the unaffordable cost of visits, which means they’re missing the vital preventive care that can stop escalating disease and expenses. Here are a few ways dentists can consider working with seniors to ensure that they get the care they need.

Understand Medicare Advantage Plans

Talking to aging patients about their insurance options can be one way to encourage patient retention as people age out of employer-subsidized health insurance.

While Original Medicare offers no coverage for routine dental care, many Medicare Advantage plans will cover some amount of regular dental care such as basic cleanings, fillings, and extractions. Not only can this help patients save money on routine care, but it also can help prevent more expensive problems down the road.

For patients who may need more than routine care, an optional supplemental benefit (OSB) may be the right choice. An OSB can provide a higher level of coverage in line with the dental insurance your patients are accustomed to from their working life.

Join or Create a Dental Savings Plan

Many seniors may be interested in a dental savings plan, which offers a flat discount on services for an annual fee. Depending on their needs and other medical concerns, this may be a more affordable route than traditional insurance.

However, like an insurance plan, a dental savings plan will only work with an arranged network of doctors. You can consider either joining an existing dental savings plan or setting up your own, as some dentists’ offices do. A discount of even 10% can help seniors dealing with financial strain get in the door. You can also choose to offer a dental savings plan for patients who have insurance if they reach a maximum of insurance coverage.

Work with Seniors on Payment Plans

Another way to work with seniors who have difficulty affording dental services is to work with them on payment plans.

Some dentists’ offices may partner with a credit card or bank in offering options for delayed payments. With long-time patients, some dentists may have built up a relationship where they are willing to work with them personally on a series of installment payments rather than a single lump sum.

This can be particularly helpful for seniors dealing with an unexpected dental problem such as a root canal.

Volunteer with the Dental Lifeline Network

For dentists who are looking to go further to make sure America’s seniors get the care they need, the Dental Lifeline Network has been running its charitable organization, Donated Dental Services, for 35 years, and it now has a network of more than 15,000 dentists who have provided free care to over 120,000 people.

The Dental Lifeline Network encourages volunteer dentists who can even see a single patient in need, and many dentists find it a rewarding way to give back to the community.

Ms. Aguilar is a content strategist at iQuanti Inc, where she helps companies connect to people through informative and authoritative content. She is currently working with businesses in the healthcare finance sector to help doctors and dentists live their best financial lives.

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