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Do you have teeth in the budget?

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Posted: 6 am ET

How are your teeth? Are you missing a few here and there? Do you have dental insurance, and do you go to the dentist regularly?

If you are older than 65 and you have dental insurance, you're one of the lucky 2 percent, according to Oral Health America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving dental health.

Basic Medicare doesn't include dental care, although if you have purchased a Medicare Advantage program, it may include dental insurance. Medigap plans don't.

In about half the states, Medicaid doesn't even offer dental care for impoverished adults, which leaves lots of people unable to pay for dentures or implants. That is a big reason why about 25 percent of older adults suffer the problems associated with edentulism, or toothlessness. That's more than just an inconvenience. Oral Health America points out that if you can't chew, chances are you aren't eating a nutritious diet.

The Affordable Care Act also doesn't mandate dental care for adults, although in September a bill that would add dental care was introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate. Chances are it's not going anywhere anytime soon, so you're on your own to factor dental care into your retirement planning. Paying for a modest dental plan is probably the best route, but these plans can be pricey. If you're considering one, the American Dental Association suggests you ask these questions before you buy:

  • How much does the plan pay for fillings, root canals, oral surgery (such as extractions) and treatment of gum disease?
  • How much will it pay for major work, such as crowns, fixed bridges, implants or treatment for diseases of the jaw joint?
  • How far do you have to go to find a dentist who accepts the plan?
  • Is there a waiting period for certain care?
  • How does the plan treat referrals to specialists?

The bottom line: Make sure your retirement nest egg will stretch far enough to cover the nearly inevitable necessary dental work associated with aging.

If you can't afford to pay for dental care, check out, which offers a state-by-state guide to low-cost/no-cost dental care at clinics and dental schools.

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