7 ways to cut dental costs

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Going to the dentist can be expensive and there isn’t much help available for older people who can’t afford to pay.

Under most circumstances, none of the basic health safety net organizations — Medicare, Medicaid and the Veteran’s Administration — cover anything but some emergency dental care.

Oral Health America, a nonprofit, says:

  • About 70 percent of older Americans don’t have dental insurance.
  • Some 80 percent would be unable to pay for a major dental procedure.
  • About half have untreated cavities and 30 percent lose their teeth.

Think about your teeth before you retire. Here are some things to consider:

Get it done now. Don’t leave work — and your dental insurance behind — without getting a thorough exam and following up on the dentist’s recommendations for putting your mouth in as good a shape as possible.

Consider a Medicare Advantage plan with dental insurance. Traditional Medicare, even with a Medigap supplement plan, doesn’t cover dental. But some Part C Medicare Advantage plans do. Dental care is a good reason to look hard at an Advantage plan as opposed to traditional Medicare. A good dental plan can save you money in the long run.

Are you eligible for Veteran’s Administration health care? While the VA doesn’t provide dental care to most participants, since last year, the VA has offered a very attractively priced dental insurance plan through a couple of major dental insurers. The cost varies by state. Check out the VA’s Dental Insurance Program.

Look into low-cost care. ToothWisdom.org offers a guide to dental clinics, dental schools and other programs throughout the country that offer modestly priced — and sometimes free — care to low-income individuals.

Talk to your dentist. If you have been a dentist’s patient for a long time, she may be willing to work out a discount and a payment plan. It never hurts to ask.

Shop around. If you don’t have a regular dentist, identify some with good reputations and call and ask about their prices. If you can manage it, offer to pay cash. The dental business is very competitive and in many areas you will find a big variance in what dentists charge, including big discounts for cash payers.

Be careful. As with most businesses, there are some rotten eggs. Here are some dental scams to avoid.