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How to get dental care if you have Medicare

Written by Diane Archer

In a post earlier this year, we reported on how dental care is the number one health care service people skimp on. Because Medicare does not cover dental care and dental care can be quite expensive, many older adults tend to forego it. They either cannot afford it or do not realize how critical it is to preventing tooth decay, gum disease and loss of teeth. So, how can older adults get dental care?

Today, only one in eight older adults have dental insurance, according to a new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health article published in Health Affairs. Either they are still working and have insurance through their employer or they are covered through a generous retiree plan. But those older adults without dental insurance too often do not see the dentist every year. The lower their income, the less likely they visit the dentist.

The typical person with Medicare spends $427 on dental care in a year, most of which is out of pocket. But one in 14, seven percent, spend more than $1,500 on dental care in a year.

Older adults with low incomes sometimes can get dental care through Medicaid. But dental care is not a required Medicaid benefit. So whether older people with low incomes and Medicaid can get dental care depends upon where they live. Unfortunately, even when Medicaid covers dental care, people can struggle to find dental care providers who will accept Medicaid’s rates.

In a separate Health Affairs article, Susan Jaffe reports that in 2015, only 33 states covered emergency dental care for older adults with Medicare and Medicaid needing a tooth removed or treatment for extreme pain as well as preventive and restorative dental care. There were 18 states that covered dental care but only to older people with Medicare and Medicaid who needed emergency extractions or some kind of treatment for pain relief. And, in 26 states, older adults with Medicare and Medicaid have coverage for dentures.

Older adults may also be able to get dental care through the Health Resources and Services Administration. HRSA oversees health centers and just allocated $156 million to 420 clinics to increase their delivery of dental and oral health services in 47 states and Puerto Rico.

You might also be able to get free or low-cost dental care at one of the 1200 free and charitable health clinics across the United States. If you qualify for care, you could also get lower-cost prescriptions through these clinics as well as lower-cost primary medical care. Some clinics also offer mental health care. For more information about these clinics, read this Just Care post.

And, if you live in California, you might be able to take advantage of the Virtual Dental Home system of care, which the University of the Pacific is piloting. Through this program, older adults throughout California are receiving dental care where they work, where they live and where they receive social services.

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Here’s more from Just Care:

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